Hugo Lloris says Spurs are still not built to win the Champions League

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Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris says his club are still not built to win the Champions League, despite their run to the final last season.

Spurs got to the showpiece event in Madrid for the first time in their history and against all odds as Mauricio Pochettino led the club further in Europe than any other manager.

They ultimately fell just short against Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium and the challenge now is to prove that was not just a one-off as this season’s competition gets under way.

Lloris will lead his side out at Olympiacos in their Group B opener and said: “I think with a lot of humility there are some clubs that have the profile to win Champions League every season.

“Historically and with the talent they have in the squad. They put a stamp on this competition. That’s not the case for Tottenham.

“But as we saw last year, everything is possible if you have the belief, the talent and the discipline. Why not be back again?

“But obviously we have a different profile to that type of club – Juve, Barca, Madrid, Bayern. That type of club.

“It’s not a lack of ambition. When we go on the pitch, it’s to win, whoever is the opponent in front of us. We don’t want to look too far forward.

“Those type of things you can spend energy on and you can leave an accident.

“The best way is to focus on game one. Then game two. Then game three.

“Step-by-step to build your ambitions, as we did last season. The main thing is to go through this group stage.”

Spurs’ squad is still full of talent and the likes of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Jan Vertonghen are reaching the peak of their careers.

And Lloris is hoping they can all play their part to help Spurs get over the line and win a trophy.

“Now we’ve arrived at an age where we’ve got the experience to have an impact towards the team,” he added. “Hopefully we will go in the same way.

“I always used to repeat: when you arrive at a level, the important thing is to do everything to stay at the same level, especially the level we arrived at last year, as the runner-up of the Champions League, to be the fourth time in a row qualified for the Champions League.

“It’s not a coincidence. We’re doing something well, we’re building something strong.

“But we cannot drop the level. We need to build the consistency to improve, to get even closer to what we are all looking for – trophies.”

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, says his side are not among the Champions League favourites this season.

“No-one today will give us a chance to be one of the contenders to be in the final in Istanbul but that is normal,” he said. “That makes it very exciting.

“We know to repeat the same campaign we need to play in our best. It is so early to talk about the final but most important is to show our quality, our squad quality and do our best.

“I don’t care if people think if we are contenders or not because we went to the final and have a possibility to fight for this title.

“I don’t care. I am focused on starting this Champions League in a good way.”

Pochettino guided Spurs memorably to the Champions League final in May.

Pochettino guided Spurs memorably to the Champions League final in May.

That could be imperative as in a group that also contains Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade, they cannot repeat their horrible start to last season’s competition.

They had just one point after three games and needed an amazing set of results to make it through to the knockout stage.

They will be heavy favourites to win in Athens on Wednesday night and Pochettino has urged them to live up to their billing.

“We cannot talk in different way, a few months ago we played final of Champions League and (playing) Olympiacos will put us in this level of favourites for the game,” Pochettino said.

“I respect the opposition and the history and it is going to be tough here. You need to show why you are favourites.

“If you are better than opponents then OK, you were better but before the game in the Champions League you need to show full respect and Olympiacos are a very good team.

“Their record here in this stadium in Europe is so good and it’s going to be a tough atmosphere, the first game of group stage and excitement will be high.

“They will have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take the game in our best condition we are going to suffer.”

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Champions League Group C preview: Manchester City to top, Atalanta to finish runners-up

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The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest to be crowned kings, with the Champions League kicking off this week.

The group stage phase of the competition will produce the 16 teams that will feature in the last 16 draw in December.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to leave an early mark right from the word go, there are legitimate excuses to be absolutely thrilled about the Champions League right from matchday one.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group C …

Manchester City (England)

SergioAgueroKevindeBruyneBernardoSilvaManCityBasel

Manager: Pep Guardiola

The Premier League champions, having established dominance in England, simply have to carry that onto the European stage. Despite his vast trophy cabinet, Pep Guardiola’s inability to win a Champions League title without Lionel Messi in the team will stand out as a black mark.

A title with this City side could make his case as the finest manager of this generation even more assured.

City’s best run in the Champions League arrived in the 2015/16 season when they made the semi-finals, only for Real Madrid to edge them out in a bland encounter. Last season, Guardiola’s side were involved in last-minute drama in the quarter-final tie against Spurs, with VAR ruling in the latter’s favour and knocking City out of the competition… again.

Consistency in the Premier League demands an improved performance in Europe and there will be no excuses for City not winning the group. They are strong favourites for every game but could expect a strong fight from Italy debutants Atalanta.

The Premier League champions have been criticised for showing complacency in the later stages of the competition after cruising through relatively simple fixtures in the group stage. This is something they will need to work on this season.

Key player: Kevin De Bruyne

Atalanta (Italy)

Duvan Zapata

Manager: Gian Piero Gasperini

Atalanta will be pumped to kick-start their first-ever Champions League campaign as they travel to Zagreb this week. The Italian side featured in the Europa League during the last two seasons but are still infants in Europe.

However, their performances in Serie A last season makes them a real threat in the Champions League and also a relative unknown quantity this season. Atalanta scored more goals (77) than any other side in Italy’s top-flight last season and were made to work very hard for their spot at the top table of European football.

Gasperini’s side had to battle Roma, AC Milan and Torino and finished level on points with Inter Milan to grab third place and the coveted spot in the top-four. Duvan Zapata played a vital role in creating history for Atalanta, scoring 23 goals to propel his side to a favourable finish.

It is likely that Atalanta can make it to the knockouts in their first season in the competition too. They will be involved in an intense tussle with Shakhtar Donetsk for second place behind Man City, but are favourites to pip them to the runners-up spot.

Key player: Duvan Zapata

Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)

Shakhtar

Manager: Luis Castro

The Ukrainian side have been a regular in the Champions League having failed to qualify just once this decade. They qualified as winners of the Ukrainian Premier League, comfortably securing the title with an 11-point lead at the top.

Their best performance in Europe in recent times arrived two seasons ago when they qualified for the last 16 and were knocked out by Roma on away goals. Previously, they got the better of the Italians in the same round in the 2010/11 season but were thumped by eventual champions Barcelona in the quarter-final.

It is extremely optimistic to expect the Ukrainian side to top the group but a second-place finish is well within their capabilities. Shakhtar will have to defeat Dinamo Zagreb both home and away at all costs and churn out at least one massive win against Atalanta. It would help their case if they knock points off group favourites City in the home leg too.

Key player: Tete

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)

DaniOlmo

Manager: Nenad Bjelica

Dinamo Zagreb’s long and arduous journey in the qualification rounds has finally led them to the group stage after a break of two seasons. Nenad Bjelica’s men qualified for the second round of qualifiers because they won the Croatian First Football League by a massive margin of 25 points.

Zagreb then had to overcome Saburtalo Tbilisi, Ferencvaros and Rosenborg before they made it to the main draw in Monaco last month. The Croatian giants did so without losing a single game.

In the group stage of the 2016/17 season, Zagreb did not muster a single point in six games under manager Ivaylo Petev but they surprised Arsenal 2-1 at home in the previous season.

The Croatian giants face a tall task to qualify for the last 16 but they should believe they can finish third and qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League.

Watch out for the highly sought-after Dani Olmo who has already attracted interest from top European clubs such as Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Key player: Dani Olmo

Prediction:

1. Manchester City

2. Atalanta

3. Shakhtar Donetsk

4. Dinamo Zagreb

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Champions League Group D preview: Juventus to win the group, Atletico Madrid to finish second

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The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest to be crowned kings, with the Champions League kicking off this week.

The group stage phase of the competition will produce the 16 teams that will feature in the last 16 draw in December.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to leave an early mark right from the word go, there are legitimate excuses to be absolutely thrilled about the Champions League right from matchday one.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group D …

Juventus (Italy)

Cristiano Ronaldo

Manager: Maurizio Sarri

Having qualified as Serie A champions, Juventus are the team to beat in what can shape into a very interesting group. The Bianconeri will look to make it past the group stage for the sixth consecutive time after last failing to do so in the 2013/14 season.

The exclusion of players such as Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic from Juve’s Champions League squad testifies to their immense quality in depth. The Italian giants boast one of the most well-rounded squads in Europe, a necessity when teams fight for more than one trophy throughout the season.

In Cristiano Ronaldo, Juve have one of the finest players to have played in this competition. The Portuguese forward won three consecutive Champions League titles with Real Madrid before being knocked out with his new team by Ajax last season.

Ronaldo has made it his onus to end the Old Lady’s long wait for a European title and the ageless wonder, 34, will hold the key against Atletico Madrid in what could be the contest that decides the group on opening night.

The former Real man has a special liking for playing against the team from the other half of Madrid, a team against which he has scored 25 goals and registered eight assists in 33 appearances across all competitions. He also dumped them out of last season’s competition with a hat-trick in Turin to seal an epic fightback for the Bianconeri, after they had lost the first leg of the last 16 2-0 in Madrid.

But the Turin side will be without the services of injured Douglas Costa, Miralem Pjanic and Danilo against the Spanish side. This could play a huge role in determining the result on Wednesday and subsequently the final standings.

Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Atletico Madrid (Spain)

Joao Felix

Manager: Diego Simeone

The Spanish side established themselves as a familiar face in this competition earlier this decade and have never looked back. Although Los Rojiblancos won the Europa League three times in the last 10 years, they are yet to win a first Champions League title – despite twice losing finals to their hated city rivals Real.

Atleti will hope that this could be their year, having invested heavily and wisely in the transfer market during the summer. But Diego Simeone’s men must first finish in the top-two of a challenging group before they think of making it to the summit.

The 2018 Europa League winners boast incredible attacking talents in the exciting Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar, a solid midfield headed by Koke and a sturdy defence reinforced by the addition of former Espanyol defender Mario Hermoso. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world guarding the posts in Jan Oblak.

If Atletico build on their promising start in La Liga – where they won three of their first four games – and extrapolate it to the European stage, they should have absolutely no problem making it to the last 16. Although, Bayer Leverkusen are more than capable of spoiling the party.

Two seasons ago, the capital side was relegated to the Europa League after they failed to finish in the top two during the group stages. Two draws against Qarabag were majorly responsible for this unexpected failure. They should hence be wary of Lokomotiv Moscow and focus on getting all six points against the Russian side.

Key player: Joao Felix

Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)

Kai Havertz

Manager: Peter Bosz

Bayer Leverkusen have returned to the Champions League after a two-year absence, one of which was spent in the Europa League. Bayer have barely made a sound in Europe’s top tier competition since they made a huge noise by reaching the 2002 final, where they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid.

The German side could spring a surprise against Atletico and Juventus though and complicate the group dynamic. The raw talent prevalent at Leverkusen makes a fair case as to why the big guns must consider them equals.

In Kai Havertz, Leverkusen have one of the finest attacking talents in the world who could take Europe by storm this season. Leon Bailey, Kerem Demirbay and Chile star Charles Aranguiz are some of the other players who could help put the Bundesliga side on the European map again by eliminating one of the two big guns in the group.

Atletico were on the right side of a 4-2 win in the last 16 when Leverkusen last featured in this competition two years ago. Revenge will be on their minds as they look to shock the Spanish – and Italian – giants.

Key-player: Kai Havertz

Lokomotiv Moscow

Mario

Manager: Yuri Semin

Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow will feature in the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since they were knocked out in the last 16 by Monaco in the 2003/04 season, on their way to the final. The Russians’ best result on the European stage arrived between 1997 and 1999 when they made two consecutive semi-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup (equivalent to the Europa League). But Lokomotiv have failed to breach the last 32 of the Europa League since.

Interestingly, their current manager Yuri Semin was at the helm when they made it to the semis on those two occasions at the end of the 90s. He was also their manager when they first qualified for a European competition way back in the 1993/94 season.

Lokomotiv are considered the fodder of this group but they will look to make a statement during their home games. Russia always makes for a challenging away trip and sturdy performances at home could enable them to play spoilsport against the bigger clubs.

Key player: Joao Mario

Prediction:

1. Juventus

2. Atletico Madrid

3. Bayer Leverkusen

4. Lokomotiv Moscow

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