In the past five editions of the Champions League, England has produced just two semi-finalists: Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2013-14 and Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City in 2015-16.
It seems money can’t buy success. The Premier League’s lucrative television deals grant its clubs huge purses in the transfer market, but there hasn’t been an English winner since Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the 2011-12 final.
So, with five English teams joining the group stages for the first time – Manchester United was granted entry through its procurement of the 2016-17 Europa League title – the country’s governing body will hope that strength in numbers will help stage an assault in the Champions League’s later rounds.
Here are each of the five teams’ chances of success in Europe’s elite club competition rated:
Group opponents: Atletico Madrid, Qarabag, Roma
A popular criticism of Antonio Conte’s managerial credentials is to highlight his record in European club competitions, and on paper his three years at Juventus didn’t exactly see the Italian outfit inflict damage on its continental rivals:
|Season||Champions League exit|
But when you delve deeper you can see that using these finishes for evidence is a tad unfair. Luigi Delneri’s seventh-placed finish in the 2010-11 Serie A term meant that there was no European tour in Conte’s inaugural season, and the following two campaigns saw elimination at the hands of eventual winner Bayern Munich, and an exit from a group featuring champion elect Real Madrid and a Galatasaray side which scored late goals against Juve in both meetings.
Despite his previous disappointments, Conte could prioritise the Champions League after claiming last season’s English crown. The Italian has successfully bulked up his squad with know-how in all of Europe’s top leagues in Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger, and Andreas Christensen, who returned after two years on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach. That added depth can help the Blues take top spot in Group C and test their continental playing style beyond the Round of 16.
Chances of reaching quarter-final stage or later: 8/10
Group opponents: APOEL Nicosia, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid
There’s no such thing as the Wembley curse, but in England there is a case for teams circling a trip to Tottenham Hotspur’s temporary home as a rare opportunity to claim a result at the historic ground. Teams on the continent shouldn’t share that level of motivation, but Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid will be comfortable playing in a packed, huge venue.
It’s a very tough quartet for Spurs, and there was nothing from last season’s efforts – elimination from both the Champions League group stage and Europa League Round of 32 – and their transfer business that indicates Mauricio Pochettino’s ranks are equipped for a European surge.
It appears to be a transition year for Spurs as they prepare to move into their new White Hart Lane abode, so their focus should lie in consolidating their place in England’s top four as they cover high costs for that stadium project.
Chances of reaching quarter-final stage or later: 3/10
Group opponents: Feyenoord, Napoli, Shakhtar Donetsk
Manchester City fans’ difficult relationship with UEFA means that winning the Premier League is their priority but, after an outlay that has given Pep Guardiola the most expensively assembled squad in history, the club’s hierarchy will insist on a strong European showing. The CIES Football Observatory found the Spaniard’s throng to be worth €853 million – up €242 million from last year.
City’s deepest run in the tournament in 2015-16 was helped by a kind draw against Dynamo Kyiv and some odd tactical decisions by Laurent Blanc when he was in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. However, the upgrades since then – Fernando has given way to Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva were brought in while Jesus Navas returned to Sevilla, and Gabriel Jesus takes Wilfried Bony’s spot – suggest a forceful rush into the knockout rounds is nigh.
The Achilles heel in Guardiola’s side is well-documented: The defence. Napoli has a strong chance of taking first place in Group F, with Maurizio Sarri’s pacey attack capable of ravaging Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany.
Chances of reaching quarter-final stage or later: 6/10
Group opponents: Maribor, Sevilla, Spartak Moscow
The most entertaining show in England will leave the European crowds gasping – particularly when Sevilla is lining up on the other side of the halfway line.
Liverpool’s start to the season has delivered everything that was anticipated – absenteeism in defence, and lunacy in attack – which should set up appetising meetings against Sevilla’s flowing forays. Besides that, the Reds have been handed a group where they will have no excuses if they don’t finish in the top two.
Unfortunately for Jurgen Klopp, there’s still an unfinished look to his squad. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius aren’t dependable between the sticks; raw youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, and Alberto Moreno should be defensive backups and no more; and returning star Philippe Coutinho will likely learn the ropes in a new(ish) role behind the front three, whether the Barcelona target likes it or not.
Liverpool appears to be a work-in-progress and too thin to sufficiently challenge both domestically and continentally.
Chances of reaching quarter-final stage or later: 5/10
Group opponents: FC Basel, Benfica, CSKA Moscow
Mourinho electing to field David De Gea in the Champions League after Sergio Romero’s residency in last season’s Europa League XI suggests the Portuguese manager is going all out in Manchester United’s English title pursuit and in Europe.
The experience gained in that successful Europa League venture could be priceless – Chelsea and Atletico Madrid both followed recent victories in that tournament with strong Champions League runs a season or two later – and the quick work in the summer transfer window has resulted in a team that is already gelling in domestic play.
Like many Premier League outfits, United’s vulnerability lies in defence. Phil Jones was bullied and Eric Bailly was clearly rattled in Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Stoke City, and in reserve is Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof, both of whom are trying to win the trust of Mourinho. The left side of the backline isn’t inspiring either, with the sluggish Daley Blind and oft-unfit Luke Shaw vying for minutes.
Chances of reaching quarter-final stage or later: 8/10
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)