Let’s kick off by saying things are finally looking up for English teams in Europe. After a lengthy slog, where we had to witness some frankly woeful European performances, the Premier League is re-building it’s stronghold within the Champions League.
Five out of five team’s qualified for the final stages, with Spurs securing the most points ever (16) by an English side in the group stages, and Liverpool scoring the most goals ever (23) by an English side at this stage. Roll on the last 16!
So the question is, who out of those five teams are best equipped to survive the rigours of the Champions League and thus go the furthest in the competition?
Apart from the blip in the final round of group matches against Shakhtar, City have been sublime under Guardiola this season, with a number of their players (De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling) really coming into their own under the Spaniard. However, over recent weeks they’ve gone from obliterating sides, to somewhat scraping wins. Now, it may be a coincidence but since John Stones has been out, they’ve struggled to really get going in attack.
His slick passing from the back starts City’s offense and the sooner he’s back for them, the better. As Alan Hansen always said, the best teams can play poorly and still win. City are doing that for now but may come unstuck against one of Europe’s big boys if they don’t go up a gear. They could probably win the tournament if they stumble upon their early season for; regardless, I think they’ll get the furthest due to their 8 point Premier League lead and squad depth. Semis at least.
Utd enjoyed a decent group stage stint and got the job done, although they didn’t make it easy for themselves at times. Everyone knows what you get with Jose; a team that’s extremely tough to break down and pragmatic in attack but do they have the X Factor to really challenge at the top?
On their day, I believe they can beat anyone, so long as Lukaku hits the heights of earlier in the season, Pogba has a blinder and De Gea just keeps on doing what he’s been doing – quite a few variables then…Ultimately, I feel they’ll be split between the league and Europe and thus may miss out on success in both. Potentially semi finalists but more likely quarters.
For me, Chelsea have the weakest chance of going deep into the Champions League this year. They’ve had a turbulent season in terms of player form and club politics, and have hardly been convincing in Europe when you compare them to the other English teams. Yet, they still made it through and as we saw in Hazard’s post-match interview the other night, they remain positive. In my opinion, a lot rests on the form of the little Belgian. If he plays well they have a chance but I think quarters at best.
Like Chelsea, it’s been a rather topsy turvy season for Spurs and they just can’t seem to find a great deal of consistency. That said, they’ve got over their Wembley wobbles and achieved the highest points score ever by an English team in the competition, including 4/6 points from the tournament holders.
Pochettino has innovated a side that has decent depth so they shouldn’t be too stretched in terms of fixture frequency and I think their poor Premier League form is just a blip. However, the problem is goals. Once again, they’re relying too much on Kane. Eriksen and Alli just aren’t scoring enough, and why Son hasn’t been given more of a chance, I don’t know? Due to the lack of fire power, I’d say quarter finals, however, I believe they have a performance in their locker that could help them reach the semis; it’s whether they can muster it.
My dark horses for the Champions League this year; especially within the English ranks. They have an absolutely potent attacking squadron, which for me, rivals that of City. Klopp has created an offensive machine that possesses both individual flair and synergy and it’s safe to say, no defence will want to play them, especially after seeing what they did in the group stages.
Unlike a lot of the others, they’ve been motoring in the league recently, obliterating teams and scoring for fun. Yet, their downfall for me, is defensive vulnerability. Just like under Brendan Rodgers a few years back, they look to outscore the opposition but that tactic may become unstuck against Europe’s elite. If they get a favourable draw and keep the front four (Mane, Coutinho, Firmino, Salah) fit, they could make the semis and then who knows (It’s Liverpool after all). However, they could quite as easily get knocked out next round by a lesser team, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Written by @AlexNoble93