It is time to throw away the American inferiority complex with its place in the sport, where many blindly claim that technique should come above all in choosing and developing the best prospects and that the U.S. is not an international power because it cares too much about athleticism.
Far-Fetched Friday: Club Brugge the Underdog Story of Champions League 2022
By: Jake Lofgren
Ajax 18/19, AS Monaco 16/17, RB Leipzig 19/20, FC Porto 03/04, and Club Brugge 21/22. These stories are what make fans fall in love with the Champions League. Watching underdogs play like world beaters and reach the latter stages of the competition. Listen, I am as much a Sheriff Tarispol fan as the next guy, but Sheriff keeping up the story they have going seems about as likely as me winning American Idol. Club Brugge, on the other hand, looks like a real force to be reckoned with.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at the Champions League.
Club Brugge find themselves in the ultimate group of death with PSG, Man City, and RB Leipzig. When the groups were revealed nobody would've ever expected anything from Club Brugge. PSG and Man City may arguably be the two best teams in the world, followed by a team that continually has up-and-coming talent in RB Leipzig. So far, Club Brugge has managed to get four points from their first two games against PSG and RB Leipzig.
Some underdogs can steal points off better teams by sitting in defensively and getting a little lucky. This was absolutely not the case with Club Brugge.
First, let's look at the PSG game. PSG came to visit Club Brugge in Belgium, and Brugge did not shy away at all. The superstar studded PSG may have had the majority of the ball, but Brugge found a way to outshoot PSG 16 to 9, with 7 shots on target to PSG's 4. The expected goals were extremely close, with Club Brugge registering 1.33 goals and PSG at 1.42. Meaning that a 1-1 was not stolen but earned. Brugge then headed to Germany to play RB Leipzig. A game that they had to win if they stood any chance at surviving. Brugge again did not have the majority of the ball but found a way to have more shots on target than RB Leipzig and beat them 2-1. Expected goals in this one were Brugge 1.46 to Leipzig's 1.27. Deserved may not be the best word for their win, but they were certainly the better team.
Results and performance like this are what we saw from the Ajax and Monaco teams of the past, winning over fans with their ability to properly hang with the big boys and not just advance based on pure luck.
For example, let's talk about the team everyone is cheering for now in Sheriff Tiraspol. Sheriff thus far has accrued 1.34 expected goals against both Shaktar and Real Madrid combined, despite actually scoring 4. This is a rate that would be stunning to continue at this rate. I mean, even in Sheriff's unbelievable win against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Sheriff had .37 xG compared to Real Madrid's 3.15 xG. Sheriff's underdog story feels like nothing more than just sheer luck, although everyone would love to see the story continue. Another team that could be an underdog story is RB Salzburg, who are already running away with their group. Although this is not as impressive to me considering their group consists of Sevilla, Wolfsburg, and Lille. Club Brugge reaching the knockouts would be far more impressive than Salzburg reaching the quarters.
But Ajax had Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt. Monaco had Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva. Who does Club Brugge have that contains the star power those underdogs of the past had.
Well, the team doesn't really have any clear candidates, but there are certainly a few that could be highlighted. Noa Lang has been named the "Dutch Neymar" and is rumored to be on Arsenal's radar. Lang has all the skills and mannerisms of Neymar that could cause a big club to take a big chance on him. Charles De Ketelaere is a young striker who has been extremely impressive for the team thus far. Seven goals and assists in Brugge's first twelve games this season is the type of form any club would want in their striker. Then there is the real man of the show, 29-year-old Hans Vanaken. He probably could've moved to a bigger club by now, but Vanaken has stayed true to Club Brugge. Already netting two goals and one assist in this Champions League campaign, Vanaken was already the best player one could find in the Belgian League, but he could still be reaching his prime.
For Club Brugge to make it out of the group does imply that either PSG or Manchester City would be sent to the Europa League, which sounds crazy, but Club Brugge already got one point off of PSG, something Manchester City failed to do. And if Club Brugge fails to do the impossible, then do not be surprised if they go on to win the Europa League.
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