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English Football's Formula One-esque Approach Lights Up Champions League

But Liverpool weren’t the most impressive English performers of the week. Manchester City deserve plaudits for their 4-0 evisceration of Basel away from home – with the tie put to bed inside 23 minutes – but even their thunder was stolen by Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur.

Dileep Premachandran | News18 Sports

Updated:February 16, 2018, 1:55 PM IST
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English Football's Formula One-esque Approach Lights Up Champions League
(Image: Liverpool/Twitter)
The irony would not have been lost on the older generation of Porto fans. When Mohamed Salah’s delightful sleight of foot and control conjured up a second goal for Liverpool at the Estádio do Dragão, effectively killing off the round-of-16 tie, it would have brought back memories of another North African genius, who has pride of place in the Portuguese club’s history.

Just over three decades ago, it was Rabah Madjer’s impudent back-heeled finish that helped Porto win the European Cup for the first time, with a come-from-behind victory against Bayern Munich. Long before Jose Mourinho’s touchline antics at Old Trafford in 2003-04, it was that Vienna final in 1987 that hauled Porto out of Benfica’s lengthy shadow and into the limelight.

For now, however, it’s English clubs, and three in particular, that are illuminating this season’s competition. Liverpool were magnificent in the 5-0 demolition of Porto. After an even first 20 minutes, a goalkeeping error gifted them the initiative. Jurgen Klopp’s team never looked back. Sadio Mane grabbed a hat-trick without, whisper it softly, ever hitting the high notes he did last season. Salah and Roberto Firmino, who both scored, were the main men, with Mane capitalizing on the gaps that opened up once Porto had to chase the game.

Liverpool had a few nervy moments at the back, but after all the criticism they attracted earlier in the season, there is an increasing robustness to their defensive play. Virgil van Dijk took a few games to settle in after his high-profile transfer from Southampton, but he has been imperious in the last couple of games. Whoever Liverpool face in the last eight, you can be sure they won’t fancy the examination by pace that Salah and friends will put them through.

But Liverpool weren’t the most impressive English performers of the week. Manchester City deserve plaudits for their 4-0 evisceration of Basel away from home – with the tie put to bed inside 23 minutes – but even their thunder was stolen by Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur.

When you visit a Juventus side that had conceded just once since late November, the last thing you want to do is let in two goals inside the first nine minutes. Spurs did, but then they showed the character to chase and harry the Italian champions for much of the 80 minutes that followed. Christian Eriksen’s twinkle-toed brilliance, Mousa Dembele’s Patrick Vieira-like stint at the heart of midfield, and Harry Kane’s impossibly cool finishing saw them navigate a path back into the game, especially once Gonzalo Higuain missed a penalty that would have seen the Juve lead swell to 3-1 on the stroke of half time.

Having thrashed Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Manchester United at their temporary Wembley home, Spurs will fancy their chances of finishing the Italian job in March. And if United progress as expected against hot-and-cold Sevilla, that will give England four representatives in the last eight. It will be five if Chelsea pull off the shock of the season against Barcelona.

The Champions League in recent seasons has been the stomping ground of the two Madrid giants and Barcelona. After the halcyon years of the noughties, when Liverpool and United won the trophy, and Arsenal and Chelsea made the final, the current decade has seen English football’s on-field stock plummet, even as earnings have skyrocketed. Chelsea’s victory against Bayern in 2012 was no more than an aberration, and England’s best performance since has been City’s run to the last four in 2015-16.

Now, with Pep Guardiola’s men, Spurs and Liverpool all capable of playing what Carlos Carvalhal, the Swansea City coach, called Formula One football, those years of famine seem well and truly in the past. Real Madrid may have seen off Paris St. Germain on Wednesday night, but they seem a shadow of the side that won the trophy the last two seasons. Barcelona will be there or thereabouts, as will Bayern under that old fox, Jupp Heynckes, but the English trio that dazzled this week won’t be intimidated by anyone. Salah’s audacious wonder goal offered ample evidence of that.

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| Edited by: Abhimanyu Sen
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