LONDON (AFP) – Chelsea’s mouthwatering tie with five-time European champions Barcelona is the standout fixture for English clubs in the Champions League last 16 as the Premier League sides scent blood.
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 reigning English champions Chelsea were the only team not to win their group.
Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City will not be losing too much sleep over the prospect of a clash with Swiss side Basel, who finished second in Manchester United’s qualifying group.
Champions League favourites City, who have never won the competition, are on a 14-match winning streak in the Premier League and they were only denied a perfect record in the group stage when a much-changed side lost 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in their final match.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea will face Spanish league leaders Barcelona for the sixth time in the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
The Blues were the only English club not to progress to the last 16 as group winners and, currently third in the Premier League, are struggling to find the consistency that took them to the league title last year.
Barca have lost some of their lustre with the departure to Paris Saint-Germain of Neymar but they still boast the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack and will be formidable opponents.
The La Liga club have progressed from six of their past seven Champions League knockout ties against English opposition – the exception being their 2012 semi-final defeat by Chelsea, when the London club went on to lift the trophy.
Tottenham have been handed a tough tie against last season’s beaten finalists Juventus after topping a challenging group that included reigning champions Real Madrid.
The Italian side will approach the tie with trepidation, having been eliminated in each of their past five European knockout ties with English teams.
Spurs have endured a tricky recent spell in the Premier League but their performances in Europe this season suggest they have matured under manager Mauricio Pochettino after the disappointment of crashing out in the group stage last year.
Five-time European champions Liverpool sealed top spot in their qualifying group with a 7-0 win against Spartak Moscow in which all of their “Fab Four” front men found the net.
Jurgen Klopp’s men stuttered earlier in the season but have hit their stride in the Premier League and the Champions League, with Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane dazzling in front of goal.
Too far off the pace to realistically challenge in the Premier League, Liverpool – who qualified from the group phase for the first time since the 2008-2009 season – will be confident of overcoming the Portuguese league leaders
Manchester United, who have won the competition three time, will face Sevilla for the first time in a competitive fixture with manager Jose Mourinho gunning for his third Champions League trophy.
United are second in the Premier League but are a whopping 11 points behind City and know despite the heavyweight teams left in the competition, the Champions League is probably a more realistic chance of silverware. The first legs will be played on February 13/14 and 20/21, with the second legs on March 6/7 and 13/14.