If Tottenham Hotspur are to make the final again, then they’ll need to put in a good show against Bayern Munich in UEFA Champions League Group B this autumn.
After just coming up short to Liverpool, Spurs started spending money all of a sudden. More on that in a moment. This pool could go down to the wire when they visit Munich on the final matchday in December.
This group is set up nicely for drama. Tottenham made heavy weather of advancing from stage last year but this is easier than their previous pool.
Despite the presence of German heavyweights and hostile away trips to Olympiakos of Greece and Red Star Belgrade, Spurs ought to be navigating these choppy waters.
Barring accidents, Champions League Group B is a straight battle between Bayern and Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Olympiakos and Red Star are in their own race, meanwhile.
One to avoid finishing bottom and the Europa League beckons for either the Greek or Serbian side.
This latest in OpenOdds’ series of articles on the Champions League group stage looks at what’s in store in the meantime.
We profile the main contenders, and assess additions and what clubs have lost.
Pochettino backed in market, so must earn his Spurs again
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy reacted to bitter disappointment at losing the Champions League final in June by loosening the purse strings.
He backed Pochettino and they kept Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen at the club. Things should look pretty rosy for Spurs.
The major departure they feared never materialised and, if anything, they have strengthened midfield in anticipation of Eriksen going yet he stays in North London for now.
That gives Pochettino a wealth of options in the engine room, where Eric Dier is admittedly somewhat injury-prone.
Players like him fall down the pecking order following the captures of Giovani Lo Celso – a revelation at Real Betis last term – and Tanguy Ndombele.
Backup striker Fernando Llorente and right back Kieran Trippier are the only major exits from Spurs this summer. Others on the fringes left too, but weren’t really part of Pochettino’s plans.
You might think that leaves Tottenham relying on Harry Kane up front. They are anyway.
With Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura also doing well in attack, they’ve got the striker spot covered in case of emergency.
Long-standing interest in Fulham prodigy Ryan Sessegnon saw Spurs get their man at last.
This left-sided teenager remains an exciting and emerging talent who is more than just a homegrown quota purchase.
As Tottenham were good enough to go all the way to the final, Champions League Group B holds no fears for them.
The only worry is Pochettino’s prominence in the next Premier League manager to go betting. Punters piled into him for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
As the last transfer window was a triumph for Spurs and Pochettino got the backing in the market he wanted after 18 months without spending, he should be happy.
Kovac rebuilding Munich after Robben and Ribery exits
Munich counterpart Niko Kovac had the unenviable task of planning for life after star wide duo Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Say what you will about the pair who earlier in their careers courted controversy, but they played their best football at Bayern.
Their domestic dominance of German football during the decade of Ribery and Robben is no coincidence.
Kovac and the Munich hierarchy behind him have already made some big decisions in their wake.
Bayern opted against signing Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez on a permanent basis. Clearly he didn’t do enough in two years on loan from Real Madrid.
They also decided it was time to cut ties with once promising Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches and sold him to Lille.
Munich even let centre back Mats Hummels return to Borussia Dortmund. They did their main spending on remodelling defence early with big-money captures of France duo Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) September 3, 2019
Both were part of Les Bleus’ 2018 World Cup winning squad. Pavard saw more game time in Russia than Hernandez and also has previous Bundesliga experience with Stuttgart.
That also appears to have been a factor in bringing Croatia winger Ivan Perisic in on loan from Inter Milan.
He used to play for a Wolfsburg side that pushed Bayern a lot closer in the Bundesliga than the final table suggests in 2014-15.
Bayern also benefit from Barca castaway Coutinho
The real story in Munich though, is the late summer arrival of Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona.
That dream move to the Nou Camp from Liverpool just didn’t work out but, if replicating his Premier League form, he’s going to be a handful.
Coutinho, a Copa America winner with his country over the summer, has a point to prove. Liverpool managed just fine without him and he was never going to eclipse Lionel Messi at Barca.
In this post Ribery and Robben era, Bayern cannot carry Coutinho. Besides fellow loanee Perisic, there are a number of young wide options also among the supporting cast.
You wouldn’t call any of Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies or Serge Gnabry – remember him Arsenal fans? – the finished article yet. Some of these prospects need to step up and into the Ribery and Robben’s shoes.
This Champions League Group B is, in many ways, the perfect introduction to more regular involvement in European football for them. Neither Olympiakos nor Red Star can match up to Munich or Spurs.
These other two clubs in the pool do business of a very different scale. If players perform well in the Greek Superleague or Serbian equivalent, then they are sold.
It really leaves Olympiakos and Red Star competing for third place. They simply aren’t competitive enough to give Bayern and Tottenham anything other than a couple of uncomfortable away days.