The influx of money in the Premier League probably means it should come as little surprise that England has a record five teams in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
It’s hardly unexpected, too, that all of England’s representatives in the first week of the return of European football had memorable nights. Only Tottenham Hotspur failed to win, but a 2-2 draw away to last season’s finalists Juventus is a creditable result under any circumstances, let alone in a game where they were 2-0 down after 10 minutes.
Manchester City swept past Basel and Liverpool thrashed Porto, both are now almost assured a place in the last eight while Manchester United are heavy favourites to conquer Sevilla. Only Chelsea, at this point, look as though they are less than favourites in their current position; facing Barcelona, they are cursing their inability to top a group that unfancied Roma ended up winning.
You can see why England’s return to the forefront of European club football has arrived. No Premier League club has appeared in the final of the competition since Chelsea won it in 2012, and even then it was something of a shock: Roberto di Matteo’s side weren’t expected to beat Bayern Munich in the final, and they certainly weren’t fancied to beat Barcelona in the semi. You have to go back to Manchester United in 2009 to find a time when an English side had a genuine claim to being the best in the world. It’s an entire decade – 2008, when United and Chelsea fought it out in Moscow – since Premier League clubs really were the best.
That’s led to the inevitable mania around all of the English clubs in this season’s competition. Manchester City are many people’s favourites given their clear lead in the league table and their ability to beat anyone on their day. Manchester United are a squad replete with talent and one with European know-how in the form of Jose Mourinho and indeed their own experience of winning the Europa League last season.
And then there’s Liverpool.
A team who can beat Manchester City one week and then lose to then-bottom club Swansea the next should probably know not to get too worked up about a 5-0 victory over Porto, no matter how impressive or satisfying it might have been. Everyone knows that the Reds can score a hatful of goals against anyone when they hit a vein of form, but it’s what they can do on their off days which will count later in the competition.
After that win, though, the surrounding narrative was understandably one of excitement, so much so that even Dejan Lovren told the press he thought Liverpool could win the competition.
They were the headlines the next day, but they weren’t all totally fair: Lovren didn’t come out of his own volition and claim that his side would win the Champions League. He was asked a question by a journalist who could see how the answer might generate a good headline, to which the Croatian defender’s reply was “why not?” And even if he does truly believe his team can win the tournament, why shouldn’t he? What’s the point competing if you’re not playing to win?
But the point is that Liverpool actually can win this competition. The English teams are all at a level where they can beat whatever the rest of Europe can throw at them, and the fact that the inexperienced Champions League side Spurs beat Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid before playing Juventus off the park for 80 minutes definitely shows it.
And in the end, when you think of an English side in Europe, there’s only one with a strangely special relationship to the big-eared trophy and that’s Liverpool.
When it comes to the last eight, Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t be the most fancied team in the tournament, but whatever they lack in defensive quality they make up for in attack – and that mystical attraction to European silverware might just tip it over the edge.