Chelsea lift the Champions League trophy

Chelsea were the last English team to win the Champions League – in 2011-12

The Champions League and Europa League return this week as the knockout stage in each competition gets under way.

For the first time, England has five representatives in the last 16 of the Champions League, with Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham qualifying from their respective groups.

Celtic’s disappointment at their Champions League exit is eased by a place in the last 32 of the Europa League, where they are joined by Arsenal – England’s sole representative.

But, with the likes of Juventus and Barcelona lying in wait, how will the English sides fare?

We asked BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty to assess the chances of the English sides, and BBC Scotland chief football writer Chris McLaughlin to analyse Celtic’s Europa League campaign.

Champions League


Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League as a manager

Last-16 opponents: Barcelona (Spain) – Tuesday, 20 February (h); Wednesday, 14 March (a)

2017-18 group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: Chelsea’s season has been shrouded in turmoil and the ongoing uncertainty surrounding manager Antonio Conte.

It is against that backdrop that they have been handed the toughest task of all the Premier League representatives, navigating a way past Barcelona, led by the attacking spearhead of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

It seems an impossible task given Chelsea’s form this season – but those looking for a shock may glance at a glorious and unlikely chapter in their Champions League history when they defied all odds against these same opponents.

In the Champions League semi-final second leg in April 2012, Chelsea played with 10 men for 53 minutes in the Nou Camp after captain John Terry was sent off for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the back – yet still earned a 2-2 draw to go on to eventual victory over Bayern Munich in the final.

Chelsea will need to summon up that spirit once more, but the evidence suggests this may be beyond Conte’s side.

They will need to lock down a defence that has proved vulnerable recently, while also summoning the goals that have eluded them.

Barcelona, in contrast, are on course to win La Liga once more, Messi is as potent as ever while Suarez’s early season dip in form has been banished. They also have the best defensive record in the Champions League this season, conceding only one goal in six group games.

A slice of history is on Chelsea’s side as they are unbeaten in their past seven Champions League games against Barcelona, winning two and drawing five. Barcelona, however, hold the edge in knockout ties, having eliminated Chelsea three times while losing two.

Chelsea need to defy the odds and logic to progress – but they have done it before.


Liverpool goal

Liverpool scored 23 goals in the group stage – and only Cristiano Ronaldo scored more than Roberto Firmino (six)

Last-16 opponents: Porto (Portugal) – Wednesday, 14 February (a); Tuesday, 6 March (h)

2017-18 Champions League group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: Liverpool and their manager Jurgen Klopp will be quietly satisfied to be facing Porto in the last 16. But there is no room for complacency and the defensive vulnerability which marked their group campaign, illustrated perfectly by the concession of a three-goal lead at Sevilla.

This could prove fatal in the knockout phase – but equally Liverpool have the ability to score goals against any side, and this is what makes them a highly dangerous opponent for any side left in the competition.

Liverpool have suffered a blow with the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona – how much of blow remains to be seen – but in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane they have an attack to trouble anyone.

They will also fancy their chances of clawing back any disadvantage at Anfield.

But Liverpool will need to cure their weakness at set-pieces as this is an area of expertise for the Portuguese – their eight goals from such situations was the most in this season’s group stage.

Porto’s big danger will come from Vincent Aboubakar, who scored five goals and provided two assists in five group games.

Liverpool, however, will be favourites to progress.

Manchester City

Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling scored in all three home games in the group stage

Last-16 opponent: Basel (Switzerland) – Tuesday, 13 February (a); Wednesday 7 March (h)

2017-18 Champions League group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: City will be overwhelming favourites to progress against Basel – indeed Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders are regarded by many as favourites to win the Champions League.

This meeting with Basel, however, comes with large warning signs attached.

Basel have proved a bogey side to English clubs in the past, winning four and losing one of their past five home games against them in the Champions League.

They beat Manchester United in the group stage, wrecked Liverpool’s hopes with a win at home and draw away, and have also seen off Chelsea in recent years. They also got the better of Tottenham in a two-legged Europa League tie.

If City take Basel lightly amid the compact and steepling stands of the atmospheric St Jakob Park, they will do so at their peril.

Basel’s Dimitri Oberlin has scored four goals in his past five Champions League games but City – even without the injured Gabriel Jesus – should have the weaponry to progress.

Guardiola and City will surely have learned the lessons of last season’s painful last-16 exit to Monaco, and their all-round quality should prove too much for Basel, notwithstanding the hold the Swiss seem to have over English clubs.

Basel have never gone further than the last 16 in the Champions League, so surely City’s firepower and all-round strength – plus Guardiola’s experience in the competition – should be enough.

Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku

Can Romelu Lukaku help Jose Mourinho become the first manager to win the European Cup with three clubs?

Last-16 opponents: Sevilla (Spain) – Wednesday, 21 February (a); Tuesday, 13 March (h)

2017-18 Champions League group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: Jose Mourinho has effectively conceded the Premier League title to Manchester City – which might just make his focus on a competition he relishes even more intense.

Mourinho completed phase one of United’s European rehabilitation by winning the Europa League in 2017 to guarantee entry into the top tier this year, and qualification for the knockout stage was relatively untroubled.

The Portuguese always has an eye on history, and he is attempting to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs after triumphs with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan six years later.

Sevilla demonstrated their threat with that stirring comeback from 3-0 down against Liverpool to get a draw but they won only two of their six group games this season, the least among the 16 teams left in the competition.

Wissam Ben Yedder will be the danger, having scored 50% of Sevilla’s 12 goals in this season’s Champions League. Only Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo has a greater proportion of his side’s goals (53%).

United, however, will find their Champions League hand greatly strengthened by the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, and they should carry too much attacking weight for Sevilla.

Mourinho will want a big trophy this season after coming off second best to City domestically. He will demand serious Champions League progress and should get it.


Dele Alli scores against Real Madrid

Tottenham beat reigning champions Real Madrid 3-1 at Wembley in this season’s group stage

Last-16 opponents: Juventus (Italy) – Tuesday, 13 February (a); Wednesday, 7 March (h)

2017-18 Champions League group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: When Tottenham demolished Real Madrid at Wembley in the group stage – November’s 3-1 win barely scratching the surface of their supremacy – manager Mauricio Pochettino made a bold claim.

He said: “We now belong not only among the best teams in England but in Europe and results like this will show people where we are going.”

Where they are going is to Turin to face the formidable and durable Juventus, last season’s beaten finalists and battled-hardened in the Champions League, having also been in the final as recently as 2015, when they lost to Barcelona.

Spurs face a tough assignment but any doubts they have over their pedigree should have been expunged not only by the manner in which they dismantled Real at home, but also their tactical excellence and discipline when earning a point at the Bernabeu.

Juve still have the foundations of a superb squad, including legendary 40-year-old goalkeeper Gigi Buffon – still on a mission to win the Champions League – defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, Sami Khedira in midfield and the threat of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in attack.

They are also unbeaten in 22 Champions League home games, winning 14, and have kept nine clean sheets in their past 13 home games in the competition.

Juventus are, however, a year older and Spurs have the youth, vibrancy and quality which means they should have nothing to fear, despite the fearsome reputation of ‘La Vecchia Signora’ (The Old Lady).

Spurs are one of four unbeaten teams in the Champions League this season alongside Barcelona, Besiktas and Liverpool and have shown growing maturity.

Pochettino’s side have quality in all areas, with Dele Alli distinguishing himself against Real, and in Harry Kane have a striker who can stand comparison with most strikers in Europe.

Spurs have been handed one of the Champions League’s most difficult assignments – but there is no reason whatsoever why they should not feel confident in coming through such a searching examination.

Europa League


Davor Suker

Arsenal reached the final of the Uefa Cup – now Europa League – in 2000. Davor Suker missed a penalty in defeat by Galatasaray

Last-32 opponents: Ostersunds FK (Sweden) – Thursday, 15 February (a); Thursday, 22 February (h)

2017-18 Europa League group stage:

Phil McNulty’s verdict: Arsenal have made a Premier League top-four place their traditional route into the Champions League – but after missing out this season it now appears the Europe League may represent their best opportunity of returning to the elite competition.

The Gunners are adrift of the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham in the Premier League, which means the Europa League assumes even greater importance with a place in next season’s Champions League the prize for the winners.

It will not be an easy task for manager Arsene Wenger and his players, with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli among the quality opposition left in.

Arsenal will feel it is a challenge they must accept given the stakes, and they will be boosted by the fact new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play as former club Manchester United are in the Champions League – although fellow new boy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible with his old club Borussia Dortmund dropping into the Europa League.

Arsenal have a squad full of attacking talent to match the best but it is those defensive frailties and mood swings that may let them down.

They will be confident of having enough to progress past Swedish side Ostersunds FK, managed by former York City defender Graham Potter.

It will be a test in freezing conditions in the 8,500-capacity Jamtkraft Arena on an artificial surface.

Potter has worked wonders to take Ostersunds from the fourth tier of Swedish football, beating Turkish giants Galatasaray in the Europa League group stage.

He will know – as will the side’s English pair Jamie Hopcutt and Curtis Edwards – he can greatly enhance his growing reputation if Ostersunds can inflict any damage on Arsenal.


Henrik Larsson

Henrik Larsson scored twice when Celtic reached the Uefa Cup final in 2003

Last-16 opponents: Zenit St Petersburg (Russia) – Thursday, 15 February (h); Thursday, 22 February (a)

2017-18 Champions League group stage:

Chris McLaughlin’s verdict: Celtic under Brendan Rodgers are all about progress. With everything and everyone swept aside domestically last season there was an expectation that some kind of mark might be made on the European stage. But with Scottish football increasingly cut adrift financially from Europe’s top leagues, expectation is relative.

It was a bottom-placed finish in the Champions League last year, but given it was the Parkhead side’s first time at the top table in three years, dining with Europe’s elite and the financial trimmings that came with it, was enough.

With progress in mind, a third-placed Champions League finish this year, in a campaign that included a 3-0 demolition of Anderlecht in Belgium, meant box ticked. European football post-Christmas in Scotland is a rarity these days so when it was secured, it was celebrated.

The Europa League tie against Zenit St Petersburg looms against a backdrop of domestic intrigue for Celtic. Once again they are leaving the rest trailing in their wake but defeats by Hearts and Kilmarnock have provided the chasing pack with a glimmer of hope. The well-oiled invincible machine of last season has spluttered of late and fans are nervous before the games against the Russians.

A lengthy injury list certainly hasn’t helped. Key players such as Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts have been missing in recent weeks and are unlikely to face the Russians. Chelsea youngster Charly Musonda was added to the squad in January but, while he clearly has trickery and talent, he has not done enough to guarantee a start.

There’s more than enough to provide hope, though. James Forrest is having the season of his life and captain Scott Brown rarely loses a battle in the middle of the park. Celtic can look vulnerable, but when they click they can still be devastating.

Zenit could also be ring rusty. The Russians have been on a lengthy winter break and haven’t played a competitive match since mid-December. Ten years on from their Uefa Cup final win over Rangers in Manchester, Zenit face the other side of Glasgow. The stakes are not quite so high, but there’s plenty of intrigue nonetheless.

News Reporter

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