The English Premier League, the richest and most-watched soccer league in the world, always has a team in serious contention in the UEFA Champions League -- if not several. But maybe not this year.

For the first time since 1996, it's possible that no English side will reach the quarter-finals of Europe's famed club competition, as the round of 16 kicks off Tuesday.

With both Manchester City and Manchester United failing to qualify from the group stages, English hopes now rest with Arsenal -- or more precisely, Robin van Persie -- and an aging Chelsea team that has not won in its last four games. In other words, it's not looking good.

Teams from England have been a regular presence in the Champions League quarter-finals and beyond over the past decade and a half, since the competition format was changed.

The move in 1997-98 to allow teams that were not champions of their domestic league to compete has enabled the power countries -- England, Spain, Germany and Italy -- to dominate the early play. English teams have made 31 trips to the Champions quarters since 1998, the most of any nation.

Unless the format goes back to a straight knockout competition, previous champions like Scotland's Celtic or Serbia's Red Star Belgrade will probably never even get the chance to repeat the successes that often defined their history -- especially if the big teams in England open their checkbooks to compensate for this year's failures.