By Kieran Cobley
The group stages of the Champion’s League are almost complete. With only one more match for each team before the knockout stages begin, only two of England’s representatives are confirmed for the round of 16.
Manchester City and Manchester United sealed their places in the next round. A 2-2 draw against Lyon made sure City got through to the next round, while Manchester United’s late winner in their 1-0 victory over Young Boys sent Jose Mourinho into a bottle throwing celebration as the Red Devil’ survive a group that included Valencia and Juventus.
But there are still two English teams that could face being knocked out of Europe’s premier club competition.
Back-to-back losses for Liverpool against Red Star Belgrade and PSG has seen Jurgen Klopp’s side on the verge of being knocked out.
Tottenham Hotspur look to be in a similar position, and Maurizio Pochetino will be thanking his lucky stars for Christian Ericson’s winner against Inter Milan, which has offered Spurs a lifeline in the competition.
This seems very deceptive, as United’s lack of form this season has been well reported. Their Champions League success so far has mainly come from getting a bit lucky at the most opportune moments, particularly in their 2-1 away win against Juventus, where deflections played a huge role in getting the ball into the “The Old Lady’s” net.
Liverpool meanwhile have had to face off against favourites to win the competition PSG , who have big name players like Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavanni at their disposal, with a sturdy defence and a mid-field capable of setting up chances from un-imaginable positions, beating the Reds 2-1.
The Reds also dropped points away to Red Star as well, with the Serbian side implementing their classic tactic of absorbing pressure and then counter attacking to absolute perfection, with Liverpool losing 2-0.
This now means Klopp’s men need to beat Napoli in front of a passionate home crowd at Anfield, which may only add to the pressure already mounted on the attacking trio of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
This is the case for Spurs too, who are in a group of death with La Liga leaders Barcelona and Inter Milan, who have only conceded 10 league goals this season.
Spurs have also had to take on PSV Eindhoven as well, who can be a nightmare to deal with, with Harry Kane and company only managing to take four points from a possible six against the Dutch side.
Manchester City meanwhile can sit easy going into their last group match against Hoffenheim, and easily look like the English side most likely to win the competition.
Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back from an upset loss against Lyon in their opening group game with the Sky Blues going on to take 10 points from a possible 12 from the four subsequent matches, including a 6-0 thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk.
City’s slick attacking style of football has proved to be incredibly fruitful, scoring 14 goals, and conceding just five, with David Silva and Gabriel Jesus both netting three a piece, while Riyad Mahrez tops the assist table with four assists, just shy of one a game.
So, why is only one English side in with a realistic chance of winning?
The short answer is consistency. Just look at how many times each club has actually participated in the completion since 2010. Liverpool and spurs have both had periods where they didn’t qualify, Manchester United also failed to qualify for the competition twice in the past five years.
Compare this to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who have not missed a single Champion’s League in that same period. These sides are used to the tolls the competition takes on the squad, and have equipped themselves well enough to deal with this with fantastic physio teams and deep squad depth.
You then have the argument that Premier League teams have to put more focus on the league due to how competitive it is compared to sides in La Liga, Serie A, Ligue Un and the Bundesliga, which are seen as two horse races between the top clubs. Do Bayern Munich and PSG have to consider a match against a top four opponent in the same way a Premier League side does?
I suspect not.
By Kieran Cobley