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Champions League – The English Invasion

Champions League – The English Invasion

With the January transfer window firmly locked tight until the summer, the focus now shifts back to matters on the pitch and with the return of Europe’s premier club competition now approaching on the horizon, it means we will soon be treated to an abundance of Champions League action.

Action that will see each of the Premier League’s four representatives compete in the Round of 16 and as the road to Saint Petersburg becomes shorter, the best of English football will look to take another huge step to the final in May.

While before the Premier League giants enter the knockout phase of the Champions League, we are now going to look at their chances of not just progress but overall success at the end of the season. As we ask, will UEFA’s biggest prize be once again snared by a Premier League outfit?

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The Holders

After an all-English final last time around, it was Chelsea who eventually ruled the European roost and with Thomas Tuchel only being installed as manager just months before, his appointment was certainly an inspired one.

Now though Tuchel must prepare his Chelsea cohorts for another crack at European success and with the West London outfit stuttering in the Premier League as of late, continental rule may be their preferred route of travel.

Because although Chelsea are already assured one trip to Wembley this season, by virtue of the Carabao Cup final appearance at the end of this month, domestic dominance is not going to be top of the Blues’ agenda.

Which means if Tuchel is to ease any mounting pressure on his shoulders, retaining the Champions League trophy is the best way to keep owner Roman Abramovich happy and at the same time, keep himself in gainful employment.

In terms of Chelsea’s Round of 16 opponents, the holders have been paired with Lille and although last season’s Ligue 1 champions have done little in the way of defending their crown, they must still be treated with the respect they deserve.

Chelsea will undoubtedly be favourites to advance to the last eight of the competition and on the balance of theirs and Lille’s playing personnel, you would have to say rightly so. Then again, Lille would love nothing more than to end the reign of the current holders and advance themselves.

One Step Beyond

After suffering defeat to Chelsea in last season’s final, Manchester City will look to go one step better this time around and with Pep Guardiola’s men currently priced as favourites to win this season’s edition of the competition, many are asking if this will finally be their year.

There is no doubt that City do have all the building blocks in place and for every season they fail to move onto the top step of European football, it only adds to the visible frustration of Guardiola himself.

Because although City are well known to run roughshod over their Premier League counterparts, there is always a feeling that they can be got at within the confines of the Champions League and especially if they end up going a goal behind.

At that point, it seems as if the City players have a blank page in the operating manual and with constant failures at the very highest level, this is something that the club’s owners are all too aware of.

No matter how many domestic trinkets are earned, it is the Champions League that their Abu Dhabi-based financiers desperately want and although there is no internal pressure on the manager to deliver such a feat, he will certainly continue to put pressure on himself.

Europe Or Domestic

While the third of our English quartet comes from the red half of Merseyside and with Liverpool doing their upmost to hunt down Manchester City in the Premier League, it is a scenario that will leave manager Jurgen Klopp with a choice.

One that will see him either stick or twist in the pursuit of Premier League honours and although Klopp does not have to decide right now, it may eventually be a decision that ends up being made for him.

Because if the gap to Manchester City is one that fails to erode anytime soon, a pivot to an all-out assault on the Champions League may then be the plan of attack and if that is to be the case, the Reds must first deal with Inter Milan.

A two-legged tie that certainly will not be easy and with Simone Inzaghi’s men currently topping the Serie A table, they will welcome Liverpool to the San Siro in rather fine form – form that will offer quite a challenge to the 2019 Champions League winners.

Of course, Liverpool will also be able to call upon both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and although they have recently been absent due to AFCON duties, their return for the Champions League Round of 16 will be a timely boost.

Interim Or Permanent

With Ralf Rangnick now settled in as interim manager of Manchester United, the question remains as to who will be next in the Old Trafford hotseat and the longer the quest for a successor drags on, the better chance the German has of getting the job on a permanent basis.

Because although Rangnick is set to move upstairs and start his consultancy role in the summer, there are not many viable candidates for him to pass the baton onto and if he can lead the Red Devils to European glory, then United could well call off their search for a new boss.

Admittedly a first Champions League crown since 2008 is going to be a rather big ask of United’s interim manager and of the four English representatives still in the competition, they will be considered the outsiders.

However, one cannot overlook the fact that United have a gluttony of attacking talent and with Cristiano Ronaldo among their ranks, they have a player who has a symbiotic relationship with the Champions League.

Whether this could be the last high-water mark for the Portuguese icon remains to be seen and if he can drag he and his teammates to a first Champions League crown in 14 years, then his August 2021 signing will be fully justified.

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