With only three places left in the next round of this seasons Champions League and with only five teams capable of filling those spots it seems like a good time to look ahead to the draw for the knockout stages.
Once again all four English sides look set to qualify for the next round, with only Chelsea yet to confirm their place with the Blues needing a victory over Cluj in the last match to make sure. However that would seem to be a formality (famous last words!) and along with La Liga the Premier League will once again be the dominant force in the knock-out stages.
With the last four finals being contested by English sides the teams from the Premier League have become the ones to avoid and once again this season won’t be any different.
Whilst there have been a couple of impressive performances by the English sides, Arsenal’s 5-2 win in Fenerbache being the standout one, all four look like they will qualify at a canter. In truth only Chelsea have been really tested in qualifying for the next round, that mainly coming from their trip to Rome.
We have already seen Liverpool and Manchester United up against the other big force in the Champions League, the Spanish sides, and really in all four games the English sides should have taken all three points.
The only side capable of challenging the Premier Leagues dominance of Europe will be Barcelona. The Catalan giants have been in remarkable form this season, destroying all of those in front of them and if you are drawn against Pep Guardiola’s side in the knock-out stages then good luck!
Barcelona looked a shade of the side you might have expected when they took on Manchester United last season but with Lionel Messi leading the way the Premier League sides will be wary. Apart from Barca though there doesn’t look to be any series contenders to the English dominance.
Looking through Europe you still have the big names in the next round, such as Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Lyon but not even these sides look good enough to upset the football odds and claim Manchester United’s crown.
Despite all four sides leading their respective leagues, or being in second place, and having on paper the quality to challenge for the Champions League you just can’t see it happening. Inter and Juventus play in a league where the quality of football is dreadful amongst the sides outside of the top seven. Bayern Munich still have a good side on paper with Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Bastien Schweinsteiger good enough to walk into any side. However they aren’t playing like a team, with disjointed performances being a hallmark of their season. As for Lyon they will probably walk the French league again but once again there resilience on Juninho means if he doesn’t play well they will crumble.
All four are good sides and there are more teams left in this seasons competition that you would group in that category but they aren’t great like United where last season. I don’t believe them to even be good enough to upset Chelsea (if they make it), Liverpool and Arsenal.
How the tide has turned from ten years ago when those English sides left in the competition would be wary of whoever they drew in the knock-out stages. Whoever the Premier League sides draw I would expect them to all go through to the quarter finals and I wouldn’t be surprised to see two or three sides make up the semi-finals as well with the winners once again coming from Premier League.