Staying grounded on the roller coaster of opinion

Our man inside the game canvassed a few old friends for some Champions League conclusions

Staying grounded on the roller coaster of opinion

In the art of football punditry conclusions aren’t actually conclusive. They’re just dressed up that way. One week Arsenal have gone down in flames because they are run by jokes who couldn’t manage a peanut stall. Meanwhile, Liverpool who had just doused Arsenal in petrol and thrown a match at them are an example of just how things should be done. Ruthless Liverpool had it as right as Goofy Arsenal had it wrong.

One series of matches later, Liverpool are a charred irredeemable heap of ashes and there is no sign of the affable Klopp reconciling with the loveable Coutinho. Arsenal, though, are back to their irresistible best and Sanchez, the cat-stroking villain, is being ushered on by bitter and twister Wenger for a pleasant late game cameo. See told you.

Lesson? If you don’t like this week’s conclusions just tune in next week you might see something you like.

The Champions League opens for serious business this week and the stakes are higher than ever for pundits. The conclusions drawn by Thursday morning have to be more apocalyptic than previously thought possible. It’s daunting.

As a sort of fall back I decided over the weekend to boldly go where no pundit has ever gone before. I spoke to somebody at each Premier Club heading into Champions League action this week and asked them to lay down their bottom line.

On Tuesday night while football lovers watch Barcelona play Juventus from the Camp Nou the less discerning will tune in as Manchester United renew their epic rivalry with the mighty Basel. United have played Basel four times in Champions League. The record is won one, lost one, drew two.

‘Deep Throat’, my Watergate-style source from the paranoia filled Nixonian White House that is Jose’s Old Trafford played things down a little. Mourinho apparently sees himself as “three players away from the Champions League. He might have done enough to win the Premier League but compared to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and probably PSG, United aren’t at that level.” There was some purring over the abduction of Matic. No matter how good Matic is, and he is good, stealing him from Conte makes him look that little bit better. As a bonus he makes Pogba look better too allowing him to go forward while the back four are protected.

“The full backs are a weak point and the club still doesn’t have that striker from the bench that wins games that United are so famous for, Sheringham, Solskjaer, Hernandez and maybe even Owen. In the Champions League that striker can be vital. Last season Mourinho prepared to win the league this season, this season he will prepare to go at the Champions League next year.” So it could be Basel’s year.

Meanwhile down at Stamford Bridge, one of my favourite Azerbaijani teams Qarabag are in town. Qarabag originate from a literal ghost town called Aghdam and how they feel visiting a club with the dark shadow of Diego Costa hanging over it will be interesting.

Chelsea didn’t beef up their squad depth much this summer but there is cheery optimism down the phone.

“The feeling is that we can be challenging for the Champions League. If we keep our squad fit and we get into a run then we can do well because we have players that can hurt teams. We haven’t yet seen Morata with Hazard buzzing around him and everybody here is very excited to see that. Alvaro has settled in well on the pitch, he can score regular goals but looks like he lives to score big goals in big games. But our other players are playing well too, Alonso has been the player of the season so far.”

All this optimism is a little hard to inhale so for a bit of head clearing realism I call the home of pessimism. Hello is that Spurs?

Poch is happy as a bluebird these days apparently but according to one player nobody is humming along.

“Everything coming out from the gaffer is positive but I reckon this season is just about getting through it in one piece. We’re a very good team but we have the Champions League at Wembley and last time Monaco and Leverkusen turned up and beat us because they were never going to play at Wembley again. Especially Leverkusen, they played with a very high intensity and beat us with energy, not because they’re a better side. If we can do what we did last season while playing at Wembley every other week then it’ll be a bigger achievement than last season in many ways but our group is very difficult.” That’s the Spurs I know and love. Excuses in early.

Saturday evening was the wrong time to call a Manchester City man for a grounded assessment of anything.

Hammering Liverpool? Surprise me. Tell me the downside.

“Huge boost! We feel that we have a lot more to come on the pitch. Jesus is very happy after the Liverpool game (suppressed giggling from my end of the phone) and the manager is now thinking about how he can play Jesus with Sergio Aguero because before it was one or the other. If we play with a three (the Holy Trinity Mate?) then we can have an extra body at the top of the pitch which is where our biggest strengths are”.

Wanted to ask how come the strengths are still at the top of the pitch after a quarter billion worth of splurge on defenders. But look if Jesus is happy… what hope have Feyenoord got?

Lastly Liverpool. Klopp proudly welcomes Dortmund (top of the Bundesliga) after his new loves have been spanked 5-0. This call took place before that setback.

“Buzzing to be back in the Champions League and we have a gaffer that knows what it takes to go a long way in the competition. We’re not going to take any of the teams in our group for granted. If we control our away performances and play with energy at home then we can have a great competition.”

So 5-0 at City the perfect preparation.

Conclusions? Listen it’s only September, you’re on your own.

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