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Take Another Look Around

The Football Gods are far too kind and this should be received with the necessary gratitude at this stage of the season.

Alex Livesey

On an evening where Barcelona's Lionel Messi equalled Raúl González's Champions League record with his 70th and 71st goals in his 90th Champions League game, England's Champions League representatives struggled. Cristiano Ronaldo would have beaten his great rival in equalling the Real Madrid legend's record if Kolo Touré hadn't intervened. 70 goals 106 matches going into the game against Liverpool became 70 in 107, a record exceedingly worthy of respect. The second night of Champions League action continued to be a noticeable one for the records as Luiz Adriano became the first player in the Champions League to score consecutive hat-tricks.

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However, Liverpool's European travails are finding fellow sorrowful chums in a somewhat similar manner to domestic disruptions. Manchester City lost at home to CSKA Moscow in a game where Manchester City had to win with Bayern Munich and AS Roma waiting to round up the Premier League Champions' group schedule. The group is a continuation of extremely difficult assignments early on. In 2011/12, Villareal, Bayern Munich, and Napoli were too much for Roberto Mancini's men. 10 points and a Europa League place indicated that this was a side that could compete. The following season, Man City did little against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax to finish bottom of the group with only three points from three draws.

Under Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City fared better in Europe last season. The side finished on 15 points alongside holders Bayern Munich and were comfortably ahead of both Viktoria Plzeň and CSKA Moscow. Losing to Barcelona in the last 16 is very different to conceding a two goal lead in Moscow to draw and appearing ragged, undisciplined, and inadequate in a home defeat. Two points from four games probably won't be holistic enough for a Man City side full of talent but short on conviction. Arsenal squandered a three goal lead but will still qualify even if a trip to hell may be more challenging than Arsène Wenger would like. Chelsea drew against a side that was soundly pulverised in the scoreline if not on the pitch and inspired further grumbles from an increasingly wary José Mourinho.

Mourinho's side remains unbeaten in all competitions and Wenger seems to be on track to do what Arsenal invariably does each season. Chelsea's group hasn't been a procession for the league leaders, but they are in control of the group. Arsenal were so easy to play against in Germany and Belgium; the London side was fortunate that Borussia Dortmund and Anderlecht squandered many chances in those respective games. Being three up, enjoying a clean sheet, and qualifying with half an hour to go at home should be something that a decent outfit can see out. That Arsenal couldn't do anything except help Anderlecht's comeback, only confirms the unsurprising and increasingly routine observations of softness in a team that has experienced the same problems for a number of seasons.

Chelsea have experienced a little bit of a dip since a six nil home victory over this matchday's frustrating opponent. Manchester United snatched a late draw but should have been beaten by a side that sometimes fails to consolidate leads away at rival grounds in the biggest games. If Chelsea do go ahead at Anfield, will they experience in Liverpool what they witnessed in Manchester? Furthermore, how will Chelsea fare at the new home of Chelsea legend Roberto Di Matteo? Will Manchester City shake off this feeling of being a Champions League also-ran despite the money, squad depth, and recent trophies? Can Arsenal avoid succumbing to a Jürgen Klopp side that is built to expose North London's Champions League regulars?

Of course, Chelsea have few concerns that match Liverpool's and Arsenal are relatively comfortable even with some worrisome displays. Manchester City's group is one that Liverpool simply would not qualify from and the Pellegrini's side has greater ambitions than remaining in the top four season to season. Financially and in terms of continued presence in the land of milk and honey, Liverpool are not comparable. Results this season are closest to Arsenal's but Wenger's side is enjoying a better season so far. Liverpool's concerns seem to be of a more troubling nature than England's Champions League competitors. Yet being aware of a wider picture can often puncture demands, borne out of a fear of everything becoming the absolute and irrevocable worst, for a sacrifice from the playing or coaching staff.

Liverpool have questions of their own, namely can Brendan Rodgers steer his side to successive victories in the group stage to secure qualification for the last 16? Liverpool weren't close to matching Real Madrid home or away but are not alone in domestic and continental struggles. Improvement is needed and it must come with some haste, but all is not lost. Borussia Dortmund have qualified for the last 16 with considerable ease but sit in the relegation zone in the Bundesliga. Klopp will bring his club up the table to achieve a Champions League qualification spot and perhaps more if drama is one's fancy. Liverpool must believe that this group of players and its talented manager can do the same.

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