For the second successive year, English teams are meeting with increased success in the UEFA Champions League. United, Arsenal and Chelsea are through already to the quarterfinals, and Liverpool look set to join them in a week’s time.
While English football, in general, is moving from one crisis to another (the national side’s poor form, a growing dearth of quality footballing talent, foreign ownership of clubs, an increasing percentage of foreign players), English clubs, and the Big Four in particular, seem to be doing rather well. The past three Champions League finals have featured an English club – Liverpool in 2005 and 2007, and Arsenal in 2006. Except for 2006, every Champions League quarterfinal fixture list has featured at least two English clubs; three clubs reached the semifinals last year.
Assuming Liverpool go through, the other clubs in the running are Barcelona, Schalke, Fenerbahce and Roma, who knocked out a Real Madrid team that I had expected would go farther. With due respect to all the clubs mentioned above, I think only Barcelona are in the same league as the Big Four. So if none of the English clubs were drawn against each other, we can expect a second season in which three English clubs make it to the last four.
Having seen how the ties have come out in the past, I have my own doubts if they are not doctored. Chelsea faced Barcelona in three successive seasons, and Liverpool in the semis twice in three years. My guess is Arsenal would draw Barca, as the Gunners have some grudge left over since the two met in the final two years ago. And United would draw Liverpool, so the Battle of the Reds would spill over to Europe. That gives Chelsea a relatively easy tie, and would also ensure that at least two English teams make it to the semis.
Of course, anything can happen. A dream tie would be to pit Manchester United against Barcelona. Or Liverpool against Barcelona, another grudge tie from the past. Or Roma against Man U once more in the quarters, that would prove beyond all doubt that the draw is definitely doctored.
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