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English quartet happy to remain in Europe

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English quartet happy to remain in Europe
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – With British politics still engulfed in Brexit chaos at least England’s football teams are providing some much-needed clarity when it comes to their standing in Europe.

For the first time in 10 years, four English clubs have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League — the continent’s blue riband club competition.

Liverpool’s 3-1 victory at German giants Bayern Munich on Wednesday completed the full house, the night after Manchester City thrashed Schalke 7-0 for a 10-2 aggregate victory.

Tottenham Hotspur had already made it through to the last eight with a 4-0 aggregate drubbing of Borussia Dortmund while United’s dramatic victory over Paris St Germain put them back in the last eight for the first time in five years.

Not since Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in Bayern Munich’s backyard in 2012 has an English club lifted the trophy.

Of the seven Champions League finals prior to that Didier Drogba-inspired win, only once was no English side involved.

A slump followed though and in the six seasons after that there were only six English quarter-finalists while in 2012-13 and 2014-15 no Premier League sides made the last eight.

Liverpool’s run to the final last year signalled a re-awakening and this season, with holders Real Madrid, Bayern and PSG all out, the odds are shortening on the first all-English final since United beat Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008.

Barcelona and Juventus remain formidable threats in Friday’s draw, but both will be hoping to avoid the English sides, in particular Manchester City and Liverpool who are engaged in the tightest domestic title battle in Europe’s big leagues.

While Liverpool’s preference may be to win a first English title since 1990, City’s Abu Dhabi owners hired Pep Guardiola with the specific goal of reigning in Europe.

“For the owners, the holy grail is the Champions League,” former City defender Danny Mills told Sky Sports. “They have won the Premier league, they have won the FA Cup, won the League Cup but they haven’t quite got the Champions League trophy.”

Guardiola said it is “incredible” to have four English clubs in the quarter-finals after a decade of Spanish control which saw the country provide three of the last eight for six successive seasons until this campaign.

With Barcelona the only survivor it is the worst showing from Spanish clubs since 2010 when Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich in the final — the last Italian club to win it.

It is too soon to start talking of a return to English domination of the Champions League but the quality at the top end of the Premier League this season is unrivalled.

Liverpool’s squad strengthening has allowed them to establish parity with a Manchester City side who ran away with the title last year in record-breaking fashion.

Tottenham, until a recent slump, admirably kept pace with the leading duo while Manchester United’s interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has released the full potential of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea and Arsenal are still battling for a return to the Champions League via top-four finishes, and both could be in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

The quality extends further down the Premier League table too with the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford and West Ham United all capable of keeping the big guns on their toes.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

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