Champions League Preview: Group B
Last year Tottenham Hotspur found themselves in the group of death, but came out dominant. This year, they face just as big a battle. Fraser Munro previews Spurs’ Champions League opponents.
Such was the quality of the competition last season, there may have been those that thought this year’s fixtures couldn’t possibly live up to the previous ones. However, once the draw was made for the group stage at the end of August there can be no doubt that this season has the potential to be even better. From group A with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, to group C that has PSG, Liverpool and Napoli, to group H containing Juventus, Manchester United and Valencia. It has all the ammunition needed to be an explosive group stage.
But let’s focus perhaps on one of the fiercest groups, group B, which is not at all starved of some big names. Drawn out of pot 1 were the comfortable winners of last season’s La Liga: Barcelona. Domestically the Catalan giants maintained their usual illustrious status, winning the league by 14 points, however were once again left disappointed in the Champion’s League after a 3-0 defeat to Roma saw them crash out at the quarter-finals.
Out of pot 2 came Tottenham Hotspur. Pochettino’s men had a somewhat anticlimactic end to last season when they were knocked out of the FA Cup semi-finals by Manchester United and stuttered to 3rd place in the Premier League. However, in Europe Spurs exceeded expectations by topping what was touted as “the group of death”, beating Borussia Dortmund twice and remaining unbeaten by Real Madrid. In spite of a narrow aggregate defeat to Juventus in the last 16, Tottenham will not be phased by any team in the competition.
Inter Milan, one of the old Italian elite, came out of pot 3. Inter managed to scrape to 4th place last season over Lazio due to the head to head rule implemented in the Calcio A. They were convincingly knocked out by Arsenal in the round of 16 stage of the Europa League, perhaps due to focussing too much on securing a Champion’s League place. None-the-less, Inter will be relishing the chance to play some tougher opposition in Europe this season.
And lastly, perhaps seen as the make weight in the group, PSV Eindhoven were drawn out of the 4th pot. Fans of the Dutch champions may feel aggrieved at the rotten luck of their group, drawing such an accomplished three teams. And their confidence won’t be boosted by how poorly their team played in Europe last time out when they failed to qualify for the Europa League group stage, being beaten by mid-table Croatian team Osijek.
From a Tottenham perspective, there is a fairly brief competitive history against Barcelona. Despite having played the Spanish Champions in a friendly in July, the last time the sides met was over two legs in 1982’s Cup Winners Cup semi-final. Spurs were narrowly defeated on aggregate that year, just as they were narrowly defeated in the friendly 2 months previously so will have no fear when facing off against the Catalonians.
Some Tottenham fans will remember a last 16 clash with PSV in 2008 in what was then the UEFA Cup which ended in bitter disappointment after managing taking the game to extra time in Eindhoven but being defeated 6-5 on penalties.
But perhaps freshest in the memory of Spurs fans is playing Inter Milan in the Champion’s League in 2010 and the Europa League in 2013. Despite a Gareth Bale hat-trick in the 2010 Tottenham were unable to cancel out a 4-0 deficit in the first group stage game against Inter, however exacted their revenge in the reverse fixture winning 3-1 at White Hart Lane. Three years later the sides met again, and Spurs had the last laugh once more, emerging winners on aggregate after a tense 2nd leg at the San Siro.
So, while some Spurs fans might be nervous about the coming fixtures in Europe, others can take some comfort from past results with these opponents as well as drawing confidence from a stellar campaign last season.