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Champions League

Has Tottenham’s Harry Kane now reached the top of the European game?

Jake Jackman

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Harry Kane

Harry Kane’s career has been on an upwards trajectory since he broke into the Tottenham first-team during the 2014/15 season and he is now beginning to make an impact in the Champions League. The striker has scored more than 20 goals in the Premier League for three seasons in succession, but his failure to make an impact on the European stage has prevented him from being regarded as one of the best on the continent.

Last night, the 24-year-old scored a perfect hat-trick against APOEL to make it two wins out of two for Tottenham in the Champions League. His tally for the competition is already at five after only two match-weeks and he is already a contender to finish as the tournament’s top scorer. There will be some talking down his accomplishments in Cyprus due to the quality of the opposition, but he proved his worth two weeks ago, with a match-winning display against Borussia Dortmund.

There will be some getting carried away with his achievements in the competition to date. Rio Ferdinand recently compared the striker to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, when discussing Kane’s six hat-tricks in 2017:

“Those kind of stats are up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s quickly letting people know that he is here to stay.”

It isn’t helpful to compare him to the two best players in the world, even if Ferdinand was alluding to the hat-trick statistic rather than his ability. That said, there is no doubt that Kane is beginning to enhance his reputation on the continent. This could be his breakout season as he attempts to establish himself as one of the best strikers in Europe.

How good is Harry Kane?

Unlike a lot of the players at the top of the European game, Kane wasn’t always destined for the very top. He has had to earn his way to his current position through hard work and determination. Before being given a fair run of games in the first-team at White Hart Lane, he had to go out on four loan spells.

The loan system is often criticised, but the England international believes that it played a key role in preparing him for where he is now, especially his spell at Millwall. He confirmed as much when he played against them last season in the FA Cup:

“It was a great experience for me and there is no doubt it was a big stepping stone to where I am now. Everyone knows it can be a tough place to play but I learnt so much in a short space of time and it definitely helped me grow up. To be thrown into that at 18 was really good and it’s one of the things that made me who I am today.”

During his time with the Lions, he scored nine goals in 27 appearances and was given a significant role for the first time in senior football. It would have certainly have improved his mentality and provided him with experience on the pitch that helped him get to the top of the English game, as he was never going to be given an opportunity at White Hart Lane.

There is always an element of luck when it comes to a young player breaking through and making a name for themselves. The faltering careers of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor gave a chance to Kane in the Premier League and he hasn’t looked back since. Mauricio Pochettino is a coach that trusts young players and once the Englishman broke into the team, the Argentine was never likely to replace him with a bigger name.

Since the beginning of his breakthrough season, 2014/15, he has scored 79 Premier League goals at a rate of one every 114.2 minutes. This past year he has progressed further, reaching a whole new level in terms of his personal achievements. To date, he has scored 34 goals in all competitions, including six hat-tricks. No Premier League player has even come close to him in terms of find the back of the net.

Kane is a complete centre-forward. He is intelligent in his movement and capable of taking up the most threatening positions in the final third. He has a good burst of acceleration and, paired with his strength, this makes him incredibly dangerous when he is running at the opposition back four. The 24-year-old is capable of scoring all sorts of goals and plays a prominent role in the build-up play.

It has been in the Premier League that he has forged a reputation for himself, but he is respected across Europe. This was clear from Giorgio Chiellini’s comments when asked about the striker back in August:

“I played one time [against Kane] in a friendly match for the national team. I think he’s one of the best in Europe.

“He’s the best striker in England. I think he continues to improve himself year on year, he can join up [play], he [likes] working in the box and working behind the ball.”

Although he has yet to make an impact in the Champions League, until now, the rest of Europe are aware of his talents and he already has respect from those at the very top of the game. The comments from big-name personalities in football have perhaps been over the top, including Rio Ferdinand’s, but Kane is beginning to establish himself on the European stage and that is encouraging as it has been a long time since an Englishman has managed to do that.

Can Tottenham keep hold of him for the long-term?

The more goals that Harry Kane scores, the more speculation will arise regarding his long-term future. Tottenham have yet to win a trophy under Mauricio Pochettino and until they do, they will be at risk of losing their key players. Nonetheless, during the summer, the striker reaffirmed his commitment to the club:

“Football for me isn’t about money. I’m at Tottenham because I love this club and I see it going in the right direction. I feel we are one of the best teams in England and Europe, so I’m excited for the future ahead. Everyone knows I’m a Spurs fan and that’s where I want to be for the foreseeable future.”

These quotes suggest that Kane has a good mentality and approaches football as a passion rather than a career. Tottenham are a club progressing in the right direction under Mauricio Pochettino and it is easy to pledge your future to them in their current state. However, the landscape can change quickly in football and if Spurs stop progressing, they could find it difficult to keep hold of their leading man.

That said, his focus on the moment will be to continue developing, while ignoring the hype that is building around him. Kane has never been an individual to revel in praise for too long as he looks to keep moving forward and meet the next target. If he isn’t regarded as world-class right now, it won’t be long until he is.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Champions League

Are Tottenham Hotspur potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Tottenham
Photo: Reuters

Of the five Premier League clubs that have progress to the last 16 of the Champions League,  Tottenham Hotspur are the surprise package.

Their lacklustre domestic form, coupled with a devilishly difficult group that featured European heavyweights Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, meant few expected Spurs to be in the draw for the knockout stages.

But Mauricio Pochettino’s charges, playing their home matches at Wembley Stadium while they await the completion of their brand-new stadium at White Hart Lane, exceeded all expectations.

Their reward is a daunting two-legged tie with last season’s runners-up, Italian powerhouse Juventus. Here, The Boot Room assesses Tottenham’s chances of lifting the trophy.

Performances so far

When the groups were announced, the odds were stacked massively against Spurs finishing in the top two.

Although Cypriot outfit Apoel Nicosia appeared on paper to be favourable opposition, the presence of two clubs with an enviable Champions League pedigree, in Real and Dortmund, looked to be too big a challenge to overcome.

So for Tottenham to remain unbeaten and qualify as group winners was a huge fillip for Pochettino. The victory at home to Real on a magical night at Wembley will live long in the memory, as will the hard-earned point they earned in the corresponding fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu.

That was the only match in which they dropped points, having completed noteworthy doubles over Dortmund and Apoel.

Squad strength

Although Tottenham finished second in the Premier League last season, questions continue to be asked about their strength in depth.

In Harry Kane, the north London club boast arguably the most in-form striker in world football, while the likes of Dele Alli, Cristian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld are regularly rated among the elite footballers in Europe.

Beyond that, however, Spurs have some issues.

Despite signing Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier and Fernando Llorente last summer in an effort to bolster his resources, the suspicion remains that Pochettino is over-reliant on a few individuals – especially Kane. If he were to get injured for a prolonged period, then Tottenham’s goal scoring potency and their effectiveness would be severely diminished.

Manager

Pochettino has been a revelation since swapping the Southampton hot-seat for Tottenham’s in 2014, taking the club to the next level.

The Champions League was not new territory for Spurs, who had qualified for a single season under Harry Redknapp’s stewardship, but the Argentinian manager has made their presence in the competition commonplace.

One criticism often aimed at Pochettino is that, for all his good work in transforming Spurs into a genuine force to rival the very best in the Premier League, he is yet to win any silverware.

He twice lifted the Copa del Rey with Espanyol, but his time in England has so far proved fruitless. With such a talented squad at his disposal, it is high time he saw tangible reward.

Chances of winning

Despite their magnificent effort to top Group H, Spurs are one of the outsiders to win the Champions League this season.

Their potential path to the final has already been complicated after being drawn against Juventus in the last 16. However, should they achieve the not-so-small matter of knocking out last year’s finalists, who would bet against them going all the way?

Domestically, Tottenham have struggled to reproduce last season’s form and have dropped far too many points, particularly at home. But this has been in stark contrast to their performances in Europe.

They can take great heart from their displays against Real and Dortmund and should believe they belong at this rarefied level. And with a striker as prolific as Kane in their team, anything can happen.

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Champions League

Are Manchester City potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

With a seemingly unassailable advantage at the top of the table, Manchester City are all but guaranteed to be crowned this season’s Premier League champions. However, manager Pep Guardiola, not to mention the club’s fiercely ambitious owners, will have an even greater prize on their minds.

The Cityzens have never won the Champions League, but such has been their form in all competitions that they must surely be in contention to lift the most coveted trophy in European football. Here, The Boot Room analyses Manchester City’s prospects of becoming the first English club to win the Champions League since 2012.

Performances so far

Mirroring their fortunes in the Premier League, Manchester City dominated the first stage of the Champions League, qualifying for the last 16 with ease as Group F winners.

Drawn with Napoli, Feyenoord and Shakhtar Donetsk, City won their first five fixtures – scoring 13 goals in the process – before an unexpected defeat with a weakened team to the Ukrainian outfit ended their 100 per cent record and removed some of the gloss.

The two wins over Italian giants Napoli – 2-1 at the Etihad and 4-2 away – were particularly impressive given their form in Serie A. Paired against Swiss side Basel in the last 16 – the round at which they bowed out of the competition last year – City are very highly fancied to book their spot in the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Guardiola has assembled one of the strongest squads in European football; one to rival the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Since last season, the Spaniard has focused on strengthening his defence. Out went Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy, who were all deemed surplus to requirements, while in came upgrades Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy. Goalkeeper Ederson has been a revelation since arriving from Benfica and shored up a back line that had been their Achilles heel.

Another summer arrival, Bernardo Silva, has been used more sparingly but provides depth in central midfield. City also boast in their ranks arguably the best player in Europe this season, Kevin de Bruyne, who has been a tour de force in central midfield alongside the guile and subtlety of David Silva.

Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, currently sidelined through injury, provide genuine potency in front of goal.

Manager

Although the investment has been substantial, Guardiola must take credit for improving his young stars. The rise of Raheem Sterling is a pertinent example. The England star flattered to deceive last season but has been rejuvenated, scoring for fun and providing real creativity in City’s all-conquering side.

As a player, Guardiola never experienced Champions League glory with Barcelona but he twice guided them to the trophy as manager, in 2009 and 2011. He could not repeat the feat at Bayern Munich, although he did capture the Bundesliga title on three successive occasions.

Now in his second season in Manchester, the 46-year-old is yet to win silverware. However, given City’s current position as runaway Premier League leaders, that is sure to change – perhaps in spectacular fashion.

Chances of winning

It’s no surprise City are rated favourites by bookmakers to lift the prestigious cup later this year. One only needs to look at their record this season to see they are the form team in Europe. In a division as competitive as the Premier League, their 19-match winning sequence was an extraordinary feat.

With a favourable last-16 tie, City will believe they can progress to the last eight and beyond. Football is an unpredictable game, but nobody would be shocked to see them walking out in the showpiece final in four months’ time. And with Guardiola at the helm, they have the ideal manager to mastermind the club’s maiden European title.

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Champions League

Are Chelsea potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Antonio Conte will be looking to emulate his Italian counterpart Roberto di Matteo, by leading Chelsea to Champions League glory this season. The Blues’ champagne moment six years ago was the realisation of a dream Roman Abramovich had held since he gained ownership of the club in 2003.

Chelsea are the reigning Premier League champions, having claimed the title in Conte’s first campaign in charge. But the former Italy boss’s honeymoon period is now over, amid a run of mixed results and speculation of player unrest. Here, The Boot Room assesses Chelsea’s prospects of lifting the Champions League for a second time.

Performances so far

The Blues were in the same group as both Atletico Madrid and Roma – as well as minnows Qarabag – and they finished level on points with the Italian club at the top of the standings. The highlight was a 2-1 victory away to Atletico, courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Michy Batshuayi. A routine double was completed over Qarabag, but it was their results against Roma that shaped the final standings.

Even though both clubs ended on 11 points to qualify for the last 16 and Chelsea had a vastly superior goal difference, the Blues could only follow up their 3-0 defeat in the Italian capital with a 3-3 draw at home. This proved costly, with Conte’s side finishing second and being drawn against Barcelona, which has significantly dented their chances of making it into the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Chelsea captured the Premier League at a canter last season, thanks largely to the goals of Diego Costa and the brilliance of Eden Hazard. Despite the summer arrival of Alvaro Morata, Costa’s departure has been a big loss. Surprisingly, Nemanja Matic was permitted to join Manchester United, while David Luiz has fallen out of favour under Conte.

Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have added depth to the squad, while the rise to prominence of Andreas Christensen has been an unexpected bonus. Ross Barkley is the first of their signings in the January window and perhaps more will follow. Most important is proper competition for the misfiring Morata, with Chelsea currently lacking a cutting edge in tight games.

Manager

A three-time winner of Serie A with Juventus (to go alongside last season’s Premier League crown), Conte is without doubt a manager of immense repute. After Jose Mourinho’s reign had turned sour, the 48-year-old was the perfect successor. He revitalised Chelsea and turned them into champions after adopting a 3-4-3 formation that proved to be a masterstroke.

Conte has a unique style of management. His demonstrable shows of passion are loved by supporters, but his intensity has sparked rumours that he is not universally liked by his players. Costa fell foul of his wrath last summer, while Brazilian centre-back Luiz is the latest to be marginalised. Conte’s public clashes with his superiors over failed transfer targets have increased the tension.

Chances of winning

When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they had to beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals. If they want to lift the prestigious trophy again this year, it’s a feat they will need to repeat. Although the Blues are more than capable of competing with the very best in Europe, they would much rather have avoided opponents of Barcelona’s class at this stage.

Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not topping Group C, which would likely have given them a smoother passage to the last eight. Barcelona, the runaway La Liga leaders, are by no means unbeatable, but they will be the favourites to progress and Chelsea will need to be at their very best over both games to stop them.

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