Focus on clubs the British contenders face in Champions League action this week

By Sports Desk October 23, 2023

England and Scotland’s Champions League representatives return to action this week with some looking to maintain momentum and others determined to kick-start their campaigns.

Holders Manchester City and Newcastle currently top their respective groups while Arsenal are well placed after two games, but Manchester United and Celtic are yet to open their accounts.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the teams the British contenders face in the latest round of fixtures.

Manchester United v Copenhagen (Tuesday)

 

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Danish champions Copenhagen began their campaign in the second qualifying round, easing past Iceland’s Breidablik 8-3 on aggregate, but were extended much further to secure their place in the play-offs as they drew 0-0 with Sparta Prague at the Parken Stadium before progressing 4-2 on penalties after an eventful 3-3 draw in the Czech capital.

Polish champions Rakow Czestochowa provided the opposition as they fought for a place in the group stage and a 1-0 away win in the first leg proved decisive as the sides drew 1-1 in Denmark in the return.

Copenhagen are currently a point clear of Silkeborg and Brondby at the top of the Danish Superliga, but have won only once in their last four games in all competitions – Saturday’s 2-1 home victory over lowly Vejle BK.

They launched their Group A campaign with a 2-2 draw at Galatasaray, where they led 2-0 before defender Elias Jelert was sent off and were beaten 2-1 at home by Bayern Munich last time out, having gone ahead once again.

The game could prove something of a family affair for United striker Rasmus Hojlund, 20, who could come up against 18-year-old twin brothers Oscar and Emil, both part of former club Copenhagen’s squad for the competition.

Sevilla v Arsenal (Tuesday)

Sevilla are making their ninth appearance in the group stage and qualified as a result of extending their record as UEFA Cup or Europa League winners to seven with a penalty shoot-out victory over Roma in last season’s final in Budapest.

They have not made it to the last 16 in their last two attempts and welcome the Gunners to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, having drawn both their Group B fixtures to date.

The Spaniards led French side Lens 1-0 at home in their opener courtesy of Lucas Ocampos’ early strike, but had to settle for a point after Angelo Fulgini levelled and they were pegged back once again in a dramatic conclusion to their trip to PSV Eindhoven, where they were 1-0 up and 2-1 ahead before Jordan Teze snatched a 2-2 draw deep into stoppage time.

Sevilla, who lost to Manchester City on penalties in August’s European Super Cup clash in Athens, finished 11th in last season’s LaLiga table, 39 points adrift of champions Barcelona and again find themselves in mid-table.

They have won only two of their 12 games in all competitions to date this season, but drew a second-successive league game on Saturday, when visitors Real Madrid needed a Daniel Carvajal equaliser to emerge with a point.

Celtic v Atletico Madrid (Wednesday)

 

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Twice runners-up – on both occasions to derby rivals Real Madrid – Atletico have genuine Champions League pedigree, although they failed to make the last 16 for the first time in five seasons in 2022-23.

The sides have met on six previous occasions in European competition with the Spaniards having come out on top four times, the last of them a 1-0 Europa League victory at Celtic Park in November 2011, with the Scottish champions’ only reward two draws.

Atleti currently top Group E on goals scored ahead of Lazio with both sides on four points and Feyenoord a point behind.

They drew 1-1 in Rome – where the Serie A side were indebted to goalkeeper Ivan Provedel’s last-gasp equaliser – and twice came from behind at the Estadio Metropolitano, where Alvaro Morata’s double either side of an Antoine Griezmann strike secured a 3-2 victory over the Dutchmen.

Diego Simeone’s men head into the game on the back of a six-match winning run culminating in Saturday’s 3-0 league victory at Celta Vigo.

Newcastle v Borussia Dortmund (Wednesday)

Last season’s Bundesliga runners-up, Dortmund were European champions in 1997 and went down 2-1 to compatriots Bayern Munich in the 2013 final.

They have made it to the knockout stage of the Champions League in eight of their 10 most recent campaigns, but went out to Chelsea in the round of 16 last season.

Their record in England, however, does not augur well with seven of their last eight visits having ended in defeat – both the Blues and Manchester City got the better of them last season.

Dortmund have collected just a single point from their two Group F outings to date, but are yet to find the back of the net following a 2-0 defeat at Paris St Germain and a 0-0 home draw with AC Milan.

However, the reverse in Paris remains the only one they have suffered in 11 games in all competitions and they have won their last five league games – the most recent of them a 1-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Friday – to sit two points adrift of early leaders Bayer Leverkusen.

Young Boys v Manchester City (Wednesday)

The Swiss champions are playing in the Champions League for the 10th time having missed out on a place in last season’s Europa League after a play-off defeat by Anderlecht.

They collected five points from their six games on their last appearance in 2021-22 and finished bottom of their group as a result.

Young Boys won their first home Champions League game against an English club – Tottenham in a 2010-11 play-off – but eventually went down 6-3 on aggregate and their last, a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in September 2021 on a night when Cristiano Ronaldo scored but Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off.

They went down 3-1 at home to Leipzig in their opening fixture, but were denied victory at Red Star Belgrade when Osman Bukari’s late goal ensured it ended 2-2.

They are unbeaten in four games in all competitions, but were held to a goalless home draw by FC Zurich on Saturday.

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  • Home success gives Newcastle boss Eddie Howe reasons to be cheerful Home success gives Newcastle boss Eddie Howe reasons to be cheerful

    Eddie Howe is hoping there is more to come from Newcastle after seeing them secure a first home win of 2024 and the 100th of his Premier League career.

    The Magpies had not tasted victory at St James’ Park since they beat Fulham 3-0 on December 16, but they ended that run by beating injury-hit Wolves by the same scoreline to suggest they could finally be emerging from a difficult run.

    Coming four days after they edged past Sky Best Championship Blackburn into the FA Cup quarter-finals, the win left head coach Howe in positive mood.

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    He said: “Sometimes you just have to find a way to get over the finishing line and you know then that there are better performances ahead. I think we were in that moment today.

    “I don’t think today was ever going to be a classic Newcastle performance, but I think it’s a building bridge closer to where we want to be.

    “I thought Blackburn was very similar. We got through, that was the main thing. Today was slightly better again and I’d like to think now with the strength of the group returned that we will hopefully see continued improvement in performances.”

    Newcastle were happy to sit back and try to hit the visitors on the break during the first half, and the ploy paid handsome dividends when Alexander Isak headed home after Bruno Guimaraes’ shot had been half blocked and then Anthony Gordon slotted into an empty net after goalkeeper Jose Sa had collided with team-mate Max Kilman.

    Asked if the ploy had worked as he had hoped, Howe, who lost Kieran Trippier to a calf problem, added: “It was a slight tweak from our normal way of playing. We analyse our opposition, like we do always.

    “There are always tweaks and little things we try to do to help us in our performance, and that was one today, to try to maybe play a slightly more transitional game.”

    Wolves, who were without injured duo Hwang Hee-chan – he is expected to be sidelined for around six weeks by a hamstring injury – and Matheus Cunha and lost both Sa and Pedro Neto at half-time, gave as good as they got for long periods, but found Magpies keeper Martin Dubravka in resilient form again.

    Their day was done when substitute Tino Livramento capped a good afternoon for the hosts in stoppage time with a fine solo run and finish to wrap up the win.

    Head coach Gary O’Neill, however, was not convinced about the merits of Howe’s game plan.

    He said: “There’s no way that Newcastle let us have a lot of the ball. We had a lot of the ball because we were really good with the ball.

    “I know Eddie Howe, I know Newcastle. They press everybody, especially at home. The reason we had the ball was our quality and how good we were with it.”

    O’Neil added: “I thought structurally we were the better side, had real control of the game, control of the ball, so I’m really proud of the group for what they gave today.”

  • Neil Critchley happy with clean sheet in Blackpool win at Shrewsbury Neil Critchley happy with clean sheet in Blackpool win at Shrewsbury

    Blackpool boss Neil Critchley was delighted to have kept a clean sheet after his side secured their third League One win in four matches with a 2-0 victory at Shrewsbury.

    The hosts’ best chance of the game came just before the 20-minute mark when Tom Bloxham’s first-time cross found Dan Udoh in the box but his diving header was kept out by goalkeeper Dan Grimshaw.

    The Tangerines broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute when Hayden Coulson cut the ball across goal for Karamoko Dembele, who fired in at the back post.

    Blackpool doubled their advantage with just six minutes remaining when Dembele’s cross found the unmarked Coulson in the box and he headed home.

    Critchley said: “I felt we played with more belief in who we want to be, passed the ball better, controlled the game from the back better, built the play and that allowed us to build confidence in the game and get control of the game.

    “We have won the game with two moments of quality and we have limited the home team to little and it was nice to keep a clean sheet.

    “Even though we were comfortable and they didn’t look like scoring, we know it just takes one moment and they are dangerous at set pieces so it was nice to get the second goal and both goals came at a good time for us.

    “He (Dembele) is a brilliant footballer I love watching him play as the supporters do. He is exciting, he does something different and is something different in this league.

    “He is really courageous, he takes the ball in any area of the pitch, he backs himself.”

    Shrewsbury head coach Paul Hurst had mixed emotions.

    He said: “We were beaten by a better team with very good players but there wasn’t much in the game.

    “I feel the goal knocks us, it looks like it takes belief out of some of the players which I am not accepting of.

    “I have said the fans here are great, they keep behind the players. I said it when I was here last time, it is kind of a nice place to play for a home player.

    “I’m sure there will be an odd comment which you are bound to get but they don’t get on your back so that shouldn’t knock confidence.

    “I don’t feel we committed to everything in the game and that maybe is summed up with Dan’s (Udoh) chance – which I know was offside – which he heads and the keeper tips it over.

    “They can’t have a ball in the box from a corner and their player swing and misses it and it bounces and they still get the next touch to the ball, that is impossible.”

  • Philippe Clement calls for protection for his players after Rangers’ shock loss Philippe Clement calls for protection for his players after Rangers’ shock loss

    Boss Philippe Clement claimed Ross McCausland was “kicked off the pitch” in the 2-1 defeat by Motherwell which dented Rangers’ cinch Premiership title hopes.

    With the visitors leading through a Theo Bair strike, the Northern Ireland winger had to be replaced by Fabio Silva in the 35th minute after he was caught by Dan Casey after the Fir Park defender won a tackle.

    Gers skipper James Tavernier scored from the spot on the hour but Casey’s 74th-minute header gave the Steelmen their first league win at Ibrox since 1997.

    It was a first defeat in 12 games for Rangers and although they remain two points clear of Celtic at the top of the table, the Parkhead side get the chance to leapfrog them at Hearts on Sunday.

    Clement confirmed beforehand that Oscar Cortes, on loan from Lens, would be out for “a long time” following the muscle injury picked up against Kilmarnock in midweek, with fellow wide-men Abdallah Sima and Rabbi Matondo also out.

    The Gers boss said: “Ross is bad because he was kicked off the pitch. There was no foul, no yellow card, no red card.

    “When I see how we’ve got red cards in the last few months – then I see this action – I don’t understand it to be honest.

    “There is too much intensity. When you have to take a player off in the first-half because he can’t walk any more after contact, you need to realise something bad happened there. But clearly not.

    “I didn’t think about the fact the same player scored the winning goal.

    “I only think about the chances we had to score. I only think about my team and making it better.”

    The Belgian boss would not directly say that Casey should have been red carded by referee Alan Muir, adding: “I am not a referee. And I know every word I say becomes a big thing always.

    “I think players need to be better protected. We have now already several players kicked off the pitch this season. I think they need to be protected in a better way.”

    It was the first points dropped at home by Clement since taking over from Michael Beale in October and he is expecting a positive reaction.

    He said: “That’s the interesting thing now. I didn’t expect to have this moment after five months in the building. I thought it would be much earlier.

    “Now I’ll get to know my team even better. I know them really well already. But now I’m going to see who’s going to be the guys to stand up after a disappointment.

    “I don’t doubt it too much. They are very disappointed and a lot of heads are down. I’m disappointed too, not to get the three points.

    “But you need to cope with it, take the right lessons and learn from it to become better. That’s our ambition now.”

    Stuart Kettlewell was delighted with Motherwell’s performance but puzzled by Clement’s assessment of McCausland.

    He said: “Everybody has got their own opinion. I don’t see it as kicked off the pitch as such.

    “I’ve not seen a replay of the incident but at the time it was very close to me and Dan Casey looked 60-40 favourite, or maybe even more than that, to come through and get the ball.

    “At the time I wasn’t seeing anything. The referee doesn’t even book him so it doesn’t look as if there was a foul. He was first man to the ball clearly so I’m a wee bit surprised [by Clement’s comments].”

    On his side’s shock victory, the Well boss said: “We were asked plenty of questions, we were put under the cosh.

    “We had to go into what I call emergency defending in the dying embers. We know that you are going to have to go through all that to get something here – you are going to have to suffer. Of that there is no question.

    “When you come here that idea of just sitting in is never going to work. You need to carry a threat on the other side. That is what pleases me most.”

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