There was real optimism that the four English sides taking part in the Champions League could make it to the last 16 for the first time since 2013/14.
And then there were three…
Brief review of Group Stage
On paper, it should have been, but Tottenham were the unfortunate ones to underestimate their opponents. Having finished 3rd in their respective group, they were consigned to the Europa league at the turn of the year and may struggle, once again to juggle the European demands with a challenge for the top 4. Unless Pochetino pulls what he did against Dortmund in the away leg, Spurs may not even finish in a league position to qualify for the 2017/18 Champions League campaign, especially with the battles between 2nd and 6th being so delicately poised.
They’re still yet to play Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool and those battles could have big consequences for the losers of these encounters.
What are English prospects in the knockout stages?
Where do we begin with Arsenal? Topping their group with Paris St.Germain but still got drawn against one of the enemies of progress in their European exploits (at least they actually won the group, fans are less annoyed this time). But there’s a sense of optimism for this tie as the Bavarian giants have not been their usual dominating selves. They’re only seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and their German star Thomas Muller has not exactly been firing, Douglas Costa is rumoured to be leaving in the summer. Arjen Robben seems to be back to his best. However, the dangerman will always be the Polish hitman Robert Lewandowski, who has been in good form all season and his teammates still carry a threat every time (along with his teammates). If they turn, they can deliver a royal thrashing if they’re in the mood. Let’s not forget as well Carlo Ancelotti won the Champions League twice as a player and three times as a manager with two clubs.
The Gunners need to be careful that they’re not on the receiving end of it like they were the last time they played in the second round after winning their group five seasons ago.
Being the most inexperienced side in Europe and their form since qualification to the knockout stages, little will be expected of them, which (especially against Sevilla). The Foxes have looked more like a herd (multiple deer) in headlights over the course of the season in the league, looking discombobulated, a side disjointed by the sale of their midfield engine and the loss of form of the duo that steered them to league success has not helped. But the knockout stages could be the much-needed rest bite from the precarious position they find themselves now in the league. STILL without a league goal in 2017, they need to find their team spirit, that same camaraderie which brought the title to the King Power Stadium.
However, we’re looking at a team who along with Atletico Madrid are shaking up La Liga, second to only Real Madrid while also ending their 40-match unbeaten run 4 weeks ago. I don’t see Sevilla letting up, especially considering their good record over the last decade or so against English sides (albeit in the UEFA Cup/Europa League).
To be honest, the Citizens have just as much reason to be concerned as they do to be optimistic. City had their near-faultless performance against Barcelona at the Etihad and won two of their three home group games, but were winless away from home. Depending on how their first leg turns out, we will see how much City’s players have learnt from their manager who’s reputation has been built on progressing through the rounds of the Champions League like it is an obsession. He is one of few managers to boast the record of never being knocked out before the semi-finals in any of his years as a manager. Will his City team follow, or will they be stunned by the French side who have already triumphed against an English side this season (note as well, they won the return game as well) and topped said group with a match to spare. Monaco have the potential to surprise the same way they did in 2004, but this time it will be more expected due to the magnifying glass placed above them since their multi-billion dollar investor came in, rejuvenated the club, left and they’ve gone on to produce some of the best young players around and potential world beaters.
Regardless of the result of the tie, if you did not know about any of the players in the Monaco team when it is all said and done in the French Riviera, you will do.
Of the three teams, at most I see two going through. I struggle to come up with a legitimate claim for all three sides to progress.
Arsenal may get a draw away then bring it home to the Emirates in an electric atmosphere, charged with years of aggression and European heartache against a team who in a little over ten years, have knocked the Gunners out on three separate occasions. Fourth seems to be Arsenal’s number. Maybe it’ll be fourth time lucky. But it’s a mental thing with these guys, if they don’t believe they can get anything from tonight’s game, they will get thrashed at the Allianz and may not even have any pride left to play for at The Emirates.
Leicester simply has come unstuck since confirming qualification at the top of their group. They’ve now become the only team in England’s top 5 divisions not to score a league goal in 2017, they also have the current form of a team that will get relegated and to make it worse, once again they might make history while doing so. Sevilla I believe will sweep them aside in both legs. Jorge Sampaoli has made a reputation of pressing high, based on Marcelo Bielsa (United fans may remember the Bilbao side that hounded them in their own backyard despite going ahead). This I reckon will just be too much for the Tinkerman’s stunned Foxes to handle.
Manchester City CAN produce, but it doesn’t mean they always do. If they put in two performances similar to the home games against ‘A German team’ and Barcelona, they’ll progress, but if they play anything near their away performances, they will be unceremoniously dumped out by the French surprise package of this season’s Champions League campaign.
Let me know what you think, I’m always up for a good discussion about English sides in Europe’s elite competition. It was a competition we had a stranglehold on, but year on year since 2008, our fingers have since been peeled off and the grip we had on the competition has loosened.
And then there’ll be two? One? None? We’ll see…