The English Premier League draws a lot of flak and is often called a league which looks good only on television. But EPL has won a round over its detractors by creating a little bit of Champions League history. For the first, the competition will have five clubs from one country in the knockout stage.
Spain had five representatives in the 2015-16 UCL, but only three made it to the knockouts. The achievements of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United and the EPL should be appreciated keeping this context in mind.
However, on the fixture front the English teams have had a mixed bag. Chelsea versus Barcelona is going to be a clash of the Round-of-16, and the Tottenham-Juventus game also promises fireworks. The other three have it relatively easy, at least on paper. With five teams out of 16, this is the best shot for an English team to break the stranglehold of the Spanish clubs. Real Madrid and Barcelona have won the last four editions of the tournament.
A lot of people feel that a hectic Premier League calendar will prove to be a deterrent for English clubs to succeed in Europe, but I’m of another opinion. Manchester City is playing the EPL at a completely different level and though the League is at the half-way stage, it’s already looking like a one-horse race.
I’m not sure how many teams in the top four or five are genuinely considering giving Pep Guardiola’s boys a chase. This could force the other sides to turn their focus on the Champions League. City, which has already opened a daylight gap between them and the chasing pack, too can shift focus to Europe. Of course, this is all easier said than done. The English charge to the knock-out stages has been rather impressive. Tottenham topped Group H ahead of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund with 16 points, which was the most across any groups. Liverpool, with 23 goals in the group stages, were second only to PSG (25).
The longevity of the coaches in the five English teams — a rarity in today’s football — has also helped the sides. Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino have all managed to stamp their style of play on their respective squads. There is a visible stability and they are benefiting from it.
City looks like it can win everything. The options Guardiola has on the bench are of the highest quality and I’m waiting to see how the team performs when it comes up against the big boys of Europe.
While many may not really give it a chance, Klopp’s Liverpool can be serious contenders if it stops blowing hot and cold. Liverpool can play like world-beaters or it can be as ordinary as a Sunday League team.
Chelsea, with Conte at the helm, will be a bit about chess. I love the tactician that Conte is and I’m sure he’s pulling out all his aces to plot the exit of Barcelona.
I’m looking forward to the Juventus-Tottenham tie. It’s amazing what Pochettino has achieved with this team. It will be interesting to see how he lines up against the Old Lady of Turin. Spurs has showed that it can go toe to toe with the big boys, but Juventus — last year’s finalist — will be another mountain to climb.
This leave us with Manchester United. I can’t really put my finger on the kind of season the side is having, but I do know that Mourinho is stubborn and crafty enough to nudge his way through. My money, though, is firmly on City. It’s going to be a while before the knock-out stages start, but English clubs have a great chance to erase Didier Drogba’s penalty against Bayern Munich in 2012 as the last memory of Champions League glory that a Premier League side has cherished!
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