12th December 2017.
After years of English teams failing to perform in a competitive manner in the Champions League, this could be the first season of their return to past glory. The last team from the Premier League to win the elite European competition was Chelsea, in 2012, a long six years ago.
Since Chelsea's triumph in the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich, only Manchester City have reached a semi final, which was staged against eventual winners Real Madrid. On paper, a 1-0 aggregate loss looks kind, but the truth of it is, is that Real Madrid dominated both legs and it was a non-event, at no point did the Citizens look genuinely threatening.
It has been disappointing to watch English teams fail so miserably in the Champions League, but there could be a changing of the guard, as there usually is in cycles. As the draw for the knockout rounds was made this week, England have five representatives to restore some honour and pride back into the division.
Four out of five English teams finished top of their groups, with only Chelsea, surprisingly, letting the contingent down to AS Roma. In what was not foreseen, Tottenham won their group that contained current holders Real Madrid and German giant Borussia Dortmund. With not being at White Hart Lane for their home games, Spurs were expected to struggle this season, but they have done anything but that at Wembley in Europe. Their best performances have come in the competition.
2017/18 UCL Knockout Round
And so onto the knockout rounds for all five English teams. The draw reads as follows:
- Juventus v Tottenham
- Basel v Manchester City
- Sevilla v Manchester United
- Chelsea v Barcelona
- Porto v Liverpool
Tottenham will be feeling hard done by, given they topped the 'Group of Death', but still get last year's runners up in Juventus. For the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool, the draws they have been awarded are very favourable and they should be able to progress into the quarter finals, which would be a pleasant change.
Chelsea face an uphill task of entertaining Barcelona, two teams who have shared great nights under the bright lights of Europe's finest competition. This might be a different team under Ernesto Valverde, especially after losing Neymar, but they are still a noisy beast in Europe that is hard to tame, and will go into this tie as favourites. Antonio Conte has been under pressure this season after some incredibly poor performances - with another loss in a 1-0 defeat to West Ham - but there is a chance he could upset the odds and go on a run in Europe.
Recent Poor Performance in Europe
In last season's competition, Leicester City were England's only representative in the quarter finals. In 2015/16, it was Manchester City. In 2014/15, there was not one single English club to make it further than the Round of 16. An alarming decline in English football, especially in Europe, took place after Chelsea's historic win against Bayern Munich.
However, this is the season that English clubs can rise once again. With favourable draws in the Round of 16, there should be at least three clubs from England in the quarter finals. That is not overconfidence or arrogance from an Englishman, either, it is based on their squads and current form they are in.
Best Hopes for Advancement
There might be a surprise or two, as there normally is, but it would be an incredible shock to see the two Manchester clubs or Liverpool exit the competition in the next round. Tottenham and Chelsea are not beaten before the game starts, but it would not be a surprise, nor a huge failure, to bow out to two teams who have been right at the top in recent years and have that crucial experience.
When two English clubs go head-to-head in Europe's top-tier competition, such as Chelsea and Manchester United did in 2008's final, it creates an atmosphere that is absolutely electric. No matter who you support, you always want to see English clubs go against one another at the highest level. It creates an energy that is palpable and an excitement that is hard to match anywhere else.
No one should be expecting a Premier League side to win the Champions League this season, though Pep Guardiola's City have the best chance of doing so, but this should hopefully start a mini revolution in which it becomes with regular occurrence that English clubs reach the upper echelons of European competition.
It might be a few years until an English club claims their right to the European throne once again, but it is now time to see an improvement and genuinely competing with contention for such a prestigious trophy.
Liam Canning wrote this article for Soccer Box, the number one place to shop for all your Champions League football shirts, from Chelsea to Manchester United, Bayern Munich to Real Madrid we have all the official jerseys in our online store.