For the first time in 10 seasons, four teams from one country will compete in the last eight of the Champions League.
Liverpool’s victory over Bayern Munich in the last 16 means England will now provide 50% of the quarter-final teams in Europe’s top club competition, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham the other Premier League sides present.
It evokes memories of the 2000s and the two successive seasons that England provided four quarter-finalists (along with six finalists in five years and two winners – Liverpool in 2005 and Manchester United in 2008).
But is this season’s repeat a sign of England’s resurgence on the biggest stage?
|Teams from each country in last eight of Champions League this century|
*Year country started providing four teams for Champions League
Previous Champions League dominance
England’s best era of the Champions League came in the mid-2000s. In 2007-08 and 2008-09, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all reached the quarter-finals.
At least one English team reached five consecutive finals (from 2004-05 to 2008-09) – and seven out of eight (until 2011-12), with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea all winning and losing at least one, and Arsenal also losing.
The past seven seasons have been largely fallow for English sides in the Champions League, punctuated by the odd moment of success, notably Chelsea’s triumph in Munich in 2011-12 and Liverpool reaching last season’s final.
In recent years, Spain has dominated – with three La Liga sides in the last eight in each of the past six seasons. A Spanish side has won each of the past five Champions Leagues – Real Madrid with four and Barcelona with one. Seven of the past 10 finalists have been Spanish with Atletico Madrid losing twice.
But Real’s three-year reign is over, ended brilliantly by Ajax in the last 16 – and Barca are the only Spanish side left now.
The Premier League is the only league to ever have four quarter-finalists, with Italy last having three in 2005-06 and Germany never having more than two.
How are the English sides equipped?
English champions Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the Champions League this season. This is the third time in four seasons they have been to the last eight, and in Pep Guardiola they have a two-time winning manager with Barcelona.
City have won six of their eight Champions League games this season – including a 6-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk and the 7-0 thrashing of Schalke that helped take them into the quarter-finals.
Sergio Aguero is averaging a goal every 70 minutes in the tournament this season, five goals in five games, but Guardiola admitted they were still “teenagers in the competition” before the Schalke game.
Liverpool are hoping to go one better than last season when they lost to Real Madrid in the final.
Since then they have replaced error-prone goalkeeper Loris Karius with one of the world’s best keepers, Alisson, become more solid at the back and brought in almost £100m worth of midfielders in Fabinho and Naby Keita.
The five-time European champions have won at crucial stages this season, picking up the 1-0 win against Napoli they needed to progress from the group stages and beating Bayern Munich 3-1 in Germany after drawing the first leg at home.
Manchester United are a team reborn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, picking up a famous 3-1 win at Paris St-Germain with an injury-ravaged team to go through on away goals.
The 1968, 1999 and 2008 champions became the first team in European Cup history to overcome a 2-0 or greater home first-leg deficit.
Some of the missing players have started to return so United should be getting stronger, and of course Solskjaer has Champions League history…
Tottenham have shown good progression year on year in Europe, going out in the group stages in 2016-17 and the last 16 last year. But this time round they beat then Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals.
Spurs have shown a battling touch this season, too. They were 12 minutes away from going out after four games – but scored twice late on against PSV to stay in the tournament, before beating Inter Milan and drawing against Barcelona go to through.
And they are finally expected to finally be in their new stadium before the quarter-finals.
Is there a downside to this English success?
England manager Gareth Southgate believes the success of Premier League sides in the competition this season could hinder the national team’s chances in June’s Nations League finals.
The Champions League final in Madrid is just five days before England take on the Netherlands in Portugal on 6 June.
“It will be a little bit like the World Cup in that players will finish at different times, so we’ll have to have some preparation here, in terms of the pre-camps,” Southgate said. “It could be a mess.
“Let’s say if two of our teams made it to the Champions League final, then we wouldn’t see them, at best, until the Monday before we play on the Thursday.
“With the emotion of that game [Champions League final], can those players even realistically play on the Thursday night for us?”
Who stands in their way?
After City, the next two favourites are Barcelona and Juventus.
Treble-chasing Barcelona have gone out at the quarter-final stage in each of the past three seasons but look well equipped to go further, with Lionel Messi in sensational form in their last 16 tie with Lyon, scoring twice and assisting two more in a 5-1 win.
Messi is the joint top scorer in this season’s tournament with eight, and the second top scorer in the Champions League history’s with 108.
The only man who has ever scored more – Cristiano Ronaldo – is likely to be a major obstacle for any team he faces in the last eight.
With his Juventus side 2-0 down to Atletico Madrid from the first leg, he scored a hat-trick on Tuesday to take his side into the quarter-finals. The Portuguese is trying to win the tournament for a fourth consecutive year, having won the past three with Real Madrid, and a sixth time overall – which would be a joint record.
The other two quarter-finals are seen as outsiders, Ajax and Porto. But both sides have won the European Cup multiple times, four for Ajax and two for Porto.
And Ajax put in one of the Champions League’s great performances to thrash Real Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu in the last 16.
View from Germany & Spain
German football journalist Raphael Honigstein on BBC Radio 5 Live:
Three years ago the Bundesliga was ahead of the Premier League when looking at all the results and the Uefa coefficient ranking but that was with Dortmund and Bayern doing well in the Champions League each year.
Now, Dortmund are still developing and Bayern are off their best and then there is a big drop [in German football] and it’s a time for soul-searching.
If you don’t have the most money in the world, you need something a little bit extra – a team spirit, tactics, or coach – and right now we don’t have that special transformative manager in place and that’s why the lack of strength and depth below Bayern and Dortmund is shown.
Spanish football writer Andy West:
Although only time will tell, the failure of La Liga to produce more than one quarter-finalist this season is probably just a blip.
Real Madrid, without doubt, will come back stronger. They are expected to splash the cash in the summer for serious attacking talent – Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan are among the targets – and returnee boss Zinedine Zidane will be eager to continue his ridiculous record of never not winning the Champions League.
Atletico Madrid, too, will expect to challenge again next season. Losing against a very good Juventus team is hardly a disgrace (even though they were really poor in the second leg), and boss Diego Simeone has the tools at his disposal to recover from this setback – in fact, it will probably suit him as a motivational tool.
In any case, the talk of La Liga’s ‘demise’ could well be killed off by Barcelona, who surely have as good a chance as anyone of lifting the trophy if Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez stay fit.