Wednesday 14th September
19.45 Club Brugge v Leicester
This column will not even begin to pretend that we know a whole lot about the Belgian hosts, Club Brugge. Belgium has produced a whole raft of excellent players in recent years and yet people know more about the intricate geo-politics at play in Syria than they do about the Belgian league.
What we can say with absolute certainty is that they were convincing winners of the Jupiler Pro League last year but have had a rocky enough start to this new season. Might they be the Belgian Leicester?
Yes, Leicester’s recent victories and travails respectively do indeed follow a Brugge-ian symmetry and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to think that both these teams have had more than one eye on this tie, to the detriment of their league campaign.
However, any similarities end there. Brugge are one of the most decorated teams in Belgian football and are the only team from the country to ever have competed in the final of a European Cup (old CL).
For all their storied European pedigree, recent years have not been as kind. This is the first time in over 10 years that they have made the group stages of the CL and haven’t progressed beyond the group stages in their last five attempts. The less said about their run in the Europa League last season, the better.
This is brand new territory for Leicester. By virtue of their winning the BPL, they got themselves one of the better draws that they could have hoped for, although progression to the knock-out stages is probably contingent on them getting the better of Brugge over the two legs.
Porto and Kobenhavn fill out the group. Everyone expects the Portuguese outfit to win outright so it should be a straight shoot out between tonight’s protagonists for second place, assuming Kobenhavn (Copenhagen, to you and me) don’t cause an upset.
So this is it for Leicester. Can they find the magic that made them so irresistible last season? You’ll hear some people sagely opine that teams have figured them out and that they’re going nowhere but that is to assume that what they were doing was a mystery. It wasn’t! Teams knew exactly how they would line out and what they would do – that wasn’t the problem. The problem was stopping them. If they can click back into gear tonight, it could be a wonderful beginning to their European adventure.
The bookies have decided that the visitors are favourites to win out in this tie. Judging by Leicester’s recent form, the market isn’t altogether confident in Brugge’s ability to do the business. This column is inclined to think that the Foxes will get at least a draw but the win might well be there for the taking, too. Best price for a Leicester win is 8/5 from WilliamHill.
19.45 Tottenham Hotspur v Monaco
Although they spluttered to the finish line in hilarious fashion at the end of last season, Spurs had still done enough to guarantee themselves CL this season. End-of-season collapse aside Spurs were excellent last season and are well-placed to build on that this season.
They had a confidence enhancing victory at the weekend, courtesy of a 4-0 away win at Stoke. Of great significance were the goals scored by Kane and Alli, both of whom have looked shadows of their former selves.
It may be early days in Ligue 1 but a brief glance at the league table will show that PSG are not at the top. No, that honour belongs to Monaco. They sit top after four games, have yet to lose and are leading the scoring charts. They too enjoyed a strong away win last weekend and look like they are raring to go.
In addition to the goals scored by Kane and Alli, the nearly forgotten man that is Son Heung-Min scored a couple of peaches. He was a big buy from the season before but didn’t seem to settle too well last season. In fact, it looked as if he was going to leave during the summer but whether it was due to a lack of interest from other clubs or a diktat from on high, both club and supporters will be delighted he stayed if he can produce that form on a more consistent basis.
Pochettino has proven himself to be a smart and effective manager who gets his players to play with purpose and a lot of graft. He will be licking his lips at the prospect of CL action and progression but Group E is no walkover. In addition to their visitors, they must also face off against Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow and so it is imperative that they get their campaign off to a good start.
In order to reach the group stage, Monaco had to face off against Villareal, a strong team whom they beat both home and away. Given those results and their form in the league thus far, they will come to London, prepared for battle. In Bernardo Silva, they have a dynamic young midfielder whose dribbling prowess and incisive passing are likely to cause Spurs’ midfield some problems.
Not surprisingly, Spurs are favourites with the bookies and that seems a fair assessment. However, Monaco look to be capable of ‘getting something’ from this game. PaddyPower are offering 29/10 for the draw and might be the one to stick your shrapnel on. If you’re feeling adventurous, MarathonBet are offering 23/5 for the Monaco win.