A record five English clubs will feature in the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League on Monday, amid talk that the Premier League is ready to dominate Europe once again.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea all progressed from the group stage, making England the first country to have so many sides through to the knockout phase.
That quintet suffered just three defeats between them in the group stage and scored 80 goals in total, while Chelsea – the reigning English champions – were the only ones not to win their group.
Teams from the same country will be kept apart in the draw, which will take place from noon (1100 GMT) at Uefa’s Nyon headquarters, as will the group winners and runners-up. Teams who were in the same group cannot meet again at this stage either.
That means Antonio Conte’s Chelsea – who finished second to Roma in Group C – have only three possible opponents: Turkish champions Besiktas, Paris Saint-Germain or Barcelona.
“When you reach this level it’s very difficult to say this team is good or not good. On paper, and also for experience and for the story of these two clubs, Barcelona and PSG are very good,” admitted Conte.
Chelsea did not feature in the competition last season but lost to PSG in the last 16 in 2015 and 2016. In 2014 they beat the French giants in the quarter-finals.
There have been some memorable meetings with Barcelona too, not least in 2005.
Then, Chelsea won a last-16 tie better remembered for Swedish referee Anders Frisk being forced to retire after receiving death threats following vehement criticism by then Blues boss Jose Mourinho for his performance in a first leg won by the Catalans.
Mourinho now finds himself in charge of Manchester United, who are into the last 16 for the first time since 2013-14.
Despite winning their group, United could come up against Bayern Munich, Juventus or reigning champions Real Madrid, all of whom came second in their groups.
Liverpool and Manchester City could face any of those three as well, while Tottenham cannot face Madrid having already played them – winning and drawing – in the group phase.
“I am not the luckiest guy with draws, it is better I shut up and I forget it because we only play in February,” said Mourinho last week.
Respect for PSG
Between 2005 and 2012, England contributed the winner of the Champions League three times and the runner-up on a further five occasions.
But Spanish clubs have won the trophy in the last four seasons, with Madrid the two-time defending champions.
No club has won the European Cup three years running since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, underlining how big an achievement it would be if Madrid – 12 times winners overall – won the trophy again in the final in Kiev in May.
They know exactly what it takes to be European champions, and in Cristiano Ronaldo have the most prolific goal-scorer in the competition’s history.
The Spanish giants are another possible opponent for Neymar’s PSG, who are on a mission to erase the memory of their 6-1 hammering by Barcelona that eliminated them in the last 16 last season.
“I respect Paris Saint-Germain. Up to now they have done great things, they have played well, scored lots of goals, won lots of games,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.
Other group runners-up were Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, two-time former champions Porto and Basel, who have had some fine results against English sides in recent years.
First legs will be played on February 13/14 and 20/21, with second legs on March 6/7 and 13/14.
The draw for the Europa League last 32 will follow at 1200 GMT.