The thought of Leicester City sharing the European stage with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich was but a pipe dream to even the most optimistic of Foxes supporters. Courtesy of Leicester’s surge to the most unlikeliest of titles, Claudio Ranieri’s side touch shoulders with Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen and can feel fairly confident of their chances of progression.
It was, however, a distinctly mixed week for the British contingent, though we seem to have said that rather a lot in recent seasons. Leicester kicked off their European adventure with a 3-0 win in Bruges, the sort of performance that typified the way they played en-route to a first top flight title last term.
Any question marks about Leicester being overawed by the occasion or continuing their hot and cold start to this campaign were quickly dispelled. Riyad Mahrez, the subject of advances from Arsenal and Chelsea among others over the summer, produced a devastating display and slammed home a terrific free-kick to hand his side the perfect start to the campaign.
It was an exercise in patience at times, but boy was the wait worth it. You get the feeling that whatever the outcome in December at the conclusion of the group stages, Leicester are determined to enjoy the experience. And who can blame them?
Arsenal have flattered to deceive in this competition in recent seasons. They emerged, however, from a tricky away assignment against Paris Saint-Germain with a credible draw – a game in which both sides were reduced to 10 men. Alexis Sanchez netted with just over 10 minutes left to hand the Gunners a precious point, cancelling out PSG’s first minute opener. It is the sort of game they have lost in recent seasons, so Arsenal fans will emerge feeling fairly positive.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about their north London rivals, Tottenham. Playing their home games at Wembley due to White Hart Lane’s reduced capacity, Spurs buckled under the weight of expectation. It was their first Champions League game since 2011, but despite reducing the arrears late in the first half, Monaco claimed all three points. A group containing Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow will not be easy to navigate, but there is more to come from Mauricio Pochettino’s charges.
North of the border, Celtic’s first game in the group stages of the Champions League in three seasons ended in embarrassment. Fresh from trouncing Rangers 5-1, Celtic epitomised the place Scottish football currently finds itself in. Despite Brendan Rodgers’ insistence that their 7-0 mauling at the hands of Barcelona was not embarrassing, Celtic had a baptism of fire as to the standards of this level. How different things could have been had Moussa Dembele converted from the spot with the score at 1-0. Drawn in a group of death with Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, this could prove to be a long campaign.
The return of Champions League football to Celtic Park is, however, a huge positive. Celtic need to heed the advice of Rodgers and learn from their humbling experience at the Nou Camp. If they do, they may just manage to claim a scalp or two.
Image courtesy of Il biscione e l’fc Internazionale III.