Premier League elite get reality check from Champions League contenders

Premier League elite get reality check from Champions League contenders
From ESPN - March 14, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain -- And then there were two. So much for the Premier League planting its flag deep in the Champions League landscape by claiming at least half of the eight quarterfinal berths for this season's competition.

For the first time in Champions League history, five English clubs made it through the group stage to contest the round of 16, but only two -- Manchester City and Liverpool -- survived to fight another day on the road to the May 26 final in Kiev.

Tottenham were eliminated by Juventus, and Manchester United humbled by Sevilla before Chelsea were sent spinning out of the competition by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona on Wednesday. In fairness to Antonio Conte's team, few gave Chelsea much hope of making it past Barca, who showed just why they are the favourites to win the Champions League again this season.

But when the draw for the round of 16 was made last December, the bullish view from within the Premier League was that at least four of England's top clubs would make it to the final eight. There was even a hope, if not an expectation, that the Premier League would provide both finalists for the first time since Man United defeated Chelsea to win the European Cup in Moscow in 2008.

It may still happen, with City and Liverpool both capable of beating any opponent on their day, but the exits of Spurs, United and Chelsea may just offer a timely reminder that Europe's superpowers have yet to be knocked off their perch by English football's best teams.

Furthermore, this is the stage where the Champions League gets serious and City and Liverpool are about to discover that. If they are to fly the flag for the Premier League all the way to Kiev, there are some seriously strong clubs to overcome. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will not be weighed down by an inferiority complex against City or Liverpool, and all will expect to beat whoever they come up against.

It will be a step up from FC Basel for Man City and for Liverpool, who coasted into the quarterfinals with a 5-0 aggregate win over FC Porto. But because of the huge wealth of the Premier League and the money lavished on players by its biggest clubs, a distorted view of European football has begun to emerge within the English game.

Juventus were widely written off after being held to a 2-2 first-leg draw at home to Spurs, but their experience in the competition proved crucial as they progressed to the last eight with a 2-1 second-leg win at Wembley.

United, meanwhile, discovered that their expensively assembled squad counted for nothing against a Sevilla outfit with much smaller resources. Sevilla simply devised a smarter game plan, one honed during their three successive Europa League-winning campaigns, and beat United with a classic European smash-and-grab raid at Old Trafford.


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