The footballing landscape in England looks fairly different to how it did around a year ago.
Manchester City and particularly Liverpool look far from untouchable powerhouses, Manchester United and particularly Arsenal mean business and don’t appear to be flattering to deceive, and Newcastle look like a different team completely.
The Magpies’ progression under Eddie Howe has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. Combining a staunch solidity at the back with exciting and powerful football going forward, Newcastle are dynamic, dangerous and quite simply delicious.
Indeed, from battling relegation upon Howe’s appointment, the club are now gunning for European footballing elite. Fans might dream of a Premier League title, but Champions League qualification for the first time in nearly two decades is becoming less and less of a fantasy at St. James’ Park.
Here’s what the journey to the big time holds in store.
Boasting the English top flight’s best defence and just one defeat in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign, Howe’s Magpies are flying high. The club currently sits third in the table after 19 matches, so are in a good position to push on for a top-four finish.
There is a long way to go, though, and, with trips to Manchester City and Chelsea as well as home ties against Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal to come, a lot can change by the time May rolls around.
Having lost just once against the ‘big six’ so far this term, however, even the most pessimistic of Newcastle fans might be feeling an unmanageable urge to feel hopeful.
The Magpies boast a record of two points per game thus far, with a total tally of 76 to come should they continue in the same vein – that would have seen them achieve a top-four finish in the previous eight seasons.
Of course, Newcastle are yet to play 19 games of their Premier League campaign, but their so far impeccably consistent form and the current five-point cushion they hold from fifth-placed Spurs come as good signs.
Why Man City fans boo the Champions League anthem
Manchester City have been regulars in the Champions League for many years now following their 2008 takeover and they even reached the final in 2021, which was lost to Chelsea.
Despite this, they have an odd relationship with the tournament.
They have never won it, despite it so blatantly being the missing jewel in their crown. As well as that, their fans always boo the UEFA Champions League anthem when it is played before their matches.
They are not the only club in Europe too have done this, but they are the most prolific with it.
The booing stems back to the 2011/12 season. City were playing against Porto and Mario Balotelli was racially abused by the fans. Porto were fined €20,000. A month later though, City were playing against Sporting CP and were fined €30,000 for being 30 seconds late onto the pitch.
The relationship soured further when City were set to play CSKA Moscow away from home, but the Russian club were ordered to play behind closed doors following racial abuse by fans. That means City fans could not go either even though thousands had flights, tickets and accommodation already paid for. Some CSKA fans were also then allowed into the stadium.
The next incident was in 2017 when City were set to play Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine. The game was ordered to be played behind closed doors so City fans did not make arrangements, and then just weeks before the fixture, the decision was reversed, at which point it was too late for fans to go.
Alongside all of this was the fact that City have been regularly investigated and once found guilty of breaking UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. They were fined £49m in 2014 and made to name a smaller Champions League squad than usual as punishment.
They were found guilty of another breach in 2020 and were banned from the tournament for two years, which was then overturned on appeal.
Overall, many City fans feel they have been targeted by UEFA for their newfound wealth which comes from outside of Europe.
City had just one campaign in the old European Cup back in 1968/69, in which they were knocked out in the first round. That was it until the investment from Abu Dhabi arrived and they qualified for the Champions League in 2011. Despite going on to win the Premier League title in 2011/12, they were knocked out in the group stage that year and also the following year.
They have made the group stage every single season since. In 2013/14 and 2014/15, it ended at the Round of 16, whilst 2015/16 was a run to the semi-finals. The next four seasons did not go beyond the quarter-final stage before reaching the final for the first time in 2020/21.
That felt like a major opportunity for City to finally realise their European dream, despite UEFA’s perceived adversity towards them. But Kai Havertz’s goal was enough to secure the win for Chelsea
Last season, they were knocked out in the semi-finals by Real Madrid after chucking away a commanding lead in dramatic late fashion.
Liverpool’s best Champions League moments
Liverpool are one of the true heavyweights of European football, and they’ve proved that with consistently brilliant performances in the continent’s elite competition.
The Reds were kings of Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, winning the European Cup on a whopping four occasions and, since the tournament has been renamed the UEFA Champions League, they’ve followed up that success with two triumphs in 2004/05 and 2018/19.
To celebrate their incredible history in the competition, we’ve decided to rank Liverpool’s best moments in the UEFA Champions League since its rebrand in the early 90s.
A UEFA Champions League semi-final against Premier League rivals Chelsea at Anfield?
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Chelsea and Liverpool have had many battles down the years, but the 2005 semi-final clash was probably their most memorable and possibly their most controversial too.
The game would be decided by a sole Luis Garcia ‘ghost goal’ – aptly named
as such because William Gallas cleared the ball just before it crossed the line.
With no goal line technology to rely on the goal was given and Anfield erupted.
From one magic night at Anfield, to another.
Heading into their final group stage game of their 2004/05 Champions League campaign Liverpool were in need of a minor miracle to qualify for the knockout rounds – and they got it.
After going behind in the first half, the Reds needed three goals to edge into the round of 16 at Olympiakos expense. The first two would come from Florent Sinama Pongolle and Neil Mellor, before captain fantastic Steven Gerrard latched onto a knock down header to slam home one of the best goals ever seen at Anfield.
Cue Andy Gray screaming ‘WHAT A HIT SON! WHAT A HIT!’ and cue one of the most remarkable Champions League runs in the competition’s storied history.
Anfield has been the venue for an astonishing number of memorable Champions League moments, but this is perhaps the pick of the bunch.
Up against the greatest footballer of all time (Lionel Messi) and three goals down after a thumping defeat at Camp Nou a week prior, it’s fair to say that Liverpool’s chances of reaching the 2018/19 final were slim at best.
And yet, they pulled it off.
An early goal from Divock Origi was followed up by a second half brace from Gini Wijnaldum, before Origi popped up again from a quickly-taken corner to seal a 4-0 win and the Reds’ place in yet another Champions League final.
Liverpool would face off against surprise finalists Tottenham Hotspur at the Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid after knocking out Barca in the semi-finals.
Any early nerves were calmed in the opening two minutes when Mohamed Salah converted a penalty, and then in the second half the club’s sixth European triumph was sealed by Origi.
Of course Istanbul is number one.
It’s the quintessential UEFA Champions League game.
It’s the most famous win in Liverpool’s long trophy-laden history.
Down 3-0 at half-time to a quite astonishingly good AC Milan team – which included Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Paolo Maldini to name a few – the Reds looked set to go back to Anfield empty handed.
In the second half, however, Liverpool were able to miraculously turn the game on its head. Three goals in six minutes from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso shellshocked Milan and made it 3-3, before penalty heroics from Jerzy Dudek sealed the win for Liverpool.
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How can Man Utd qualify for the Champions League?
Manchester United had been aided by a rather tame post-Christmas schedule to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to eight games ahead of the Manchester Derby.
Pep Guardiola’s Cityzens came to town in a bit of a slump, but Jack Grealish’s second-half opener put them in a great position to stroll out of Old Trafford with three points and bragging rights. Then, in the space of four unforgettable and controversial minutes, the Red Devils turned the tide. A 1-0 deficit swiftly morphed into a 2-1 advantage. The Theatre of Dreams was alive and kicking.
United’s victory over their noisy neighbours solidified their legitmacy under Erik ten Hag. While a title charge may be out of their reach, they’re in an excellent position to return to the Champions League via a top-four Premier League finish.
Man Utd have two avenues into the Champions League next season. As it stands, a top-four finish appears more likely than a Europa League triumph given their opponents in the first knockout round.
Ten Hag’s couldn’t have asked for a trickier tie as they were paired against Barcelona in the play-offs. The victor will advance into the round of 16, where the likes of Arsenal, Real Betis and Real Sociedad await. They could also be joined by Juventus, Ajax, AS Roma, and Sporting CP should each of these teams win their respective play-off ties.
Thus, while United are one of the favourites to win the Europa League, the competition is a strong one.
In the Premier League, the Red Devils currently boast a healthy advantage over some of their projected rivals. While Newcastle have equalled their points tally having played a game more, United are comfortably ahead of Tottenham (five points), Liverpool, and Chelsea (both ten points) in the standings. Fulham, Brighton and Brentford are all European hopefuls, but none of these teams are expected to compete for a top-four berth.
So, while there is a long way to go, United are in a very strong position to qualify for the Champions League by securing a top-four finish.
Man Utd remaining Premier League fixtures (4th; Played 18, 38pts)
Newcastle remaining Premier League fixtures (3rd; Played 19, 38pts)
Tottenham remaining Premier League fixtures (5th; Played 19, 33pts)
Liverpool remaining Premier League fixtures (9th; Played 18, 28pts)
Chelsea remaining Premier League fixtures (10th; Played 19, 28pts)
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