International break is over (thankfully, for fans of that disaster of a USA National team), and we can finally get back to real football, before there is another break in three weeks time.
While it seems like these breaks are constant this season (they are; ask Manchester City fans right now if they are proponents of national team football, after losing Sergio Agüero and David Silva in the same day), the upcoming two weeks brings the return of all manner of competitions in the English game, and on the continent.
The Premier League returns this weekend, with the UEFA Champions League following right on its heels, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Europa League play is Thursday, and the following week brings the round-of-16 matches in the Capital One Cup, which is extremely top heavy this season, as 13 of the remaining 16 sides are in the top flight. All the big boys are still left in the tournament, and even some mid-table clubs, like Chelsea and Liverpool.
While the Capital One Cup and Premier League have some tasty matches on the horizon, it is do-or-die time in the Champions League, for the four teams involved from England.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that match day two was one of the biggest in the history of the league, with the UEFA coefficient place under threat from Italy. So what happened? Let’s just say, thank the lucky stars for the Manchester teams, because right now, the two London teams are dumpster fires.
Arsenal let a game with Olympiakos slip through its fingers, and I mean that literally. Did you see the goalkeeper carry the ball into his own net, and then realize it too late, only to drop the ball on the net-side of the goal line? Oh, Arsene Wenger, you so love to mess with the emotions of the fragile Gunners fans.
While the clubs top, and in fact only signing, Petr Cech sat on the bench, not healthy enough to start, but healthy enough to be among the subs, Davis Ospina may have cost Arsenal dearly.
The keeper is not solely to blame, however, as the Gunners did draw even at 2-2 in the 65th minute of play, with almost a half hour to find a winner, and get right back into the group standings.
That lasted all of 65 seconds, as the Greek side scored on its next attack, to cast a silence over the Emirates, that had not been heard since, well, every game there is like playing in a library, but this was extra hushed.
The next time you heard something, it was the boos that rang out at the full time whistle, and outside the ground after the match, when Arsenal Fan TV found Claude the Gooner, and the rest of the AFTV faithful, in full whining mode. (By the way, if you are a fan of comedy, go on Youtube and check out the Arsenal Fan TV clips. They are priceless.)
Everything is fine for the Gunners, however, as all they have to do is beat Bayern Munich, home and away, to get right back into the thick of the race. Thursday nights on Channel 5, in the far outreaches of Eastern Europe for the Europa League knock-out stages, is the best that Arsenal fans can hope for right now, and it is looking increasingly likely that the Gunners will be out at the group stage for the first time in almost two decades.
Chelsea lost 2-1 to Porto, and the Jose Mourinho mess gets worse by the day. Mourinho is facing a mutiny in the locker room, as the Blues players look to get another manager sacked.
News leaked Friday of the players crude nickname for their boss, and it seems that Mourinho’s position is becoming more untenable as each week, with each bad result piling more pressure on owner Roman Abromovich to pull the plug. Chelsea have the long trip to Kiev mid-week, and face Dynamo Kyiv twice over the next two match days. Will Mourinho still be in charge in six weeks for the trip to Tel Aviv? It is a very good question.
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Jürgen Klopp will be involved right away, as Liverpool travel to Tottenham in the first game of the slate Saturday.
Can he turn around the fortunes of the club? He did win two titles at Borussia Dortmund, before Bayern Munich got mad and signed Dortmund’s two biggest attacking threats. Dortmund was a mess last year, and Klopp left with the team languishing near the bottom of the Bundesliga.
The landscape of the Premier League is changing every year, with megabucks television deals putting money into the coffers of all 20 teams, not just the ones at the top, as in other leagues. Stoke City, Crystal Palace, and Leicester City can sign players now which seemed, just eight years ago, like a pipe dream. Each week is a test, and it is tough to compete without a squad full of depth, let alone talent.
For the fans of the team from Merseyside, it will be interesting to see how the next appointed savior of the Kop handles the job.
Sean Miller can be reached at seanmillertrentontimes@