Manchester City and Liverpool have the chance this week to help English clubs match their own Champions League record.

The Premier League is the only domestic competition ever to have had four clubs represented in the last eight, and with Manchester United and Tottenham already through there is the chance for a repeat of 2007-08 and 2008-09.

City take a 3-2 first-leg lead into Tuesday evening’s clash with Schalke while Liverpool face Bayern Munich on Wednesday with the tie currently goalless.

Here, Press Association Sport looks back at the two previous occasions when four English teams made the last eight.

2007-08: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool & Manchester United

John Terry's miss in Moscow helped Manchester United lift the trophy
John Terry’s miss in Moscow helped Manchester United lift the trophy (Martin Rickett/PA)

There had been previous instances of all three of a country’s entrants reaching the last eight but the Premier League’s long-established ‘big four’ -before the recent progress of City and Spurs – made history by seeing off AC Milan, Olympiakos, Inter Milan and Lyon respectively in 2008’s last 16.

Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-3 on aggregate in their quarter-final before falling to Chelsea, who had seen off Fenerbahce.

United beat Roma and then Barcelona before winning on penalties in the only all-English final in the competition, with Chelsea captain John Terry hitting the post before Edwin Van Der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka.

2008-09: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United

Frank Lampard, left, celebrates scoring against Liverpool
Frank Lampard’s brace helped Chelsea hold off Liverpool (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Arsenal’s penalty shoot-out win over Roma in the last 16 ensured a repeat performance the following year and the Gunners and United went on to beat Villarreal and Porto respectively in the last eight.

The greatest excitement came in a thrilling second leg between Chelsea and Liverpool, with the Blues salvaging a 4-4 draw and a 7-5 aggregate win.

They were controversially edged out by Barca in the semi-finals while United comfortably beat Arsenal, with the Catalan giants victorious in the final after goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi.

Semi-final trios

Steve McManaman
Steve McManaman scored for Real Madrid in the 1999-2000 final (Phil Noble/PA)

Those are two of the five occasions when one nation provided three semi-finalists – including the preceding 2006-07 season when Chelsea, United and eventual runners-up Liverpool were all present.

Spain was the first nation to achieve that feat in 1999-2000, when Valencia beat Barcelona in the semi-finals before losing to Real Madrid in the final, with England’s Steve McManaman among the scorers.

AC Milan won a local derby against Inter in 2003 and went on to edge Juventus on penalties in an all-Italian final.

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Ryan Giggs is adamant Gareth Bale will put his Real Madrid troubles behind him when he joins up with the Wales squad next week.

Bale has been targeted by disgruntled Real fans as the club have crashed out of the Copa del Rey and Champions League and been left trailing in LaLiga by leaders Barcelona in recent weeks.

Team-mates Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois also complained of Bale failing to interact with the Real dressing room by not speaking Spanish and choosing to go to bed early rather than meet up with the rest of the squad for an evening meal.

Gareth Bale suffered an injury in his last Real Madrid outing
Gareth Bale suffered an injury in his last Real Madrid outing (Manu Fernandez/AP)

The return of Zinedine Zidane as manager may also make the situation more difficult for Bale, as it is understood the two men did not have a great relationship by the time the former France World Cup winner left Real last June.

Bale is currently nursing an ankle injury suffered on Champions League duty, but Giggs is confident that he will have recovered in time to play in Wales’ opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Slovakia on March 24.

“He’s an experienced player. He’s a quality player and a quality person,” Giggs said after naming a 31-man squad for a Wrexham friendly with Trinidad & Tobago on March 20 and the Slovakia game in Cardiff.

“I expect Gareth to turn up and do what he always does, give everyone a lift.

“When he plays for Wales, he gives 100 per cent and more often than not he performs well.

“I don’t expect anything different because he’s always brilliant around the camp.”

Bale has won four Champions League titles during his six years in Spain and Giggs says the forward has proved he is strong enough to handle any flak that comes his way.

Gareth Bale has had a successful spell in Spain
Gareth Bale has had a successful spell in Spain (Nick Potts/PA)

“I played for United and you are open to criticism when you are at a big club,” Giggs said.

“Everyone has had it. The two Ronaldos had it out in Madrid, Gareth has had it.

“You have to put up with that, just like you have to put up with all the adulation when you win leagues and Champions Leagues.

“It comes with the territory. So you have to take the rough with the smooth.”

Wales have lost Aston Villa defender James Chester and Leicester midfielder Andy King to injury and handed a first call-up to Rotherham midfielder Will Vaulks.

Vaulks, who has played for Tranmere, Workington and Falkirk, was born in Wirral and qualifies for Wales through his mother.

“It’s been an interesting journey for Will,” Giggs said.

“Released by Tranmere, he was in the system in Wales at 15, 16, then went up to Scotland and came back down to England and is now captain of Rotherham.

“It’s a fantastic story and just proves never give up.”

Ashley Williams will continue to wear the captain's armband for Wales
Ashley Williams will continue to wear the captain’s armband for Wales (Nick Potts/PA)

Giggs confirmed that Ashley Williams will remain Wales captain for the forthcoming European Championship campaign.

The 83-times capped central defender, now 34 and on loan at Stoke from Everton, has worn the Wales armband since 2012.

“He will be the captain as long as he is in the squad,” Giggs said.



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Sports Mole provides the team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Thursday’s Europa League clash between Arsenal and Rennes

Arsenal must recover from a first-leg deficit for the second round running if they are to overcome Rennes and make it through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League for the second year in a row.

The Gunners suffered a shock 3-1 loss in last week’s first leg at Roazhon Park, chucking away an early lead to leave themselves with plenty of work to do in North London on Thursday evening.


Arsenal

Nacho Monreal scores past Petr Cech during the Europa League game between Rennes and Arsenal on March 7, 2019© Reuters

Arsenal cruised through the group stage of the competition with 16 points from a possible 18, progressing with a couple of games to spare, but they have made hard work of the early knockout rounds.

BATE Borisov put up a real battle in the round of 32, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Gunners in Belarus before succumbing to a 3-0 loss in the return fixture.

After avoiding a major scare in the last round, lessons were clearly not learned as Unai Emery‘s side lost by two goals against Rennes in last week’s opening 90 minutes.

Alex Iwobi scored early on, only for Benjamin Bourigeaud and Ismaila Sarr to strike either side of a Nacho Monreal own goal.

The turning point in that match was undoubtedly the red card shown to Sokratis Papastathopoulos shortly before half time when Arsenal were a goal to the good. With a full complement of players for the second leg, Emery will still be confident of progressing to the last eight.

Only once before has a side made it through to the next round after losing the first leg of a Europa League knockout match, however – Fulham in 2009-10 when famously overcoming Juventus 4-1 on home soil.

It is not often Arsenal take inspiration from their lesser London rivals, but that stat goes to show how big a task the Gunners now face following their first-leg collapse in France.

Champions League ever-presents for 19 successive seasons until last season, Arsenal run the risk of another campaign outside of UEFA’s flagship competition, though the manner of their display against Manchester United last time out will offer supporters plenty of hope.

Arsenal were 2-0 winners in Sunday’s huge showdown with United, earning the win through Granit Xhaka‘s swerving strike and a contentious second-half penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The magnitude of the victory cannot be played down, as it ensures that Emery’s men occupy a Champions League qualification spot with the games ticking down.

Winning the Europa League will also provide the Londoners with a route into next season’s Champions League, with the added bonus of a trophy being lifted, so Emery is expected to continue with his policy of naming a strong squad.

Progression to the quarters will not be easy, but Arsenal have already showed this season that they have the character to bounce back when written off by many.

Recent form in Europa League: DWWLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDLW


Rennes

Benjamin Bourigeaud celebrates Rennes going ahead against Arsenal on March 7, 2019© Reuters

No matter what happens in Thursday’s second leg, Rennes have already ensured that this is the most successful European campaign in their 117-year history.

The Red and Blacks recovered from three successive group-stage defeats to claim the runners-up spot behind Dynamo Kiev, courtesy of victories at Jablonec and at home to Astana in must-win games.

Then came their shock win against Real Betis in the first knockout round, picking up a 3-1 victory in Spain after playing out a 3-3 draw in the first leg to set up this double-header with last season’s beaten semi-finalists.

Never before had Rennes earned a place directly into a major UEFA competition prior to finishing fifth in Ligue 1 last season, and they have more than made the most of their opportunity on the big stage.

In fact, only once before have they competed in the Europa League proper, coming through a couple of qualifying rounds in 2011-12 before exiting at the group stage without a win to their name.

That makes their first-leg victory over Arsenal all the more remarkable, given that they are also down in eighth in Ligue 1 this season, albeit just three points off fifth with a game in hand to play.

Rennes have only lost one of their last seven European knockout matches, including qualifiers, which was a 1-0 defeat to FC Twente back in October 2008.

Julien Stephan‘s side have also won four of their six European matches in which they have held a first-leg lead going into the away fixture, though this is undoubtedly their toughest test yet against an Arsenal side with the joint-second best home record in the Premier League.

That said, even a 1-0 loss will be enough to see the visitors through, setting them up for one of the most famous nights in their history.

Recent form in Europa League: LWWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWDWWW


Team News

Sokratis Papastathopoulos sees red for Arsenal during their Europa League clash with Rennes on March 7, 2019© Reuters

Alexandre Lacazette is still suspended in Europe, meaning that Aubameyang will lead the line for Arsenal, as he did in last week’s first leg.

Sokratis is also banned after being sent off in France and Laurent Koscielny suffered a leg injury in the win against Man United, so Emery will be forced into a defensive reshuffle.

After handing Mesut Ozil two starts in a row, meanwhile, Emery must decide whether to stick with the German playmaker or bring in some fresh legs.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is in contention to return after missing the United game through injury, while Lucas Torreira seems certain to start as he is fresh following a domestic ban.

Elsewhere, Hector Bellerin, Danny Welbeck and Rob Holding are all long-term absentees and will play no part.

In terms of the visitors, Hamari Traore is back from suspension and should make an immediate return to the side, taking over from Mehdi Zeffane at right-back.

James Lea Siliki is expected to be back available after recovering from injury, and Benjamin Andre is another option for Stephan after sitting out the 3-1 win over Caen at the weekend.

Rennes, one of four clubs involved in the round of 16 that have never previously participated at this juncture of the competition, have a couple of players in their squad with previous experience of playing in English football – Hatem Ben Arfa and M’Baye Niang.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Guendouzi, Torreira; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Aubameyang

Rennes possible starting lineup:
Koubek; Traore, Silva, Mexer, Bensebaini; Sarr, Andre, Grenier, Bourigeaud; Ben Arfa, Hunou


Head To Head

Last week’s clash marked the first time that these two sides have faced off in a competitive match, with Arsenal suffering their first away defeat on French soil.

The Gunners have faced French opposition on 25 previous occasions, 12 of those at home, where they have been victorious in only five of those.

Their most recent home match against a Ligue 1 club brought a 2-2 draw against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2016-17 Champions League group stage.

Rennes’ sole previous experience of English opposition before the first leg of this tie was a 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup semi-final against Aston Villa that they lost on away goals after winning the first leg in Brittany.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 2-0 Rennes (3-3 on agg)

There is little margin for error from Arsenal’s perspective, knowing that if they concede once they have to score three times just to salvage extra time. Of the 18 previous occasions the Gunners have lost the first leg of a European knockout tie they have progressed just three times, though the most recent example of that was last month when beating BATE, which indicates that they have the ability to dig deep when it really matters.


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Zinedine Zidane’s shock return to take charge of Real Madrid has cast major doubt over the future of Gareth Bale.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at the Wales international’s prospects.

Why is Zidane back?

Real reappointed Zinedine Zidane as head coach until June 2022 on Monday after bringing Santiago Solari’s time at the helm to an end. Zidane stepped down at the end of last season after guiding Real to three consecutive Champions League titles and was replaced by Julen Lopetegui. The former Spain manager’s ill-fated spell lasted until just October and Solari was brought in to replace him. But after a string of poor results, including back-to-back defeats to rivals Barcelona and a Champions League exit at the hands of Ajax, Real have turned to Zidane once more.

So what’s the issue?

Real Madrid Training Session – NSK Olimpiyskiy Stadium
Bale warms up under the watchful eye of Zidane (Nick Potts/PA)

It is no secret that Zidane and Bale did not exactly see eye to eye towards the end of the Frenchman’s previous spell in charge. In fact Bale revealed after his two goals in last season’s Champions League final triumph over Liverpool that Zidane did not even speak to him about it. Bale only started that match on the bench and was frequently left out of the starting line-up by Zidane, who reportedly wanted to sell the one-time world’s most expensive footballer. There is a distinct feeling now that Bale’s time in the Spanish capital could be up.

Where could he go?

Soccer – Barclays Premier League – Norwich City v Tottenham Hotspur – Carrow Road
Bale’s performances for Spurs earned him a world-record move (Chris Radburn/PA)

Therein lies the problem. Bale’s sky-high wages, said to be around £650,000-a-week, price virtually every other club in the world out of the market, while his injury record and the fact he is now 29 hardly make him an appealing commodity. Certainly Real would need to supplement some of Bale’s salary to get rid, but links with former club Tottenham are unfounded as he does not fit Mauricio Pochettino’s style of play and Chelsea’s transfer ban rules out a swap deal with top target Eden Hazard. Manchester City, Manchester United or Inter Milan might be viable options, but they may not be willing to take such an expensive risk.

What do the fans think?

Bale has been jeered by the hard-to-please fans at the Bernabeu recently, seemingly made a scapegoat for the club’s struggles. The former Southampton youngster has been portrayed as a character aloof from his team-mates by an increasingly vindictive Spanish media, having apparently failed to learn to speak the language, and as someone who is more interested in playing golf – as an ill-timed tweet as the news was breaking about Zidane’s return would suggest.

Does he want to leave?

In short, no. Bale has always insisted he is happy in Madrid despite persistent links with a return to the Premier League, and from a lifestyle point of view it is hard to blame him. Whether the change of management results in a change of heart remains to be seen.

So, what next?

2018 Sport Christmas Package
Bale celebrates a fourth Champions League title (Nick Potts/PA)

That, it seems, depends on Bale himself. There is always a chance he could win Zidane over, of course, while he would be perfectly entitled to sit back and count his money until his contract expires in 2022. But given his undoubted talent that would be a huge waste. Bale is arguably the most successful British football export in history, scoring 101 goals in 223 appearances and winning 13 major honours including four Champions League titles. Swapping Madrid for Manchester or Milan might just reignite the spark.



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Bale turned his ankle during Real Madrid’s defeat by Ajax.

Gareth Bale has been named in a 31-man squad for Wales‘ opening Euro 2020 qualifier despite missing Real Madrid‘s last game.

Bale turned his ankle in the closing moments of Real’s Champions League defeat by Ajax and sat out the 4-1 LaLiga win at Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Rotherham midfielder Will Vaulks is called up for the first time as James Chester and Andy King miss out through injury.

Watch the @Cymru Squad Announcement live!

📆 Yfory / Tomorrow ⏰ 10:15am💻 https://t.co/fgv4M9HH6V pic.twitter.com/cZCO5DBCC9

— FA WALES (@FAWales) March 11, 2019

Aston Villa defender Chester has not played since the end of January because of a knee problem, while Leicester midfielder King will not play again this season after damaging an ankle during a loan spell at Derby.

Ryan Giggs‘ squad meet Trinidad and Tobago in a Wrexham friendly on March 20 before starting their Euro 2020 campaign against Slovakia in Cardiff four days later.

Wales manager Ryan Giggs ahead of the UEFA Nations League match against Denmark on September 9, 2018

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The former Real midfielder won nine trophies in two-and-a-half years in charge of the Spanish giants.

Zinedine Zidane has made a quick return as Real Madrid manager after replacing Santiago Solari at the Bernabeu.

The former Real midfielder won the Champions League three times during his first two-and-a-half-year reign, which also included one LaLiga title, one Supercopa, two Super Cups and two World Club Cups.

Here, you can watch some of the celebrations from the Frenchman’s successful first stint in the Real hotseat.

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The Chelsea midfielder produced a brilliant bit of skill in a Blues training session.

Eden Hazard has been terrorising his own team-mates in training as well as opposition defences on the pitch.

Not many players get the better of N’Golo Kante, but Chelsea‘s number 10 nutmegged the World Cup winner with a rabona during a training exercise.

Here, you can watch the brilliant bit of skill.

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Barcelona reportedly want to reach an agreement with Ajax before the end of next month for young skipper Matthijs de Ligt, who they believe can be signed for around £65m.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is reportedly prepared to step up his pursuit for in-demand Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt.

The 19-year-old has been touted as a target for a number of European football’s big-name clubs, including the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Barca.

De Ligt is believed to favour a switch to Camp Nou, where he will get the chance to link up with current Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong, who is on his way to Catalonia in a £65m deal.

Goal.com claims that the Spanish champions expect an offer of around the same amount to be enough to land De Ligt, and Bartomeu has acknowledged that he must act fast.

Barca’s technical director Eric Abidal met with the Netherlands international in November and talks are said to have advanced since then, with the club supposedly aiming to strike a deal with Ajax by the end of next month.

Matthijs de Ligt in action for Ajax on October 23, 2018

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De Ligt ‘chooses Barcelona over Juventus’

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Any Arsenal player with two years to run on their contract and unwilling to renew reportedly face being sold as part of a more efficient way of running the club.

Arsenal chiefs are looking to offload a number of players who are refusing to sign new contracts, according to a report.

The Gunners will lose Aaron Ramsey as a free agent this summer after failing to agree fresh terms with the long-serving midfielder last year, while Alexis Sanchez is another high-profile example of a player being allowed to run down his contract.

Mesut Ozil used the same strategy to orchestrate a bumper new contract last year, which is believed to be worth around £350,000 a week, and Arsenal are desperate to avoid a repeat further down the line.

A report carried by The Mirror suggests that managing director Vinai Venkatesham and director of football Raul Sanllehi want to run the club in a more efficient and ruthless manner, which means no longer being backed into a corner by players.

That reportedly means any player with two years to run on their deal unwilling to renew will be sold.

Unai Emery is rumoured to have been given just £40m to spend in the summer transfer window, though he can generate further funds through player sales.

Aaron Ramsey in action for Arsenal on January 1, 2019

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Emery ‘fighting to keep Ramsey at Arsenal’

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The Chelsea midfielder produced a brilliant bit of skill in a Blues training session.

Eden Hazard has been terrorising his own team-mates in training as well as opposition defences on the pitch.

Not many players get the better of N’Golo Kante, but Chelsea’s number 10 nutmegged the World Cup winner with a rabona during a training exercise.

Here, you can watch the brilliant bit of skill.

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