Manchester City are well set to make Champions League history and alleviate the misery engulfing English football’s heavyweights as they take on Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.
City have never yet made it beyond the last 16 in Europe’s premier club competition but hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg in the Ukraine.
Although Manuel Pellegrini’s team have already secured the English League Cup this season, beating Liverpool on penalties to do so, it has been a largely inglorious year for England’s top clubs.
Barring a near-miracle at the Camp Nou, Barcelona will complete victory over an Arsenal side they defeated 2-0 in London in the first leg.
With Chelsea crashing out to French champions Paris Saint-Germain last week and Manchester United crumbling in the group stages, City will almost certainly be England’s only remaining participants in the Champions League when the draw for the quarter-finals is made — providing they see off Kiev.
Yet even victory at Eastlands won’t mask what has been a thoroughly depressing season for English giants as Leicester City continue to dominate the Premier League table while United, Chelsea and Liverpool languish outside even the European qualification places.
Arsenal and City are eight and nine points respectively behind Leicester and both out of the FA Cup.
Even in the Europa League, England look set to be left with one single representative in the quarter-finals.
And so success for City would have extra significance in arresting the slide that has swamped the English Premier League since the heady days when for three seasons in a row from 2007-2009, three of the four Champions League semi-finalists were from England.
Not that Pellegrini believes the tie with Dynamo is over.
“If we can get to the quarter-final of the Champions League for the first time, of course that will be another important achievement,” said the Chilean, who will leave City at the end of the season.
“But one of the worst things we can do is to think that we have already qualified.
“They are a big team who play attacking football in their league so we must be wary about that.”
GUARDING AGAINST COMPLACENCY
While Pellegrini is guarding against complacency, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is trying to motivate his side to keep believing against the Catalan reigning champions.
“It is very difficult against Barcelona, but we have to see it as a challenge and try to make the impossible possible,” said the Frenchman.
Barca romped to a 6-0 trouncing of Getafe on Saturday, 24 hours before Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Watford in the FA Cup.
Luis Enrique even rested some of his top players ahead of Arsenal’s visit on Wednesday, taking no chances against a team they have twice eliminated in the knock-out stages since beating them 2-1 in the 2006 final.
“It won’t be an easy match, but one with a small advantage,” said Barca’s former Arsenal centre-back Thomas Vermaelen.
“We must certainly not consider them buried. They have quick and dangerous players who could create us problems.”
England’s struggles are in stark contrast to Spain’s success as Atletico Madrid aim to join Real Madrid and probably Barca in the last eight.
Atletico drew 0-0 at PSV Eindhoven three weeks ago and are favourites to progress when hosting the Dutch side at their Vicente Calderon home on Tuesday.
The final last 16 tie sees Bayern Munich entertain Juventus as Pep Guardiola aims to bow out from three highly successful years in Germany with the Champions League crown that has thus far eluded him.
Bayern would already have a foot in the quarters but for Juve’s stirring comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in Turin three weeks ago.
And Guardiola wants the fans to get behind the 2013 winners.
“We’ll need our fans behind us from the first to the last minute in order to reach the quarter-finals,” said the Spaniard.