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March 15, 2019

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English quartet happy to remain in Europe

With British politics still engulfed in Brexit chaos, at least England’s football teams are providing some much-needed clarity when it comes to their standing in Europe.

For the first time in 10 years, four English clubs have reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League — the continent’s blue riband club competition.

Liverpool’s 3-1 victory at German giant Bayern Munich on Wednesday completed the full house, the night after Manchester City thrashed Schalke 7-0 for a 10-2 aggregate victory.

Tottenham Hotspur had already made it through with a 4-0 aggregate drubbing of Borussia Dortmund while Manchester United’s dramatic victory over Paris Saint-Germain put it back in the last eight for the first time in five years.

Not since Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in Bayern’s backyard in 2012 has an English club lifted the trophy.

Of the seven UCL finals prior to that Didier Drogba-inspired win, only once was no English side involved.

A slump followed though and in the six seasons after that there were only six English quarterfinalists while in 2012-13 and 2014-15 no English Premier League sides made the last eight.

Liverpool’s run to the final last year signalled a re-awakening and this season, with holder Real Madrid, Bayern and PSG all out, the odds are shortening on the first all-English final since United beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008.

Barcelona and Juventus remain formidable threats in today’s draw, but both will be hoping to avoid the English sides, in particular City and Liverpool who are engaged in the tightest domestic title battle in Europe’s big leagues.

While Liverpool’s preference may be to win a first English title since 1990, City’s Abu Dhabi owners hired Pep Guardiola with the specific goal of reigning in Europe.

“For the owners, the holy grail is the Champions League,” former City defender Danny Mills told Sky Sports. “They have won the Premier League, they have won the FA Cup, won the League Cup but they haven’t quite got the Champions League trophy.”

Guardiola said it is “incredible” to have four English clubs in the quarterfinals after a decade of Spanish control which saw the country provide three of the last eight for six successive seasons until this campaign.

With Barcelona the only survivor, it is the worst showing from Spanish clubs since 2010 when Inter Milan beat Bayern in the final — the last Italian club to win it.

It is too soon to start talking of a return to English domination of the UCL but the quality at the top end of the EPL this season is unrivalled.

Liverpool’s squad strengthening has allowed it to establish parity with a City side which ran away with the title last year in record-breaking fashion.

Tottenham, until a recent slump, admirably kept pace with the leading duo while United’s interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has released the full potential of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea and Arsenal are still battling for a return to the UCL via top-four finishes, and both could be in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

The quality extends further down the EPL table, too, with the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford and West Ham United all capable of keeping the big guns on their toes.




 

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