With the group stages of the 2015/16 Champions League now over, the four English clubs who were taking part can start to plan more firmly for the latter half of the season. We have two who topped their group, one who came second, and one who have slipped into the Europa League after finishing third.
Manchester City, after winning their group, should have an easier first knockout round than they have in previous years and, after a poor recent history in the competition, this may be their chance to go a long way. However, they haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the Premier League, partly because of injuries which won’t be helped by an expectation to put a large amount of focus on Europe.
Until both clubs found themselves casting poor spells of forms on themselves, City’s clear rivals for the league this season were Arsenal, who could have easily slipped out of the Champions League but managed to make it through. Slipping out would almost certainly have put a large amount of pressure on Arsene Wenger from Arsenal fans who have already demonstrated a long-running, long-rumbling discontent at the club’s inability to challenge for titles.
Had they taken the initiative more strongly during the past month then their situation now might be different, a very serious chance of a Premier League title open to them. One gets the feeling though that Wenger, seemingly a man who prefers to hedge his bets, may be unwilling to focus more strongly on one competition or the other. Ploughing the bulk of energy into one, only to see a strike of bad luck send them out of the knock-outs or onto a limp run in the league, could see them with no chance at either trophy, rather than with a smaller chance in both.
A team with quite a different situation is Manchester United. Part of the disgruntlement with the team’s style of play at the moment is the feeling that good results will not be sustainable if the side only create a small handful of good chances per match. A run of bad results in the league may mean that the much unloved Europa League would suddenly take on much more importance.
The situation is uncharted territory for the club. How will Louis van Gaal treat it? On the one hand, a fairly meaningless competition might distract from Van Gaal’s master plan in the league; on the other, a long and successful run might lead the fans to warm to him.
Chelsea, meanwhile, can realistically only qualify for the Champions League next year by winning it in May which, to put it mildly, is not an ideal position to be in. They topped their group, though, which should make progression easier for the time being. With many an online opinion poll already asking whether the club should sack Mourinho, he may well need success (of sorts, at least) in this competition to still be at the club next year.
At their current state, top 6 may be an achievable league target, with the required points tally generally being around 62. This would mean that they would have to start hitting top 4 form from now, and would only need to limit dropped points to 23 (out of a possible 69, whereas aiming for top 4 would require only around 6 dropped points for the rest of the season).
With the top of the league as tight as it is – with the potential to be even tighter if Liverpool soon join them and Chelsea hit a run of hot form – these European competitions could make or break these clubs’ seasons.
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