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Can England Win The Champions League?

By Terrence Doyle

FC Bayern Muenchen v Liverpool – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane celebrates his second goal against Munich on Wednesday.

The round of 16 of the Champions League is over, and only eight teams remain. And for the first time in more than a decade, four of those teams are English. This is obviously good news for the Premier League, which hasn’t boasted a Champions League winner since 2012, when a Chelsea team led by a caretaker manager beat Bayern Munich on its home pitch. Not only do four English sides remain, but the two favorites according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index are among them.

Aside from Manchester United, which had to pull off a historic upset to send Paris Saint-Germain to the French Riviera earlier than it would have liked, English teams were dominant in the first knockout stage round. On Tuesday, Manchester City embarrassed a Schalke 04 team that is also fighting a relegation battle in the Bundesliga, dispatching its German foe 7-0 on the night — tied for the largest margin of victory in a single match in Champions League history — and 10-2 on aggregate. Last week, Tottenham Hotspur finished off Borussia Dortmund, admittedly a team that’s been trending downward in recent weeks, 4-0 over two legs. And on Wednesday, Liverpool dismantled perennial contenders Bayern Munich 3-1 thanks in large part to a brace from winger Sadio Mané.

This is impressive because Bayern Munich doesn’t lose in the Champions League in the round of 16. The club last failed to advance to the quarterfinals in 2011, and it has made it to at least the semifinal stage in six of the last seven seasons. That all changed on Wednesday night.

Bayern’s loss also means that four of the seven teams favored most to win the Champions League as of a week ago by SPI have been eliminated from the competition. Now, SPI gives two English teams the best and second best odds. Manchester City has a 28 percent chance of winning the final, and Liverpool’s win in Munich increased its chances from 11 percent to 22 percent. Imagine if they meet in the quarterfinal again?1

The strong showing from the EPL clubs signals that the power center of European soccer may be shifting — something we were quick to notice last fall. Bayern Munich is the second Champions League blueblood to be ousted early after three-time reigning champion Real Madrid was bounced by Dutch side Ajax last week. But in the world of top-flight international soccer, one thing is not ready to change: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are still dominant forces of nature.

Messi put on a master class Wednesday in a 5-1 win at Camp Nou against a plucky Olympique Lyonnais. The French side managed to keep the Argentinian maestro quiet in the first leg two weeks ago in France, but Messi proved too much in Barcelona. He scored two (and could have had a few more) and assisted two. With the win, Barcelona’s chances to win the title increased from 16 percent to 20 percent.

And in Turin, Cristiano Ronaldo did exactly what Juventus paid all that money for Cristiano Ronaldo to do: Score big goals on big European nights. Before Juve’s second-leg clash with Atletico Madrid began, our SPI gave the Italian squad a measly 12 percent chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. A 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in Spain in February meant Juventus needed to score three goals and concede none to win in regular time and advance to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for Atletico, there’s no real defense for Ronaldo.

If City, United, Spurs or Liverpool hope to pry the Champions League trophy from continental Europe, they’re likely to have to go through an in-form Ronaldo. Or an in-form Messi. Both realities are terrifying.

 

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