It’s the Pep & Poch show

WHISPER it softly, but things are going for the Premier League teams in the Champions League this season. Injuries and decisions have mostly gone their way and even when one of them flops badly, a rival obliges by doing even worse.

Spurs did not merely "live with" Real Madrid, they murdered them, while Manchester City came from behind to out-pass the pass masters of Serie A. If they were the headline acts, Liverpool and Manchester United did much easier business without fuss.

Only Chelsea messed up but thanks to the inexplicable, goal-shy stumbling of Atletico Madrid, the Blues should still make it to the knockout phase.

Without getting too carried away, it looks as if at least a couple of this contingent could go deep into the competition.

A fortnight on from their coming of age in the Bernabeu, Spurs suddenly found themselves staring at the prospect of three successive defeats. With Crystal Palace next up at home on Sunday, it was hardly a crisis but losses to West Ham and Man United constituted a blip. Compounded, of course, by the growing belief they might be "a Harry Kane team" after all.

Well, the talisman was back and that notion was surely put to bed by a tremendous all round team performance even if they were helped by an offside opener.

As they say in cricket, Kane did not trouble the scorers but played a big part, but no bigger than Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Harry Winks – undaunted by the best midfield in the game – Kieran Trippier or Eric Dier.

Real had also not been themselves, most notably in an off-the-Richter loss at Girona at the weekend. That's two in a row and for them and that is a crisis. Some say trailing at halftime is but there can be no doubt what three might do for the employment prospects of Zinedine Zidane.

At least Cristiano Ronaldo had a better game than of late and scored, but the Madrid hierarchy won't be able to ignore a defensive performance that seemed culled from the Liverpool coaching manual. One shake of the head by His Highness late on was one of many enduring images from a memorable game.

If Spurs could carve up Sergio Ramos Sdn Bhd like this, it made you wonder what Pep's City would do. After weathering an opening storm out of the Bay of Naples, they gave notice that they are serious contenders for Old Big Ears as well as the Premier League.

It has to be said the game turned on the early substitution of the lively Faouzi Ghoulam, (who City are trying to sign), but once Napoli were hampered by another injury to Dries Mertens, the Citizens capitalised.

As ever, Pep surprised with his line-up, leaving David Silva and Gabriel Jesus out of his starting XI, but the sheer pace of their counter-attacks ultimately did for the tiring hosts.

With centre-backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi both scoring headers from crosses, these may have been collector's items for a Guardiola side, but underlined its all-round footballing quality. Aguero's record simply cemented his legend status.

City are a vastly superior outfit to last season and it's not all about money: the same players are vastly superior too. Exhibit A: Raheem Sterling. Exhibit B: Stones. Exhibit C: Fabian Delph. At times, it's exhibition stuff they're playing.

United's win over Benfica was so uneventful the story was about who took the penalties. Jose Mourinho's mean-spiritedness in denying Romelu Lukaku the chance to gain a bit of confidence confirmed that he is not merely a Grinch but a miserable old git.

There's not a lot of joy in this Man United side – unlike his first Chelsea side when he was like an elder brother to the senior players. And there's certainly no joy in watching them.

Liverpool will have been glad of another cushy home game after the debacle with Spurs – and have now kept two clean sheets. But against both Huddersfield and Maribor, it was the second half before they broke the deadlock. At least Daniel Sturridge is finding the target – he may have to do so more often.

Antonio Conte may not appreciate the irony, but as the English renaissance in Europe gathers pace, it's the Italian job that is faltering. From the magnificent defensive performance in the new Wanda Metropolitano stadium that was the best by an English club in perhaps a decade, Chelsea looked like amateurs against Roma.

Something is clearly not right at the Bridge and although they're not likely to have 'a Mourinho season' and come 10th, they are not a united bunch – on or off the field. And as with the meltdown of 2015/16, much of it is self-inflicted.

Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic have gone – and neither had to. Conte, by his body language and off-the-cuff remarks, does not look as if he's enjoying life. Nor does Alvaro Morata who, after his embarrassing U-turn over living in the capital, is unlikely to be sponsored by the London Tourist Board.

But how Chelsea allow such turmoil to happen on a regular basis suggests too many interfering underlings are trying to please Roman Abramovich. The manager should be allowed to manage – but that is seldom the case for more than a couple of seasons.

Still, Conte usually gets his team to bounce back after a bad defeat which is why they may be too good for United at the Bridge – especially if they have N'Golo Kante back.

City will be favourites to beat Arsenal at the Etihad, but Arsene Wenger will have been heartened by the way Napoli took it to City early doors. He has players who can do that in Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil but if he risks playing all three, he will leave his rearguard exposed. More likely he'll play safe.

On this week's evidence, City and Spurs look a cut above the rest and it is likely they will confirm that with home wins on Sunday. It's still early but an English renaissance in Europe usually heralds a changing of the guard at home.

Bob will be signing copies of his book Living the Dream… or Enduring the Nightmare? at Sid's Pub, 34 Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, TTDI, KL on Sunday, November 5 from 7pm (before Spurs vs C. Palace, City vs Arsenal & Chelsea vs Man U).