After the first round of games in the last 16 of the Champions League not a single of England’s 5 sides had lost. Liverpool and Manchester City had blitzed their respective opponents while Manchester United and in particular, Tottenham, had secured draws away from home that put the ties firmly in their hands.
Even Chelsea, underdogs against their old European foe Barcelona managed a 1-1 draw at home which kept them in the mix.
In the face of such a resurgence it was hard not to get a little bit carried away and allow nostalgia to flood back in. Images of Luis Garcia’s goal against Chelsea came flooding back, Ronaldo’s wonder free kick against Arsenal and all those other times that English sides made their mark. Oh those were good years.
Sadly, in more recent times English sides have slipped further and further behind their continental counterparts. With Real Madrid racking up trophy after trophy, England’s cash-laden squads have been able to do little more than gaze upon greatness.
But all that was about to change. 5 English sides in the last 16. What an absolute dream.
Because even if Chelsea lost to Barcelona we would represent half of the quarter final draw. Surely, we would have at least a couple of sides in the semis and who knows, could we have an all-English final?
After so many years of mediocrity, it was hard not to get excited about the prospect of a return to the top of the table.
But then it all came crashing down rather abruptly.
In the first round of fixtures City lost at home while Liverpool played out a 0-0 draw. Neither result was particularly inspiring, but having played so well in their first legs, each side had at least earned the right to take their foot off the gas.
Then there was Tottenham. Tottenham who finished 3rd in a 2 horse race.
Tottenham who everyone knows are all style and no substance. Tottenham who are the equivalent of a male stripper with erectile dysfunction.
But also a Tottenham who look a different beast under Mauricio Pochettino and a Tottenham who came from 2-0 away from home to secure a draw against last year’s Champions League finalists.
Equally a Tottenham who took the lead through Son Heung-Min to take absolute control of the tie. Then a Tottenham who conceded 2 goals in pretty much as many minutes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
It was hard not to feel let down, angry even. But then again you can’t be angry at a pig for shitting on your carpet, you can only be disappointed at yourself for convincing yourself it would know better.
And so, went the first round of second leg fixtures. 2 through and 1 out. 0 wins.
But with a new week came new optimism. In the Tuesday fixture Manchester United took on a Sevilla side languishing in La Liga and who according to a consensus of pundits would apparently struggle to get out of the Conference North if they played in England.
With the tie at 0-0 all in needed was a home victory and Mourinho, criticised for the perceived negativity of the first leg, would been vindicated.
But to everybody’s intense surprise Manchester United appeared unwilling and unable to fulfil any of the basic functions of playing football such as passing, moving, crossing or shooting.
After a first half more tepid than a basin of bath water that’s been sitting for three weeks, with a rotting body in it, United were ripped out of their catatonia by Wissam Ben Yedder’s quick fire double which put Sevilla firmly in control and United firmly out of it.
Romelu Lukaku did manage to get one back but it was too little too late and United crashed out in spectacularly limp fashion, setting everyone on each other, not least Mourinho on his own players.
And having enjoyed watching the 2nd English side crashing football fans across the nation settled in to see if Chelsea, who since the turn of the new year had basically gone from Lamborghini to Fiat, could get one up at Barcelona in the Camp Nou.
A nation sat collectively remembering Fernando Torres’ goal and Gary Neville’s goalgasm. It was magical to be a part of. But that all ended when Leo Messi stuck it through Courtois’ legs. Doing so once more just to rub it in, alongside an Ousmane Dembele goal, Barcelona cruised past a weak and dejected Chelsea.
The result rounded off an altogether calamitous week for English sides in Europe. Having seen not a single loss in the first round of fixtures, we didn’t see a single win in the second and lost 3 sides, 2 of whom had everything in control and absolutely should have progressed to the next round. The dream of an all English semi was all but over.
But there was still cause for optimism of course, Manchester City, arguably the best side in Europe, and Liverpool, capable of beating absolutely anyone, were still flying the flag. Match them up against anyone and they could come through.
England still might have some serious representation at the business end of the competition. Or so I was thinking until the draw for the quarter finals was made and City were matched up with, yes you guessed it, Liverpool.
The dream truly was over.
If the glass has to be half full then at least we are safe in the knowledge that one English side will be progressing to the next round. But after so much promise it is hard not to feel underwhelmed and disappointed by a fixture which basically ruins all of our abilities to argue that England is back to battle Spain for footballing supremacy.
I have already argued that Liverpool have the best chance of winning the competition and I stand by that, but this season wasn’t about who won it. It was about English football reasserting its European dominance, marking a return to the glory days of the naughties.
And even if Liverpool, or indeed City make the final and go onto win it, I will still be mourning that loss. Until next year that is. Then we’ll show em.
Written by Scott Pope
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