With four matches played, this year’s Champions League group stage is already on course to be a historic one for Premier League clubs. After the most recent results, the five representatives of England’s top flight boast a combined record of 15-4-1. Manchester City and Tottenham clinched qualification to the knockout phase with their wins this week, while a point from their remaining two matches guarantees Manchester United progression. Liverpool and Chelsea have more work to do, but both remain well-placed to advance.
Remarkable results for PL sides
Premier League clubs have accounted for some of the most noteworthy results in this year’s Champions League. Liverpool demolished Slovenian side Maribor 7-0 on their own field. It marks the largest-ever margin of victory away from home in the competition for an English club. Chelsea came from a goal down to snatch a richly deserved added-time victory over Atlético Madrid in the first European match at the Spanish club’s new stadium. Manchester City bested Napoli home and away in two of the most entertaining, tactically sophisticated matches of the competition so far.
But the most impressive results belong to Tottenham. Drawn against defending champions and 12-time winners Real Madrid, as well as 1997 winner and 2013 finalist Borussia Dortmund, Spurs road to qualification was daunting. An opening round 3-1 victory over Dortmund displayed the side’s counterattacking prowess and announced that Mauricio Pochettino’s side had come to contend. After taking care of business 3-0 against APOEL, Spurs took a hard-fought point against Real at the Bernabéu, and sealed qualification with a resounding 3-1 win over the holders at Wembley.
Recent Champions League history is still against them
Since Chelsea’s win over Bayern Munich in 2012, Premier League clubs have routinely fallen short of expectations in Europe’s premier competition. Despite four representatives in the group stage in each of the last five years, no English club has reached another final. While that itself is not an obvious sign of decline, poor overall performances in the knockout rounds have been the norm.
Premier League clubs have reached the quarterfinals of the competition (the second of the knockout rounds) in only three of five seasons since 2012, advancing to the semifinals twice. To compare, in each of the last five years, two Spanish clubs have featured in the semifinals, and there has been at least one German club represented in four out of five. In the five seasons prior to that, at least one English club reached the last four on all but one occasion. In that same period, PL teams twice comprised three of the final four teams, reached four finals—including an all English affair in 2008—and lifted the trophy twice.
Tough road ahead?
English clubs will be looking to buck their more recent run of bad luck and for a return to the earlier glory days. They have made a good start. There is still a possibility of each team winning their group, an achievement of more than symbolic value. Topping the group comes of course with the added benefit of playing the second place finisher from another group, though that may not be the advantage it seems this season. Since teams from the same country cannot be drawn together in the first knockout round, ties against European giants like Real, Bayern, or Juventus would be possible. That also makes five Premier League sides in the quarterfinals a possibility, though even the most optimistic observer may drawn the line at that eventuality.
This is all a lot farther ahead than most teams are looking. Though City and Spurs guaranteed themselves spots in the next round, they still need points from their next two matches to advance as group winners. United are virtually through, only two heavy defeats and adverse results elsewhere could prevent progression. Chelsea and Liverpool’s roads to the last sixteen are a less clear. Chelsea know a result against Qarabag and an Atlético loss or draw against Roma will see them through, otherwise they face a final round showdown with the two-time finalists to advance. Liverpool need to better their draws first time around against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow to ensure advancement, a less than straightforward task. With two matches still to play, however, all five English clubs remain in contention to make further Champions League history this season.