Champions League: Clean sheets the name of the game for the English clubs

Spurs, Man United and Liverpool face home ties in the Champions League and the stats show a clean sheet is vital in the knock-out stages ...



All four English clubs have reached the last 16, but what are their chances of going much further?

As group winners, Manchester City have benefited from another favourable draw and face Schlke away on Wednesday week. However, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham all have trickier tasks – with the dreaded ‘home’ tie in the first leg.

This myth has been perpetuated by UEFA who ‘reward’ group winners with a second leg at home.

However, a look at the stats shows that 26 of the last 54 Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals were won by the team playing at home first. (Round of 16 games were not counted as they are weighted in favour of the team playing at home second).

What is crucial for Spurs, United and Liverpool, however, is that they keep their respective opponents scoreless in the first leg.


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Clean Sheet’s the goal

In total, 23 of the 54 ties above, saw the home team keep a clean sheet in the first leg, with 18 of those teams progressing to the next stage.

A 0-0 draw is an ideal result for the home team.

Consider Manchester United vs Sevilla in last season’s Champions League when Jose Mourinho played for a 0-0 draw in Seville. The return leg at Old Trafford was hell for United fans and when Sevilla inevitably scored, a feeling of hopelessness set in for the Old Trafford faithful.

Even if United had taken the lead, there would still have been a huge sense of unease that the hammer blow of conceding an away goal could come at any moment.

So, with this in mind, let’s look at each English club’s chances of progressing.

Manchester City

This could be the most open and shut case in the round of 16. The gulf between City and Schalke is astronomical and it’s unthinkable that City won’t progress to the last eight.

Schalke qualified from easily the weakest group in the Champions League and currently languish in 12th in the Bundesliga.

If City don’t progress it would be more embarrassing than the video they released last May and that’s saying something!.

City have such a strong squad that they can compete on as many fronts as they like and still ignore their youth players. This one should be wrapped up in Gelsenkirchen.

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Manchester United

The optimism at Old Trafford hasn’t been seen since Sir Alex Ferguson’s time and there is a lot more confidence now that United might topple PSG, since Jose Mourinho departed.

The realisation is also kicking in that the Parisians aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

Winning League 1 by a healthy margin is all well and good, but that’s easy enough to do when you’re playing in a league full of farmers and have the wealth of an entire country behind you.

PSG are also notoriously mentally flaky in Europe, having failed to reach even the semi-finals of the Champions League despite spending well over £1 billion since 2012.

Bottle jobs have become so commonplace in Paris that it’s not even surprising when they manage to knock themselves out of Europe anymore. Whether playing a Manchester City side in a state of decline in 2016 or holding a four-goal lead against Barcelona, the following year, the French club always manage to outdo themselves.

With Neymar absent , it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if they fell at the hands of another Manchester club this season.


Realistically the Reds don’t have the squad to compete on two fronts, especially with their current defensive injury crisis?

Do they want to jeopardise their title challenge, and the prospect of winning a first league trophy in 29 years, by playing high octane matches twice a week until the end of the season?

Virgil Van Dijk’s is suspended so Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip could line out as Liverpool’s defensive partnership in the first leg on Tuesday week, February 19.

Can they keep out Robert Lewandowski and keep that precious home clean sheet?

Bayern Munich, however, don’t look nearly as formidable as they have done in recent seasons. The German giants have been off the pace, both in Europe and domestically, and were fortunate to top their group ahead of Ajax. Bayern seem to be in a period of transition and Liverpool are certainly capable of knocking them out, but it all depends on whether Liverpool really go for it.

With a crunch game away to Manchester United the weekend after the first leg with Bayern, it will be interesting to see what type of team Liverpool put out at Anfield and what kind of impact that has on the result.


Spurs are in the unenviable position of being without two of their best players and being worse than their opponents even with those two players at their disposal.

Dortmund have been a breath of fresh air this season and look well placed to stop Bayern Munich winning their seventh Bundesliga title in a row.

The Germans have been equally impressive in Europe, beating Atletico Madrid 4-0 at the Westfalonstadion and any team who puts four goals past a Diego Simeone side is worthy of recognition.

Dortmund’s attack, consisting of a fully fit Marco Reus, 18-year old Jadon Sancho and Paco Alcacer who seems to score every time he touches the ball, has been ruthless all season.

It’s difficult to see how Tottenham can keep them quiet.

Without Harry Kane and Dele Alli it’s also hard to see how Spurs can hurt their German opponents enough to prevail over two legs.

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