European club football returned to our screens this week and it was quite a bad Uefa Champions League experience for English clubs as records came down crumbling for London clubs. Defending champions Chelsea lost their first game in this competition under Roberto di Matteo away to Ukraine and the Arsenal were handed their first home Champions League defeat in 43 matches.
While both sides will still fancy their chances of proceeding to the knockout phase, the same cannot be said about defending English Premier League champions Manchester City whose deficiencies on the European stage were exposed once again by Ajax Amsterdam in the Dutch capital. With only one point from three games, they face possible elimination at the group stages as was the case last season.
That meant only Manchester United came up with something for England from Match Day Three and, even then, after going down by two goals. It is becoming a familiar story for the Red Devils who are having to come from behind in most of their matches. If you are positive, that is a show of character, but the pessimists will tell you it shows the team is starting matches too slowly for comfort.
The story was somewhat different in the Uefa Europa League where both Newcastle United and my Liverpool managed to chalk 1-0 home wins to go top of their respective groups while a lacklustre Tottenham Hotspur salvaged a point away to Slovenian side Maribor. The North London side will be happy with what was not a deserved point following a sluggish performance.
With that sorted out, focus will now return to domestic league action with Stamford Bridge hosting the tie of the weekend on Sunday as United visit high-flying Chelsea who have dropped only two points so far. United cannot afford another slow start to a match against a side of Chelseaâ€™s efficiency because there may be no way back for them. They will need to be tight at the back while giving their hosts some headaches of their own.
This is a crucial match for Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s troops because a loss will leave them seven points adrift of the leaders and should their City neighbours win this afternoon, they will have two sides ahead of them by the time they host Arsene Wengerâ€™s Arsenal next week. It is not fatal, but you do not want to be so far behind at any point if you want to reclaim your position as the top dog.
For the Blues, this match will be a test of their character after tasting defeat for the first time this season in the Champions League. I said at the beginning of the season that I was far from impressed by their early showings, but the table speaks for itself. They find themselves at the summit â€” deservedly so â€” and their victories against North London rivals Arsenal and Spurs prove their solidity.
Of course, the battle at the Bridge will be preceded by, among other games, the small matter of the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. This is one of those rare occasions when the hosts Everton go into the match as slight favourites owing to their better start to the season. They find themselves on position four while Liverpool are just crawling their way up the table.