1. 2009 seems so long ago.
What’s so special about 2009? Well, 2008-09, to be precise. That was the last Champions League tournament where England qualified three teams for the semifinals, an achievement the Premier League had managed three years in a row. Though it’s fading into a blurry, irrelevant distance, there was a time when England was the defining power in Europe.
Now that dominance seems like a bygone era. In the six years since, England has sent only three teams to the Champions League’s final four: Manchester United once (2010-11), and Chelsea twice, including the year the Blues won their first European crown (2011-12).
Of the 24 spots in this decade’s semifinals, England has claimed one-in-eight. Spain has claimed 11; Germany: seven.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW: Arsenal handed Barcelona; Chelsea-PSG rematch.
Today’s draw won’t help matters. Arsenal, leading the Premier League coming out of the weekend, were handed defending champion Barcelona, considered by many to be the best team in the world. Chelsea, struggling to stay above the relegation zone at home, were given Paris Saint-Germain, a team whose lone defeat this season was a 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Manchester City were more fortunate, drawing Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kyiv, but two out of England’s three Champions League survivors are underdogs to reach the quarterfinals. Though kinder Europa League draws should help the country’s waning UEFA coefficient, England’s facing another disappointing spring in Europe.
2. Spain and Germany avoid each other.
Speaking of UEFA coefficients, Spain and Germany currently lead the table, maintaining solid grips on four Champions League spots. Perhaps remarkably, given the number of teams the countries have alive in Europe (seven and six, respectively), La Liga and Bundesliga sides managed to avoid each other in today’s draws. Even if a couple of the leagues’ teams are picked off in their next rounds, Spain and Germany should continue sprinting away from the field.
|UEFA Country Coefficients||11/12||12/13||13/14||14/15||15/16||Pts||Clubs Alive|
Germany only has two teams alive in Champions League, but both will be favored in the Round of 16, with Wolfsburg facing Gent while Bayern Munich deals with Juventus. In Europa League, though, the Bundesliga could see a couple of teams bow out. Bayer Leverkusen, so inconsistent throughout the season, were drawn against a Sporting CP side that leads the Portuguese league, while Augsburg will be underdogs against Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Borussia Dortmund may be the strongest team in UEFA’s second competition, but they’ll be tested by FC Porto, while rivals Schalke face a talented and dangerous Shakhtar Donetsk.
As for Spain, the country may not need any luck to see all seven of its teams advance to their next rounds. Villarreal, drawn against a Napoli team that was perfect in group stage, should be considered underdogs, but only slightly. The rest of La Liga’s Europa entrants — from an Athletic team that faces Marseille, a Valencia side drawn with Rapid Wein, and a Sevilla squad that will tackle Molde — will be favored to advance, as will Barcelona, Real Madrid (facing Roma) and Atletico Madrid (PSV Eindhoven) in Champions League.
EUROPA LEAGUE DRAW: Liverpool get Augsburg; Manchester United face Midtylland.
Spain’s lead atop the UEFA coefficient list seems insurmountable. It’s unfathomable to consider the collapse that would have the country to drop to number two, let alone fourth (the level at which a country loses a Champions League spot). But thanks to today’s draw, Spain should continue padding its lead on rest of the continent, with Germany likely to forge some more breathing room between itself and England.
3. Paths are paved for some surprise quarterfinalists, semifinalists.
One of Gent or Wolfsburg will qualify for their first Champions League quarterfinal. Benfica or Zenit will make the final eight, as will one of Dynamo Kyiv and Manchester City. Perhaps even more exciting: The possibility of those winners being drawn with each other in the quarters, thus ensuring one will make the final four.
The last time there was a truly surprise semifinalist was 2010-11, when Schalke eliminated defending champions Inter Milan in the quarterfinals before bowing out to Manchester United. Perhaps Atletico Madrid’s place in the final four two years ago should also be considered an outlier, but beyond that, typical names have dominated recent final fours. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have each appeared in five of the last six semifinals.
Perhaps that trio will return to the penultimate round, but if they do, they could be joined by a true upstart. With a little luck in the quarterfinal draw, 2016 could be Manchester City’s long-awaited breakthrough. Maybe Zenit maintains their group stage form, or perhaps Wolfsburg can replicate Schalke’s unlikely run. Regardless, today’s draw has kept a Cinderella’s hope alive, for now.
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