Champions League: Fairytale or nightmare for Leicester and Spurs?
Both clubs will take a step into the unknown as they begin their European campaigns in Bruges and at Wembley
A new chapter begins for Leicester City and Spurs this evening as their Champions League campaigns get underway.
For Leicester it is a step into the unknown and a chance for the shock Premier League title holders to "write another fairytale", as their manager Claudio Ranieri put it, while Spurs, who have graced the competition in 2010-11 and made the quarter finals, will be playing their home games at Wembley.
Leicester play their first Champions League game against Bruges.
"Admittedly, the Jan Breydel Stadium is not quite the Bernabeu, but that is not the point. With visits to Porto and Copenhagen to come in the group stage, Wednesday night marks the start of a wonderful adventure most of these supporters surely never thought would happen," says Alan Smith of the Daily Telegraph. "It was not so long ago that those same fans were travelling to Hartlepool and Cheltenham in a League One campaign."
Eight years ago, says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian, Leicester were "preparing for a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie against Lincoln City in the middle of a run of League One games taking in Leyton Orient, Hartlepool and Colchester".
But it was telling to see Ranieri laugh off suggestions that Leicester could pull off a Champions League miracle. "By now we should be accustomed to Ranieri playing down expectations and the press conference tactics of a man whose team were squatting defiantly at the top of the Premier League last season while he was looking everyone in the eye and insisting his only ambition was to get to 40 points and stave off relegation.
"On this occasion, however, it did not feel like such an act to hear him saying he would be satisfied merely to finish third in Group G and qualify for the Europa League, thereby ensuring European football after Christmas."
Since 2002 only nine out of 46 teams playing the Champions League for the first time have made it to the knock-out stages, he adds.
Maybe Spurs will fare better? They begin their campaign against Monaco at Wembley, where they are playing European games this season as work to rebuild White Hart Lane gets underway ahead of a full-scale relocation next season.
They will be performing in front of 80,000 fans and "whatever it means for noise and atmosphere, the players themselves should draw great strength from seeing twice as many Spurs fans on Wednesday night as they do for a normal home game at White Hart Lane", says Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Independent.
But things might not go as well as Spurs hope and there is no shortage of former Arsenal players lining up to recount horror stories from the Gunners' residency at the national stadium for two seasons in the late 1990s.
"Playing at Wembley allowed more Arsenal fans to attend but the downside was that it felt like we didn't have a home game for two seasons," warns Martin Keown in the Daily Mail. "We didn't advance from the group stage in either season – finishing with a combined 'home' record of two wins, one draw and three defeats – but I see Tottenham faring better during their time at Wembley."
Lee Dixon in The Times is even less enthusiastic. He describes playing at Wembley as "a bit of a nightmare".
"We lost home advantage and Wembley felt like a neutral venue that also delivered the extra kick of inspiring the opposition. You could see it. The atmosphere inside the stadium was strange and took us by surprise. We couldn't put our finger on it, but the fans felt distant."
A third member of the team, Ray Parlour, tells The Guardian that playing at Wembley will make it tougher for players and fans. The opposition were more up for playing at Wembley and the Arsenal team did not feel at home. In the stands it was a similar story. "Season-ticket holders who are used to sitting next to people they know, or areas of the ground which tend to be a bit noisier and responsible for kickstarting the best atmosphere – it is difficult to replicate that at Wembley. It can be a problem," he says.