This season, every Premier League club involved in European group stage action has successfully avoided a humiliatingly early exit. The difficulties associated with battling on two fronts are already well-documented in Premier League lore, as reinforced by the fact that the Champions League trophy has been absent from English shores since 2013. Even more staggeringly, 1999 remains the last time an English team won it without lucking out in a penalty shootout at the final, with 2008 still the last time a team completed a Champions League/Premier League ‘double’:
Yet, with English teams currently topping both the Champions League and Europa League outright markets, and the likes of Liverpool continuing to be ruthless, a new era of limitless energy seems to have dawned. Next month, that theory will be put to the test and, with London clubs accounting for 60% of England’s representation on the continent, the capital will once more take the spotlight at both levels of UEFA competition. With February’s resumption of European action looming closer by the day, we have plenty of stats galore to ponder.
We start with London’s sole representative in the Champions League, in the form of a Tottenham side that will – according to Transfermarkt – have to adjust to life without Harry Kane very quickly.
TOTTENHAM v DORTMUND
As group runners up, Tottenham have the slightly unenviable task of playing the first leg at home but their primary focus should now be on the Champions League. As of 18 January 2019, the Lilywhites are priced by Betway as massive 80/1 outsiders to lift the Premier League, so their penchant for entertaining, high-scoring matches against Dortmund should remain very much alive. As recalled by BBC Sport, Pochettino’s men outclassed Dortmund in their two group games last year, with their 2-1 win at Westfalenstadion securing first place and an aggregate score of 5-2 over the Germans.
A relatively higher aggregate score seems likely again. In particular, there is an underlying expectation that at least one match in the tie will see both teams score, especially as five of Tottenham’s six group stage matches oversaw that occurrence. Notably, the first four also produced three goals or more, and late drama was usually in order too, as there were eight goals scored after the 75th minute across all six of their group matches.
The away leg in Dortmund should be less trouble than it was in the horror ending to Tottenham’s 2015/16 European odyssey. Following the admirable draw at Barcelona on matchday six, Tottenham have now scored in each of their last eight European road trips. Even if they concede first, all is not necessarily lost, as the Lilywhites have lost just one of their last four away Champions League games after doing so. Furthermore, going back to the 2016/17 campaign, Tottenham teams have now scored after the break in eight out of their ten away matches in the Champions League.
November 2017: Tottenham triumph at Westfalenstadion. [Source: BT Sport via Youtube]
CHELSEA v MALMO
Down in the Europa League, two teams still fighting over the fourth spot in the Premier League will have to pick their battles. Chelsea remain in pole position to complete the top four but, with Manchester United improving under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, nothing can be taken for granted. Despite being denied a perfect record in the Europa League group stage just gone, a return of sixteen points from a team not consistently wielding its best weapons is more than respectable. One also has to question just how much energy Maurizio Sarri’s men were exerting in the final two group games, when progression was already secured, with the now-departed Alvaro Morata continuing to split opinion up front.
In terms of guessing the correct score in the away leg of their tie with Malmo, a 1-0 win for Chelsea in the first leg looks like a decent prospect. Both of the Blues’ group stage away matches, prior to the draw against Vidi, produced that scoreline – and, again, it would be surprising to see Chelsea go full-throttle from the off. Those two group stage away wins also marked the club’s first set of consecutive away victories in Europe since the 2013/14 Champions League campaign, and continued the theme of solid defending, with Chelsea conceding an average of just 0.5 goals per match in the 2018/19 group stage.
Chelsea last met Swedish opposition twenty years ago, en-route to the semi-finals of the 1998/99 Cup Winners Cup. [Source: Youtube]
ARSENAL v BATE
Last season, the fight on two fronts was a much easier equation for Arsenal, as they reflect on a positive start under Unai Emery, but not one without room for improvement. The Gunners were out of the top-four race by February but, even with that distraction this time around – combined with Emery’s desire to re-enter the Champions League at all costs – Europa League knockout opponents BATE Borisov should provide little resistance. Since August 2016, BATE have won just two of their last eleven home games in the Europa League, and they shouldn’t be counted upon to improve on a half-time result, having done so just once in that same period of Europa League home games.
Meanwhile, Arsenal should maintain their habit of winning to nil on the road in the Europa League but, even if Unai Emery’s men fail to do that, the second leg will put everything right. The second leg will represent Arsenal’s eleventh home game in the Europa League and, of the preceding ten, the Gunners won six times. All but the most recent of the wins in that sequence saw them score three or more goals. At all venues, Arsenal have not conceded in five Europa League games, winning the first half – with a clean sheet – in four of their six group game this season.