It is often said that a year is a long time in football and it certainly feels like an eternity since England’s finest dominated European competition.
The years between 2005 and 2012 saw three different Premier League clubs lift the Champions League trophy with eight English finalists across that particular three-year spell.
In the 2007-08 campaign, Premier League clubs avoided elimination against non-English clubs with three of the four semi-finalists coming from the division.
Yet no English side has reached a final in each of the past five seasons with only one semi-finalist – Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City – in the past four campaigns.
This is perhaps surprising due to the increasing wealth and spending power of the nation’s leading clubs, stemming from loaded TV rights deals and rapid growth off the pitch.
However, the constant flux of the English game – no back-to-back title winners since 2009 – has prevented one club from maintaining a spell of dominance and increased wealth across the nation has arguably had a detrimental impact on the leading six clubs, who recently attempted to negotiate a separate TV package due to the money they were generating towards league rivals.
A sea change
This season has threatened to mark a sea change. Tottenham’s remarkable comeback from two goals down to earn a draw at Juventus followed up on their win over Real Madrid and double over Borussia Dortmund earlier in the campaign.
Liverpool are in knockout stages for the first time since 2009 and recorded a remarkable 5-0 triumph at FC Porto, while Manchester City chalked up a similarly impressive result as they eased to a 4-0 win at Basel.
Manchester United – who topped their group – are also in the knockouts for the first time since David Moyes was manager and are favourites against Sevilla, while Chelsea may be slight underdogs against Barcelona but pose a threat for any side in the competition.
Manchester City: favourites?
It is hard to look beyond Pep Guardiola’s Man City as the representation of England’s best hope in the tournament – they hold a commanding 16-point lead domestically and have lost only two games all season, one of which was a dead rubber away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
They have a foot-and-a-half in the next round already, but must guard against continued injuries and fatigue, which has slowed down their performance-level from the first half of the campaign.
A fearsome front three
Liverpool also pose a not insignificant threat to any side due to their attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Jurgen Klopp’s men will not be among the competition’s favourites due to their relative lack of experience and capability for below-par performances, particularly defensively.
However, he guided his side to a Europa League final two years ago and his record in European competition is excellent, having brought Dortmund to the 2013 showpiece, although they did end up losing.
Spurs squad depth could hurt them
Tottenham again lack experience but their growth in the competition from last year’s disappointing group stage exit has been remarkable.
Should Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen stay fit, they can breach any defence – as they showed in Turin.
There is a concern over the lack of reinforcements, whose failure to win at Newport and Rochdale exposed a potential worry, while also leading to two unwanted additional fixtures.
No way, Jose?
Manchester United are a side who are generally perceived to be underachieving in relation to their transfer spending and rebuilding yet have a range of qualities within their squad and boss Jose Mourinho is as good in knockout competitions as anyone.
The Portuguese led Porto and Inter to remarkable Champions League titles and has the capability of doing so with a squad who are no less equipped to pull off a handful of disciplined yet decisive victories.
That said, Manchester United do seem to lack the sort of consistency required to prosper across two legs.
The biggest task
Chelsea, perhaps, face the biggest uphill task due to their draw and mounting issues surrounding the future of Antonio Conte, who does not look to have a future at the club beyond the current campaign.
Yet the Blues often excel in this tournament when appearing most vulnerable – such as their run to the final in 2008 under Avram Grant and most markedly, their remarkable triumph in 2012 with Roberto Di Matteo.
All five clubs – a record for any league at this stage of the competition – can all stake a claim for potentially celebrating a landmark trophy in three months from now.
It may rest on which side can hold their nerve and pull off a series of tactical masterclasses.
How do you think the English clubs will fare in the competition this time around? Get in touch by commenting below.