Before we get into the weekly football column, we should first speak about the attacks, and thwarted attacks, at the football matches last week.
Everyone knows the story of the attacks in Paris, and the attempted ones in Hanover, Germany. The Islamic State has made it known now that sporting events are high profile targets, and with El Clasico this weekend, and stadiums full of people, multiple times a week, now at risk, it seems like the sporting world has changed overnight.
Terrorism thrives on what is going on now; it is meant to cause terror. You have to wonder if attacking the thing that divides most European people into factions or tribes, the sport of football, was the smartest thing to do, since it seems now that those groups are now united against one common enemy. It is a fact of life in society that sports hold a huge sway over peoples lives, and maybe the Islamic State wanted to become more high profile.
It has done just that. What happens now is another story, for another time, but for now, the world of football has been changed. There will be more soldiers and police with machine guns, and more searches at the entrances, but the game will go on, as it always does.
Is that not the point of a free society?
It is time, once again, for some proper football, after the last international break until March (fist pump) has finished.
It seems as though we are always talking about a huge week of matches, directly following a break, but it just seems to be the case, and it happens that this may be the biggest week of matches, in the first half of the season, for many clubs.
With the Premier League race looking like it may go the distance, for one of the only times in recent years (the Stevie G slip in 2014 led to the closest race in five years), the games over the next month should start to separate the contenders from the pretenders, and we should start to see definite tiers developing. But of course, the Premier League is not the only game in town in the upcoming week, as match day five of the UEFA Champions League, and Europa League, is usually the moving day for teams involved, and this Tuesday–Thursday will be no different.
In Group B, Manchester United sit at the top, by a point. There is an interesting statistic that has held through the first four games, and it is the reason that the Red Devils sit atop the standings. United is the only road team, in the first eight games played, to get any type of result. Its 1-1 draw on match day three, in Moscow, has the English side sitting pretty heading into Wednesday’s home match with PSV Eindhoven. PSV won 2-1 back in September, in a match marred by the horrific tackle on Luke Shaw, that went unpunished and broke multiple bones in Shaw’s leg. If the Red Devils can continue the trend, and take care of business at home, they will join Manchester City in the knockout stages. In fact if results go its way, Manchester United could win the group, and stay away from a round-of-16 tie with the other group winners. Whether or not United can do that, with Anthony Martial in doubt due to the knock he sustained in France’s friendly with England, remains to be seen, but with the reward of advancement into the next round, you would think that the Red Devils would show up Wednesday and take care of business.
Arsenal’s chances are hanging by a thread, and it looks like the Gunners may have to contend with Thursday nights in Eastern Europe early in 2016, if they drop into the Europa League. If that happens, Arsenal would be better off trying to win that competition, because its Premier League title hopes will go down in flames, due to the Thursday Sunday schedule that has derailed many a season lately for English teams.
Manchester City is through already, and can win the group with a victory Wednesdayin Turin against Juventus.
Chelsea have a very long trip to Tel Aviv, where the Blues take on Maccabi. Chelsea can still win Group G, but need some help Wednesday from Dynamo Kyiv, which has a tough game in Portugal with Porto. If Porto wins, and Chelsea get a result in Tel Aviv, then Chelsea go through, but may have to settle for a runner-up spot. Either way, this should come down to the match day six encounter at Stamford Bridge, onDecember 9, between the Blues and Porto.
This is the best six weeks of the year in football, as the matches come thick and fast, and there are matches played on almost every calendar date, from now until the second week of January. Enjoy it while you can.