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TEMPLATE ANALYSIS

Liverpool’s failure to make it through to the next stage of the Champions League following a long absence has opened a post mortem with Brendan Rodgers calling for more star players – unfortunately Raheem Stirling who is reported to be unhappy with a £70,000 a week contract is not the answer to the hole left by Luis Suarez’s move to Barcelona. Not even Mario Balotelli has been able to make up for the Uruguayan whose skill was matched by an extraordinary work rate that was in evidence in his last game against English opponents, namely England in this year’s world cup. Liverpool’s last two games – first against Real Madrid and then the draw with Basel all point to an improved performance next time should they qualify. Of the English teams that are into the knockout stages this year Manchester City will want to prove that this is their year – they are on an outstanding run ever since victory over Bayern Munich, but will feel the loss of Sergio Aguero when looking for the type of inspiration a Champions League team needs to secure the title. Arsenal have made the last 16 through out under fire Arsene Wenger’s term as manager although their silky play still suffers from the need of a firm player at the front and at the back. That leaves Chelsea who made it into the semis last year despite fielding an ageing side and who this year beefed up with fresh signings that have secured José Mourino’s side a place at the top of the Premier League table will feel they can win. But they like their opponents that include the usual suspects – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich – are all beatable. That means the European Champions League is this year the most open for many years and at present too close to call.