Euro 2024 Qualifying Campaign Finished

This week sees the end of the Euro 2024 Qualifying fixtures as England progress comfortably through to the Euros topping their qualifying group and unbeaten in all eight games. England will make the trip to Germany next summer along with 19 other sides who have also secured their place alongside the hosts, while the remaining three places are yet to be secured. Teams alongside England already qualified include hosts Germany, France, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands to name a few. But who will reign supreme in the German Capital next summer?

Draws against Ukraine and North Macedonia were the only points dropped in England’s qualifying campaign as they marched through comfortably, and we are guaranteed to see them playing on the continent in June.

After a torrid 2022 Summer that saw England win no games in the UEFA Nations League including a 4-0 defeat at home to Hungary, it was looking very bleak for Southgate ahead of the World Cup. However, a respectable tournament saw them get to the quarter-finals where they were narrowly beaten by an inform France side.

After being unbeaten since then, things are looking up for the England manager with the prospect of triumph looming large at Euro 2024. With that said, the criticism for his ‘boring’ style of football is still very prominent and the calls for his sacking are very real. However, if he can deliver a European trophy at the second time of asking, surely all doubts will be forgotten about?

What about the other sides in the competition? As Scotland qualify for their second consecutive European trophy, there is excitement amongst Scots to see just how far ‘The Tartan Army’ will go after an impressive qualifying campaign. With only one defeat and a famous victory over Spain they look stronger than ever. It raises the question, could Scotland be the dark horses in Germany in 2024?

Unsurprisingly, France are the favourites for the championship in 2024, after an agonising World Cup Final defeat to Argentina last year. In what has been described as one of the best World Cup Finals ever, a 3-3 draw over 120 minutes of football ended with a penalty shootout as Gonzalo Montiel scored the deciding spot-kick to finish what was a fairytale World Cup for Lionel Messi. The Blues will be desperate to make amends and become the champions of the continent once again.

Wembley Pitchview restaurant

International Football Hospitality

Holders Italy have qualified, just, after a draw with Ukraine, going through as runner’s-up in the qualifying group. It hasn’t been all plain-sailing for the Italians after breaking English hearts two years ago with no World Cup qualification in 2022 and only four wins in the qualifying stages for the Euros this year. If they want to retain their title, manager Luciano Spalletti will have to turn their subpar performances around. One thing is for sure, you must never write off the Italians.

After another World Cup in 2022 that saw the Germans fail to make it out of the group, they will be determined to change the narrative in front of a home crowd at the Euros in 2024.

Their last major trophy came in 2014 when they were victorious in the World Cup Final courtesy of an extra-time goal via Mario Gotze to see off Argentina. Aside from that, their last Euro success was in 1996 when they beat Czech Republic to become Champions of Europe. Can they use the home support to their advantage?

Ten wins for Portugal, scoring 36 goals and conceding 2, they certainly can’t be ignored. The questions over whether starman Cristiano Ronaldo will play in Germany still remain. Currently, at 38 years old it will be impressive if he can remain their talisman next summer, however, it appears that the former Manchester United star is not letting up in this competition with 10 goals and 2 assists in the qualifiers. Can he steer Portugal to another European Championship?

Twenty-four teams, one European trophy and one winner. Going into an international tournament it’s always difficult to tell who will come out as champions, however, there are definitely some clear-cut favourites who stand out amongst the rest of the crop.

Will Southgate’s England be able to finally win that trophy that we have come so close to in the last 6 years? Want to see England live in their Euro preparations, why not watch them live from Wembley in the best seats in the house with Engage.

March 2024
No event found!

What’s going on at Manchester United this season?

Manchester United being in a crisis has become strangely familiar in recent years. Most football fans would have grown up seeing United dominate English football but for the younger generation, it seems unthinkable.

They haven’t won the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and as their rivals have grown stronger, they don’t look like returning to the top any time soon. As we enter the third international break of the season, United’s season is in danger of fizzling out already.

But who is to blame for their struggles? Is it the players, the manager, the owners or a combination of the three?

How are United doing this season?

If you had a quick glance at the league table, you’d be forgiven for suggesting United are in a decent place. With 12 games played, they sit sixth in the table, just seven points behind table-topping rivals Manchester City.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story and their position has been boosted by unconvincing back-to-back wins over Fulham and Luton. Those two results have somewhat papered over the cracks of a poor start to the campaign, which has seen them lose five Premier League games already.

Despite winning seven matches, a key issue is the fact that they’re the only side in the league yet to draw a game. This demonstrates an inability to grind out results, which contributed to home defeats against both Brighton and Crystal Palace.

And it’s not just domestically where they have struggled. They were humbled in the Carabao Cup in a 3-0 drubbing at home to Newcastle and just last week they threw away a lead late on to lose 4-3 at Copenhagen in the Champions League.

One key factor in United’s struggles is their key players not performing. Following the World Cup last year, Marcus Rashford looked like a player reborn and finished the season with 30 goals in all competitions.

Yet Rashford has scored just once this term and is clearly struggling for confidence. Meanwhile, summer signing Rasmus Højlund is flying in Europe with five goals in four Champions League games, yet the Danish striker is still looking for his first Premier League goal.

Bruno Fernandes hasn’t done much better with three Premier League goals to his name so far, level with Scott McTominay, who should not be at the top of United’s scoring charts three months into the season.

The view from the Evolution hospitality suite at Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium

Premier League Hospitality

Is Erik ten Hag the right man for the job?

This time last year, Ten Hag looked like a good appointment and he fulfilled his objective by returning United to the Champions League. But they’ve stagnated this season and seem to be going backwards.

With players out of form, Ten Hag hasn’t quite shown that he’s got the tactical nous to outwit opposition managers. Only scoring once against both Fulham and Luton highlights a lack of firepower in the squad, while not being able to see out a win against Copenhagen last week is a cause for concern.

As well as the issues on the pitch, Ten Hag has faced difficulties off it too, most notably concerning Jadon Sancho. The pair have endured a public spat, which has resulted in the winger being exiled and likely sold in the January window.

A more mature manager may have dealt with the situation better and it was the first indication that things may not be rosy at Carrington. The last thing Ten Hag wants to do is lose the dressing room because, as Jose Mourinho will be able to attest to, it only ends one way.

There’s still plenty of time for United to turn their fortunes around this season but their owners will want Champions League qualification as a minimum and it’s looking tougher than ever to qualify.

City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham have enjoyed blistering starts to the season. Meanwhile, Chelsea are on a mini resurgence and both Newcastle and Aston Villa have the potential to challenge.

With the Premier League set to get an extra spot next year, it’s likely that finishing fifth in the table will be enough. But considering the situation at the moment, it remains to be seen whether Ten Hag will last that long.

Are the Glazers the problem?

It’s been well documented that the United fans are desperate for a change and it seems the Glazers are willing to sell. Sir Jim Ratcliffe was the frontrunner and he looks set to buy a minority stake in the club.

Evidently, something needs to change. Old Trafford is in desperate need of being redeveloped and the structure at boardroom level is clearly not working. United need a major overhaul in terms of leadership and approach to recruitment, which is far more easily said than done.

But at the same time, you’d be naive to suggest that the owners haven’t backed Ten Hag. United have spent more than £400m on players since the Dutchman took charge last summer and considering many of the new arrivals are players he’s worked with before, he clearly has some say over who is brought in.

This summer alone they splashed out on Højlund, Andre Onana and Mason Mount and the jury is still out on each of them. Meanwhile, they spent more than £80m on Antony last summer, who has yet to score this season.

It’s all well and good kicking and screaming about those in charge and wanting things to improve. But whether it’s the Glazers or somebody new, if the team isn’t performing on the pitch despite being backed heavily, the buck stops with the manager and his players.

Saudi Arabia Set to Host 2034 World Cup

Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the sole bidder to host the Men’s FIFA World Cup in 2034, making it all but a formality that there will be a second World Cup in the Gulf within 12 years.

Australia opted not to submit a bid to host the tournament just hours before FIFA’s deadline for declarations of interest, which was last Tuesday.

Saudi’s Investment Pays Dividends for World Cup Bid

The anticipation of a World Cup taking place in Saudi Arabia has been a long-held expectation, given the country’s substantial investments in sports in recent years, which have consistently pointed toward this significant milestone.

For those who have been closely following Saudi Arabia’s transformative influence in the world of golf via the innovative LIV Series, it’s increasing prominence as a host for top-tier boxing events, and it’s disruptive impact on the global football transfer market, the realization of this World Cup opportunity shouldn’t come as a major surprise.

With the country now almost certain to host the tournament in eleven years, there is a possibility that it may become even more contentious than Qatar’s hosting in the previous year. Concerns encompass a wide range of issues, including human rights worries, FIFA’s management of the bidding process, potential disruptions to the sporting calendar, and the impact on player well-being due to the likely need for another winter World Cup to avoid extreme summer temperatures.

The potential for disruption could surpass that of the 2022 Qatar World Cup, with an expanded 48-team format and the necessity for substantial infrastructure development, there are fears around sustainability too. Even though Saudi Arabia boasts a richer footballing history compared to Qatar, attendances at most of the Pro League clubs have declined during the current season.

However, regardless of the actual intentions of Saudi Arabia’s leadership, their unopposed bid for the 2034 World Cup will heighten scrutiny of FIFA’s procedures and decision-making. Some observers have expressed reservations that this result may have been deliberately orchestrated, creating an effective fait accompli in a deal marked by a lack of transparency and accountability.

Wembley Pitchview restaurant

International Football Hospitality

Looking Ahead to the World Cup in 2026 & 2030

The 2026 World Cup will take place from June to July and will be jointly hosted by 16 cities in three North American countries: Canada, Mexico and the US. The tournament will be the first hosted by three nations and the first North American World Cup since 1994.

The upcoming tournament will mark the introduction of an expanded format featuring 48 teams, a significant increase from the previous 32-team setup. The United 2026 bid successfully prevailed over a competing bid by Morocco in the final vote held at the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow. Notably, this tournament will be the first since 2002 to be jointly hosted by multiple nations.

The FIFA World Cup is set to undergo a significant transformation by featuring 48 teams for the first time. This expansion represents an increase of 16 teams compared to the previous seven tournaments. The teams will be divided into 12 groups of 4 teams. The top two teams from each group, along with the eight best third-placed teams, will advance to a new round of 32. The expansion was officially approved by the FIFA Council on March 14th 2023, marking the first alteration of its kind since 1998.

Now looking at the 2030 FIFA World Cup, the 24th edition of the tournament is a significant milestone, celebrating the centennial of the World Cup competition. It will also introduce a novel approach to hosting, with three countries spanning two continents taking on the responsibility. Spain, Portugal, and Morocco will jointly host the event.

Furthermore, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay will participate as nations that kick off the tournament, in a special tribute to the 100th anniversary of the inaugural World Cup held in Uruguay. This competition will represent a return to Africa, which last hosted in 2010, South America, which last hosted in 2014, and Europe, which last hosted in 2018.

The announcement of the 2030 addition has generated criticism from various quarters, including fans, football officials, and environmental organisations. These critics have raised concerns about the considerable distance between South America and Europe, which would necessitate extensive air travel. This, in turn, could significantly increase the tournament’s carbon footprint and potentially undermine FIFA’s carbon-neutral initiatives.

Premier League: Is VAR working and how can we improve it?

Way back in 2019, the Premier League finally bowed to pressure and introduced VAR, with the intention of stamping out high-profile referee mistakes. Fast forward four years and football fans up and down the country have been left scratching their heads, wondering whether it was the right decision.

For years we all scrutinised referee’s decisions and wanted a change. Following the success of video-assisted systems in other sports, such as tennis, rugby and cricket, it felt only natural to bring it into football.

When it finally arrived, it felt like a huge step forward for the sport. There were some obvious drawbacks initially, primarily involving the amount of time it was taking to reach a decision, as well as the lack of clarity for fans watching in the grounds.

The main argument at the time was ‘at least they’re reaching the right decision’ and there were hopes that those delays would eventually be ironed out. But following four years of VAR experience in English football, we’re still regularly seeing wrong decisions and something clearly needs to change.

Is VAR working?

In a word, no. There have been multiple catastrophic errors from officials, most notably the decision to rule out Luis Diaz’s goal against Tottenham last month. The Colombian thought he had fired Liverpool ahead but he was flagged offside, which VAR seemed to quickly concur with.

Yet images quickly began circulating on social media that showed Diaz looked to be onside, which sparked outrage that the VAR check had lasted only a matter of seconds. The audio between the officials was later released and highlighted a major lack of communication.

In this case, it’s more complicated than just saying ‘VAR is bad’. In theory, the system worked just fine. But there was a situation of human error, where VAR official Darren England thought that the goal had been given, hence why he suggested the decision was correct.

The audio revealed that they quickly realised their error but as play had already restarted, the rules dictated that they were then forbidden from intervening. If that rule offered an element of flexibility, all this could have been avoided.

That’s not the only time a VAR blunder has cost Premier League teams. Since its introduction, the PGMOL have issued 13 separate public apologies acknowledging that they have made mistakes.

One notable instance occurred in February 2022, when Manchester City midfielder Rodri handled the ball in the penalty area late on against Everton. VAR failed to award a spot-kick, City won the game 1-0 and eventually pipped Liverpool to the title by a point.

Had the penalty been given and ultimately scored, it could have had huge repercussions on the title race that season. Retrospective apologies can’t be cashed in for points and in huge moments, they’re meaningless when there’s so much on the line.

Another huge downside of VAR that has been present since the beginning is the killing of spontaneity. It takes away the raw emotion that scoring a crucial goal can bring. Players and fans often now only half celebrate through fear that their goal may be chalked off, which often sanitises the atmosphere within the ground.

How can VAR be improved?

There are undoubtedly plenty of people whose solution would be to simply get rid of it. But there’s pretty much a zero percent chance of that happening. Whether you agree with VAR or not, it’s here to stay.

The system has proven to be effective and the majority of the issues seem to stem from those in charge of it. VAR has the potential to be great, demonstrated by the effectiveness we’ve seen in other competitions across the globe.

With that being said, an obvious solution would be to import the best referees from around the world. The Premier League is a global product, watched by hundreds of millions, with the best managers and players the sport has to offer. So why can’t we have the best officials as well?

Similarly, the introduction of semi-automated offsides would immediately improve things. Far too often, fans and players are left hanging as the VAR officials take their time drawing lines to determine offsides, leading to arguments about when the ball was played and whether the lines are in the right place.

Semi-automated offsides have been used in the World Cup and the Champions League, with sensors in the ball that offer a quick, accurate and objective decision.

There also needs to be more transparency for fans. The recent audio releases have been interesting but they ultimately don’t mean much after the event. Allowing fans both in the ground and at home to hear the conversations live, similar to in rugby, would make many decisions a lot more understandable.

A final suggestion to improve the system could be a timer system. Some VAR decisions take so long to reach a conclusion and do little to end debate about whether it was correct. Many incidents are so subjective so if a referee is unable to reach a decision within a set period of a minute or two, then it’s not a clear and obvious error so perhaps the benefit of the doubt should be given.

One thing that’s clear is that VAR isn’t going anywhere. We need to learn to live with it but that doesn’t mean it should be something we all despise. In theory, the existence of VAR stops mistakes, makes matches fair and reduces the pressure on officials. But it clearly needs revamping and fingers crossed the Diaz incident is a catalyst for major change across the board.

The New 2024/25 Champions League Structure

For the third time this season Champions League Group Stage football is back underway as the best sides in Europe battle it out in the hope of finding themselves playing knockout football. This season has already produced some shock results, notably involving English sides including victory for Galatasary at Old Trafford, Newcastle thrashing PSG as well as a shock defeat in France for Arsenal.

However, next season the Champions League will be changing from how we know it with more teams, more games and a whole new format.

That’s right, in the 2024/25 season the Champions League will be undergoing some structural changes. Currently the competition hosts 32 teams but it will be increasing to 36 teams next season in one big league. The 36 teams will be divided into four pots of nine with each pot ordered 1 to 4 with each side’s coefficient for example, pot 1 will hold the winners of the Champions League as well as eight teams with the best coefficients.

Fans can expect more fixtures as well with each club drawn to play two teams from each pot. This will include four home games and four away games as sides will come up against eight different teams in the group stages rather than playing each side twice. It also allows for teams to be drawn against two other sides in their pot meaning the bigger sides will play some of the other bigger sides before the knockout stages.

The view from the Evolution hospitality suite at Old Trafford Stadium as the stadium begins to fill ahead of a Manchester United home fixture

UEFA Champions League Hospitality

From the final table, the top eight will go through to the round of 16 while positions 9 to 24 will be involved in a playoff. Teams from positions 25 to 36 will be eliminated from European competition; there will be no drop down to the Europa League. There will be only one knockout-round draw for the round of 16 onwards with the route a team takes depending on how high the side finishes in the league.

So what’s the reason for this change? The change creates more revenue for sides competing in the Champions League as well as the possibility for more exciting matches. It will also enable fans to see an extra 64 Champions League games next season totalling 189 rather than 125 games while being able to see their own team play two extra games in the group stage. Not to mention, the chance for opponents to play teams of a similar skill-level.

It is an opportunity for the big teams to excel while also giving a chance to the smaller teams while increasing the stature of one of the biggest competitions in world football.

So where do the other four teams come from? Two places will be awarded to the best performing leagues in the current season for example, this would have been Liverpool and Atlanta if the format was in place last season. One place will be awarded to the third placed team from the league that is ranked fifth in the UEFA coefficient and the other placed will be awarded through the qualifying path for champions.

So what do you think? Are you impressed with the new system or do you just want to stick with the old? Football fans around the world will be hoping that it’s a system that will produce thrilling matches as well as a good chance to see their respective teams progress through the tournament. It will be interesting to see how it will pan out and whether or not it is a good move by UEFA.

Want to see the best teams in Europe in action? Watch it live from the best seats in the house with Engage Hospitality.

Premier League: Spurs and Arsenal lead the way

The Premier League has paused for yet another international break and while we all just want the domestic action to return, it at least gives us a chance for a breather to take in all the drama that’s taken place so far.

There’s an unlikely contender in the title race while Chelsea are continuing to struggle in mid table. With eight games played so far, we’ve taken a look at all the key Premier League talking points.

North London rivals lead Premier League title race

After sweeping all before them on the way to an historic treble last season and spending handsomely during the summer, City were the clear favourites to step up a gear and secure their fourth consecutive title.

But with two consecutive defeats under their belts, Pep Guardiola’s side find themselves playing catch up to Tottenham and Arsenal at the top of the table. Gabriel Martinelli’s late deflected strike was the difference as the Gunners beat City for the first time in the league since 2015 on Sunday.

Mikel Arteta ran former mentor Guardiola close last term but ultimately ran out of steam. But after improving the squad over the summer with the likes of Declan Rice and David Raya, Arsenal will fancy their chances of securing a first league title since 2004.

But standing in their way, for now, are current league leaders and fierce rivals Tottenham. The North London side remain unbeaten and look reborn under new boss Ange Postecoglou.

The Harry Kane-shaped void up front has been filled by Son Heung-min, who is thriving in a central role, while summer signing James Maddison is pulling the strings from midfield. Spurs have been accused of being weak at times in the past but they’ve certainly shown character so far this campaign.

Goals from Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski deep into stoppage time snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Sheffield United, while a late own goal from Joel Matip secured them all three points in a controversial contest with Liverpool.

It’s still early days so it remains to be seen whether they can sustain their form long term. However, there seems to have been a shift in mentality at Spurs and it would be the ultimate irony if they went on to win the title the season after Kane finally left in search of silverware.

City’s defeat to Arsenal came just a week after surrendering at Wolves and the reigning champions will be desperate to turn things around after the international break. Erling Haaland has picked up where he left off with eight Premier League goals already but with Kevin De Bruyne sidelined with injury, the pressure is on the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva to offer the missing creativity and unlock rival defences.

Landscape shot of Stamford Bridge from the top of the stand

2023/24 Premier League Hospitality

Chelsea and Manchester United struggles continue

While both sides won at the weekend, those results perhaps paper over the cracks of their seasons so far. Chelsea have already suffered defeats to West Ham, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa, while they also failed to score at Bournemouth.

A scattergun approach to transfers over the summer saw a lot of fresh faces arrive alongside new manager Mauricio Pochettino, who still seems to be working out his strongest line-up.

Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of Burnley was their second win in a row and with Raheem Sterling seemingly back to his best, they could now start to push on. But they may lack the firepower to reach the heights they desire, with new striker Nicolas Jackson struggling to score regularly so far.

Much like Chelsea, Manchester United have also been unconvincing and find themselves 10th in the table. They’ve lost four of their eight games so far, including home defeats to Brighton and Crystal Palace, while two injury-time Scott McTominay goals saved them from embarrassment against Brentford last weekend.

Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are yet to get going and while Rasmus Højlund has shown promising signs, including an imperious Champions League display against Galatasaray, he’s yet to score in the league.

Both Chelsea and United will undoubtedly improve as the season progresses but for now, both sides look a long way off mounting any kind of challenge for the European spots.

The race for the top four

Liverpool have been flying so far this season and have perhaps gone slightly under the radar. Jurgen Klopp finally seems to have sorted his midfield issues, with Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister adding a balance to their side.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah has been as consistent as ever, scoring five times in the league so far, while Darwin Núñez is slowly starting to become a reliable forward option.

Aston Villa are hot on their tail and the improvement they’ve shown since Unai Emery’s arrival a year ago has been remarkable. The Spaniard has well and truly put his Arsenal disaster behind him and proven that he’s more than capable of competing on these shores.

The Midlands side made shrewd summer signings, including exciting winger Moussa Diaby, who seems to be getting the best out of Ollie Watkins. The striker is a constant threat and he’s forced himself back into the England squad after scoring a hat-trick in Villa’s 6-1 win over Brighton.

Elsewhere, Newcastle will be targeting another top four finish after securing a long-awaited return to the Champions League. They followed up an 8-0 thrashing of Sheffield United with a stunning 4-1 win over PSG and have shown when the likes of Kieran Trippier and Alexander Isak are at the top of their game, they’re a match for anybody in Europe.

Who’s in danger of relegation?

After the first few games of the season, you’d have been forgiven for assuming the relegation battle was done and dusted. The three promoted clubs looked doomed and those above them were breathing sighs of relief.

But after gaining their first wins of the campaign, both Luton and Burnley are beginning to find their feet. Rob Edwards secured Luton’s first ever Premier League win away at Everton and they limited high-flying Spurs to just one goal at the weekend.

While they still have a huge job on their hands to survive, they’re not quite proving to be the whipping boys they were predicted to be over the summer. Meanwhile, it was against Luton that Burnley’s first three points of the season arrived.

With just one point from their opening eight games, Sheffield United are rooted to the bottom of the table and desperately need their luck to change. Similarly, Bournemouth are yet to win despite backing new manager Andoni Iraola heavily in the summer transfer window.

Wolves and Everton have improved after tough openings to the campaign while Brentford, who started the season strongly, seem to have stagnated and they’re struggling to get wins on the board without the suspended Ivan Toney.

UEFA Champions League: A memorable away day in Milan

Every year the UEFA Champions League produces magical moments and stories for fans across the continent. Last week marked Newcastle United’s return to Europe’s pinnacle competition, giving fans who travelled to Milan memories that will last a lifetime…

A European trip 20 years in the making

The last time Newcastle fans made the trip to Italy for a European competition was in 2003. That day they were up against Inter Milan in a game that finished 2-2 with The Magpies’ goals coming from none other than Alan Shearer. It was a memorable night for many Geordies as 12,000 of them took over the stands of the San Siro.

Unfortunately it’s been roller coaster for fans from the North East since, with controversial ownership and heartbreaking relegations that made nights like that one in Milan feel like a distant memory.

That was until Eddie Howe gave fans something to believe in once again last season. A fast start in the Premier League turned the unimaginable into a reality for Newcastle fans: a top four finish and the return of Champions League football to tyneside.

So fast-forward twenty years and Newcastle are unbelievably back in Milan to face European giants AC Milan in their first fixture of this year’s Champions League campaign. 4000 Geordies and I were there to take it all in.

Arriving in Milan, I felt nerves similar to the League Cup final. I hopped onto the metro to the Navigli Canal where a sea of black and white shirts greeted me. Flags from across the North East lined the waterway, while chants of ‘Anthony’ interrupted the peaceful Italian streets in tribute to the English winger.

Gates at Newcastle United's St James Park

2023/24 UEFA Champions League Hospitality

Only 12 o’clock but the Geordies were already in good voice and by the time we reached the local bars they were already running low on beer (it was probably a good thing it was an early kick off!)

If you were a local, you picked a bad day to come down to the canal especially if you were a delivery driver. As the DPD vans slowly made its way through the crowds numerous Newcastle fans reached in to sound the horn as others labelled the van with Newcastle branded stickers.

On the other hand, if you were a rower going down the water you were met with a wall of noise cheering you on while one fan even jumping in to race the boats. It’s safe to say he lost, both the race and probably 50 euros in the form of a fine!

It was agreed that all Newcastle fans travel to the ground at 4pm so that we travel in numbers and in plenty of time for kickoff. After drinking the pubs of Milan dry, we set off to the famous San Siro.

4000 Geordies jumping about on the metro was never going to end well and right enough after only a couple of stops, the metro came to an abrupt halt. Off the train, out of the station where we were greeted by a police escort to take us the rest of the way to the ground.

Experiencing the history of Milan’s San Siro

After what felt like a marathon of walking, the magnificent San Siro Stadium came into view. No other ground I’ve ever visited compares to this historic monument in European football.

Having made it in, we found out how away fans feel when they come to St James’ Park as we climbed the never-ending spiral to the away section with views over the city. Eventually, the players came out to the famous Champions League anthem, nerves and excitement filled the away end with the passionate cries of ‘Howay Lads’ interrupting the iconic music.

The game kicked off and as expected we were under the cosh; chances galore for Milan but they couldn’t seem to find a way to score thanks to some good Newcastle defending. It remained that way for much of the game until one last attack from Newcastle, nearly saw a Sean Longstaff last minute winner but it was tipped over the bar by the Milan keeper. I can only imagine the pandemonium that goal would have caused in the away end and back home in the pubs.

It ended in a 0-0 draw but more importantly a point away at the San Siro. A point that any Newcastle fan would have taken before kickoff and a point on Eddie Howe’s Champions League debut as a manager. So with our heads held high the Toon Army made their way back to the Navigli Canal much to the dismay of the pub owners who had only just restocked their beer!

And so the trip was over but what a few days it had been for us fans. Although I write this in a random French airport, on 4 hours of sleep and the possibility that I may miss the last train back from Edinburgh, it is still the best trip I have ever been on. Seeing my team on Europe’s biggest stage in one of the most iconic stadiums in World Football, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Geordie.

EURO 2024: Who will make the England squad?

Dust off your England flags and get ‘Three Lions’ on your speakers because EURO 2024 is just around the corner. We’re now just nine months away from the tournament in Germany and England will be desperate to avenge their 2021 penalty shootout heartbreak in the final.

In what seems to have become a strangely familiar feeling, England fans have every reason to be optimistic. We’ve got a squad full of young, exciting talent, and Gareth Southgate’s record in major tournaments speaks for itself.

Ahead of the Euros, we’ve taken a look at who might make the final squad and whether they can go all the way.

Who will definitely be in the England squad?

While even Gareth Southgate won’t know how his final squad will look, there are some players that we already know will be on the plane providing they’re fit and available. Captain Harry Kane will be familiar with the German venues following his switch to Bayern Munich and he’ll be keen to make amends following his penalty miss in the World Cup defeat to France.

Meanwhile, he’ll be joined in attack by Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. Superstar midfielders Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice are shoo-ins following their big-money moves over the summer.

At the back, Manchester City duo John Stones and Kyle Walker are guaranteed to feature in the final squad, along with Kieran Trippier and Jordan Pickford. Elsewhere, left-backs Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell should also be called up.

Southgate has come under scrutiny for being too loyal to his favourites, even when they’re not playing for their clubs. And while their inclusion may not please everyone, there’s a strong chance that Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips will also be in the squad.

Who will be hoping to force their way in?

For any other country in the world, Trent Alexander-Arnold would be one of the first names on the plane. However, he’s never quite forced his way into Southgate’s plans, particularly given our strength at right-back. Yet his recent England appearances have seen him deployed in central midfield so there’s hope for the Liverpool man yet.

James Maddison has been on the fringes for a few years and having started the season strongly at Tottenham, you’d expect him to be in contention. Similarly, a return to form for Raheem Sterling could thrust the Chelsea winger back into the fold, despite him being ignored for the recent international break.

Crystal Palace star Eberechi Eze has also featured in the last few squads but with such strength in depth in attacking areas, he may just miss out.

Stones seems to be the only nailed centre-back, which gives an opportunity for the likes of Marc Guehi, Lewis Dunk, Levi Colwill and Fikayo Tomori to impress from now until the end of the season.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen who will be trusted to provide back-up for Kane up top. Callum Wilson appears to be the frontrunner but he’ll be looking over his shoulder at the form of Eddie Nketiah and Ollie Watkins alongside Ivan Toney, with his gambling ban ending in January, giving him 5 months to fire himself back into form.

England haven’t quite secured their place yet, with a few more qualifiers to go. You can cheer on the boys in style as they take on Italy and Malta at Wembley.

England face Germany in an international football match in front of home fans at Wembley Stadium

International Football Hospitality

Can England win EURO 2024?

After narrowly losing the final on penalties last time out, England will fancy their chances at going one better next summer. But they’ll face stiff competition from France, who are favourites to go all the way.

They boast a squad packed full of young talent, spearheaded by Kylian Mbappe, who has cemented his place among the world’s elite. But England aren’t far behind and having run France close at the World Cup, combined with their young stars getting another 18 months of experience under their belts, there’s no reason to fear anybody.

Hosts Germany will inevitably improve in time to be in contention next summer. A recent 4-1 defeat to Japan saw manager Hansi Flick dismissed. Yet more often than not, the Germans step up when it matters in tournaments.

As ever, Spain and Portugal will be among the contenders. Cristiano Ronaldo will be 39 by the time the competition gets underway and it will likely be his final chance to claim another international trophy.

Meanwhile, holders Italy will be looking to retain their crown, while the Netherlands and Belgium will always be dark horses.

Champions League: How will English Clubs fare?

The stage is set. The draw has been made and the famous anthem is ready to go. You guessed it – it’s almost time for the Champions League to return!

Europe’s elite competition gets back underway in just two weeks, with Manchester City looking to defend their title having seen off Inter Milan in last season’s final.

Ahead of what looks to be another mouth-watering campaign, we’ve taken a look at how each Premier League team might get on.

Manchester City begin Champions League defence

Having won the treble last season, including their first Champions League title, it’s difficult to see how things can get better for Man City this season. Yet in Pep Guardiola, they’ve got a winner at the helm and he’ll be desperate for them to defend their European crown.

City have made some shrewd signings over the summer, bringing in the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol, Matheus Nunes and Jeremy Doku. But while Erling Haaland is looking as prolific as ever, the loss of Kevin De Bruyne until early next year through injury could hurt them.

They should comfortably get out of their group, which sees them come up against RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys. City have history with Leipzig, having met them in the round of 16 last season.

A 1-1 draw in the first leg had their fans biting their fingernails but a 7-0 thrashing in the return fixture, spurred on by an astonishing five-goal haul from Haaland, had them purring and set them on their way to their maiden European title.

Manchester United welcome Harry Kane to Old Trafford

After being linked with a switch to United all summer, Harry Kane is finally heading to Old Trafford – but the England international will be lining up against them for new side Bayern Munich.

United are back in the big time following a campaign in the Europa League last term that saw them crash out in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Sevilla. And they’ve been handed a tough test in Group A against six-time winners Bayern.

Kane is famously targeting the first trophy of his career and he’s started well in Germany, scoring three times in his opening three games. The 30-year-old’s summer move raised eyebrows but he’ll be justified in his decision if he can fire Bayern to European glory.

Elsewhere in the group, United will face Copenhagen, as well as Galatasaray who have strengthened well with the signings of Mauro Icardi, Wilfried Zaha and Hakim Ziyech. Zaha will be returning to face his old side and will come up against former Crystal Palace team-mate Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The view from the Evolution hospitality suite at Old Trafford Stadium as the stadium begins to fill ahead of a Manchester United home fixture

Champions League Hospitality

Arsenal make long-awaited Champions League return

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side are finally back in the Champions League for the first time since 2017. The Gunners finished second in the league last season, running City close in the title race for much of the season.

They’ve added depth over the summer bringing in Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and David Raya but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to cope with tougher midweek battles alongside their domestic ambitions.

Arsenal have been dealt a reasonable group draw compared to some of their rivals but Europa League winners Sevilla will be a tough test, who will be looking to add another European trophy to their collection.

Elsewhere, they face PSV, who have an exciting squad packed full of attacking talent, as well as RC Lens, who finished runners-up to PSG in Ligue 1 last season.

Newcastle in tough group

Following their takeover almost two years ago, Newcastle have enjoyed remarkable progress on the pitch. They finished fourth in the Premier League last season and are finally back among the big boys in the Champions League for the first time since 2003.

Their fans will be looking forward to some exciting away days but unfortunately for the team, Champions League groups don’t come much tougher than this. Newcastle will need to deal with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele as they face PSG, who are looking to win the competition for the first time.

Elsewhere, they face AC Milan, who boast countless top players, as well as Borussia Dortmund, whose intimidating atmosphere at Signal Iduna Park is enough to make any top team crumble.

Newcastle have more than enough talent to compete with anyone on their day but a European campaign with a fairly thin squad is a completely different kettle of fish.

Who else could win the Champions League?

Real Madrid are targeting their 15th European Cup and they’ve got a new superstar running their midfield. England international Jude Bellingham has slotted in seamlessly at the Bernabeu, scoring five times in his first four La Liga games.

Real face Italian champions Napoli, as well as Champions League newbies Union Berlin, who finished fourth in last season’s Bundesliga.

Barcelona should comfortably reach the knockout stages, with Porto their main rivals to finish top of Group H ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk and Royal Antwerp.

Meanwhile, Scottish champions Celtic face a tough task to progress. Brendan Rodgers’ side come up against Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Feyenoord and they’ll be relying on their strong support to carry them to a surprise result or two.

Watch the Champions League in style

We can’t wait for Europe’s premier football competition to get back underway and you can watch all the action from the best seats in the house, with Engage’s wide range of exclusive hospitality packages.

November 2023

Premier League 2023/24: Three Weeks in

We’ve enjoyed an incredible summer of sport but nothing quite hits the spot like the return of the Premier League. Manchester City dominated last season on the way to an historic treble and they’ve started the new campaign in a similar vein.

Arsenal are looking to bounce back after fading away in last year’s title race while Chelsea and Liverpool will be keen to show the world that they can still compete at the top. We’re now three weeks into the new season so we’ve taken a look at all the key talking points so far.

Manchester City pick up where they left off

After winning the treble last season, there were concerns that City might take their foot off the gas and give somebody else a chance of success for once. But Pep Guardiola doesn’t do things by halves and his side have continued to be imperious, winning their opening three games so far.

Wins over Burnley and Newcastle set them up for a trip to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United at the weekend, where Erling Haaland proved he is human by missing a hatful of chances, including a first-half penalty that struck the post.

But he finally found a way through in the second half, heading home the opener before Rodri’s unsaveable strike cancelled out Jayden Bogle’s equaliser to secure the three points for Man City.

It’s far too early in the season to come to any conclusions but with Fulham, West Ham, Nottingham Forest and Wolves to come in their next four games and their rivals already dropping points, a fourth consecutive Premier League title could be on its way to the Etihad.

Official Premier League Match Ball

Premier League Hospitality

Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham put the pressure on

Arsenal ran City close last season and after investing heavily into their squad, they’ll have ambitions of securing their first Premier League title since 2004. But a limp start to the season has raised concerns about their prospects, particularly with the distraction of Champions League football to come.

Mikel Arteta’s side just about edged past Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace in their opening two games but they dropped points for the first time at the weekend, with Joao Palhinha’s late effort rescuing a point for Fulham at the Emirates.

And with four of the traditional ‘big six’ to come in their next six games, the Gunners face a big test in terms of their title credentials this season.

Elsewhere, Liverpool are looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign last term and they remain unbeaten so far with two wins and a draw. Their trip to Newcastle on Sunday looked destined for disaster when Anthony Gordon’s opener was followed up by a Virgil van Dijk red card.

But last season’s misfiring misfit Darwin Nunez stepped up to the plate with two late goals to complete a remarkable turnaround for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Newcastle looked somewhat demoralised and sit 13th in the table following two defeats so far.

The Magpies started the season strongly with a 5-1 thrashing of Aston Villa but they’ve looked toothless since and with the Champions League to come, they may find they don’t have the squad depth required to repeat the highs of last season.

Whisper it quietly but Tottenham look to be playing better as a cohesive unit without Harry Kane. Their free-flowing, attacking style under new boss Ange Postecoglou has resulted in two wins and a draw, with summer signing James Maddison adding an extra dimension to their attack.

The England international bagged his first goal for Spurs in Saturday’s win at Bournemouth and with Kane now plying his trade at Bayern Munich, the onus could be on Maddison to inspire the north London side. They currently sit third in the table and with all three of the promoted sides to come in their next five games, they’ve got a real chance to build some momentum.

Chelsea and Manchester United’s struggles continue despite wins

Both Chelsea and Manchester United won at the weekend but there’s a fear that those results merely paper over the cracks. Chelsea in particular had a woeful time last season, finishing 12th in the Premier League.

They’ve since undergone a major squad overhaul as well as bringing in former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino to oversee the operation. The Blues are a work in progress and Friday’s 3-0 victory over Luton could be a sign of things to come.

However, a disappointing defeat to West Ham the week before is evidence that things aren’t what they seem at Stamford Bridge and they may continue to struggle when coming up against stronger opposition.

United were convincingly brushed aside by Tottenham last weekend and they were shocked at home to Forest on Saturday, who went 2-0 up after four minutes at Old Trafford. Erik ten Hag’s men eventually fought back to claim all three points but it’s clear that they’re not as strong as they were and something needs to change if they want to challenge their rivals for honours this term.

With the Premier League season only just getting started, there are plenty more huge games to come. Secure your place to watch a thrilling match in premium hospitality with Engage Hospitality.