In February, I debated whether any of the five English clubs progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League could go far in the competition. I even talked about the likelihood of an all English final, 10 years on from the infamous John Terry penalty shootout slip that handed Manchester United the cup in 2008.
Well, as it happens, four out of five of them have royally shat themselves since that optimistic forecast a few weeks ago.
Tottenham didn’t look in bad shape at all at the time, fresh from a 2-2 draw with Juventus in Turin. That is especially true when you consider they were 2-0 down after a Gonzalo Higuain brace within the first 10 minutes. Kane and Eriksen scored in that game to put the visitors in a rather commanding position going back to Wembley for the second leg.
And that position was entrenched when Heung-min Son put Spurs ahead in the first half with a skilfully scuffed finish, meaning Juve would have to bag at least twice to keep their Champions League hopes alive. Well, as it happens, that’s exactly what they did. In three second half minutes of defensive madness, Higuain and Dybala scored goals that would see Spurs go crashing out of the competition.
Step forward Manchester United. When I wrote that piece in February, they were yet to secure that 0-0 draw away at Sevilla, which everyone assumed would see them through in the second leg.
Sevilla didn’t seem like really serious opposition, to be honest. And Mourinho’s reserved tactics in the away leg, bringing a clean sheet back to Old Trafford, was treated as something of a masterstroke.
And he would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Wissam Ben Yedder. The Frenchman scored twice to leave United needing three goals in the final 10 minutes to stay in the competition. They didn’t do it.
Then there’s Chelsea. I’m not sure anyone was feeling overly confident of the Blues’ chances against Barcelona. A couple of very poor Premier League results not long prior – including a 4-1 spanking at the hands of Watford – had left some questioning Conte’s position as manager.
But hey, they performed well at the Bridge. And the 1-1 draw they took to the Nou Camp didn’t leave them out of the running by any stretch of the imagination. That was until another Messi masterclass sent them out with a whimper.
And then there was two. Goal machines Liverpool and Manchester City progressed through their ties against Porto and Basel respectively. But the subsequent tie had the conspiracy theorists pointing fingers at the fact they got drawn against each other in the quarters, meaning one would inevitably be knocked out. Poor old Premier League – always getting downtrodden by the man.
But hell, what a draw it ended up being! For Liverpool fans, anyway. It hasn’t been the best week if you’re a City fan. A stunning first half hour in the first leg at Anfield, featuring a goal from that man Salah and an absolute sodding rocket from Oxlade-Chamberlain, resulted in an eventually insurmountable 3-0 deficit for City.
Even an early goal from City at the Etihad on Tuesday – the last thing Liverpool would’ve wanted – was met with firm resistance from the Reds’ defence. Two second half goals from Salah and Firmino meant they had put five aggregate goals past Champions League opponents once again.
What is it about Liverpool in Europe?
Maybe it was unreasonable to think more than one English team would end up in the semis of the Champions League this year. But hell, with Liverpool in the fold, and in a competition where Roma already pulled their own mini Istanbul ‘05 to knock out Barcelona, and where Ronaldo scored the best ever of his 650+ goal career, who knows what could happen?