Champions League predictions: 'No third final for Klopp, Man City to blow it again'
The Champions League is back and how we've missed it. The only fear is that it might let us down. James Gray on the four Premier League teams and how they might fare in 2019-20…
Even if you were not a fan of one of the teams involved, you cannot deny the utterly compelling drama provided by the campaigns of each English side in the Champions League last year.
There was something for everyone: comebacks in Paris, Liverpool and Amsterdam, VAR drama in Manchester and a Premier League party in Madrid.
Dramatic late goals or no-goals became an addiction for football fans already suitably dewy-eyed over Tuesday and Wednesday nights and every last-gasp effort was savoured, for a moment, and followed by an insatiable craving for more. When the final failed to provide something similarly hyperbolic, it felt like a letdown - unless you were a Liverpool fan, of course.
But can we really dream of another all-English final and all four sides in the last eight? We look at the best and worst-case scenarios for each of England's representatives in the Champions League.
Last year: Champions (2-0 victory over Tottenham)
Dreams: Jurgen Klopp said this week that "the boys" still feel they have something to prove to the world about themselves. Ironically, that applies more in England than it does in Europe. Successive Champions League finals have reinforced them as a European super-power who can challenge at the highest level, but back home a three-decade league title drought still haunts them. The ideal scenario? To end April with both trophies still within their grasp.
Nightmares: Dreadful away performances. The Reds have a chance to avenge one of their worst ever performances tonight when they return to the San Paolo Stadium. Let's not forget that Liverpool were one kick away from a group-stage exit thanks to away defeats to PSG, Red Star Belgrade and Napoli, the last of which came without a single shot on target from the visitors. Salzburg and Genk should be less intimidating away trips but there are still ghosts of defeats past lurking in the Liverpool dressing room.
Prediction: Robbie Fowler, perhaps with a pair of red-tinted glasses on, wrote in his newspaper column this week that Liverpool could and should reach a third consecutive final. But is that really possible for a team that needs the Premier League now more than ever? The semi-finals seem like an obvious stage for Liverpool to fall.
Last year: Finalists (2-0 defeat to Liverpool)
Dreams: You could have forgiven Tottenham fans for believing that last year was a dream, but the modern Spurs season-ticket holder dreams bigger than that. Mauricio Pochettino has the squad and the supporters convinced that they are good enough to win this competition and after finally opening their cheque book to the tune of £100 million this summer, they think they can go one better than last year. Perhaps 12 months ago, there was excitement about the glamour of a group including Barcelona and Inter Milan. Now, there is no such giddiness at sharing a pitch with these giants. They have earned their place.
Nightmares: Injuries are always the worry for a Pochettino squad, who are so often stretched thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. The training sessions are relentlessly intense and the challenge of playing two games a week could catch up with them at some point. The fixture list has been relatively kind - only one of the 12 Premier League fixtures flanking their group-stage matches are against top-six opposition - but the fear for Spurs is that the house of cards could collapse at any point.
Prediction: That fixture quirk is big for Tottenham as it will allow them to stay fresh through a challenging group that includes trips to Athens, Belgrade and Munich. So they will get out of the group but as runners-up they will need some luck of the draw to reach the quarter-finals, where it might run out.
The disappointment of losing a Champions League final will be a lot for Tottenham to deal withPA Sport
Last year: Europa League champions (4-1 win over Arsenal)
Dreams: No-one could have brought Eden Hazard back to Chelsea, but appointing Frank Lampard was definitely the next best thing. 'Super Frank' has got Stamford Bridge singing again with all 11 league goals so far coming from English players under the age of 22. The club have a special connection with the Champions League and Lampard knows all about winning it. He could not have asked for a better group with Ajax half the team they were last year and Valencia in disarray after sacking their manager.
Nightmares: Like Tottenham, Chelsea will be worried about what European competition could do to their squad. The summer transfer ban has left them worryingly short of depth and while so far that has meant giving young, talented players the chance to shine, the honeymoon period will soon be over. The grind of the English winter is fast approaching and whether the Blues can handle that remains to be seen.
Prediction: There are so many possibilities for Chelsea's European season but getting out of the group seems likely, if not as winners. It will probably see them drawn against one of the biggest teams in the world in the last 16, a bridge too far surely, but Blues fans should probably be happy enough to have made the knockout stages.
Last year: Quarter-finals (Lost to Tottenham on away goals; 4-4 on aggregate)
Dreams: City have a curious relationship with the Champions League, with empty seats commonplace in their early days in the competition. A major fallout with UEFA, whose anthem they still boo, must play some part in the apathy, but you also feel that their failure to challenge for the title must engender some sort of dislike. Nothing will quench Pep Guardiola's thirst for success but the Champions League trophy will come close. As always, you cannot rule City out of achieving it. Perhaps Liverpool running away with the Premier League title would help?
Nightmares: Anything involving VAR. There are probably some City fans who saw Raheem Sterling score, sprinted out in to the street and spent a blissful hour celebrating a dramatic victory before being let down gently by a friendly neighbour. City have comfortably the softest group of any of the English sides and it would be humiliating if they failed to win it. Having previously faced Barcelona six times in four seasons in the Champions League, they would only have themselves to blame if they drew them early this time around.
Prediction: The strength of City's starting XI and their squad depth suggests they could and should be among the favourites for the title. Their history and start to the season suggests otherwise. It's hard to see them not reaching the semi-finals, but it's hard to imagine them going any further.
Pep Guardiola is desperate to win the Champions League at Manchester CityGetty Images