It is peculiar to find that the Serie A sides have an element of surprise in their repertoire. After all, Italian football has often been synonymous with excellence, as well as a little cunning to add a tang to the sophistication. Few expected them to outnumber the English clubs in the last 16 of the Champions League. Indeed this is the first time it has happened in a round of the tournament that replaced the dreary, second group phase for the 2003-04 campaign.

It might be a statistical quirk, but there was nothing freakish about, say, Napoli drawing with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium this season and then beating them at the Stadio San Paolo in group stage matches that did much to eliminate Roberto Mancini's side from the tournament. The Serie A club, managed by Walter Mazzarri, were never behind in either game.

Napoli's encounter with Chelsea begins next week and Arsenal, on Wednesday, have first to take on Milan at San Siro. There is encouragement in the fact that the Premier League clubs each topped their group to secure home advantage for the return leg, but the possibility exists that there will be no English participants in the quarter-finals. No one can claim that Chelsea or Arsenal have exercised much authority on the domestic front.

That aspect does at least add to the intrigue of the Champions League and a resurgence by Italian teams is welcome since the Champions League badly needs more diversity in its latter stages. It cannot come as a shock that Serie A has a leading role once more, but the circumstances are radically altered. Although Internazionale, under José Mourinho's management, were champions of Europe as recently as 2010 and retain many of the players involved then, there is less bombast now that owners have to fret more than ever about funding.

The turmoil in the Eurozone will do some harm even to a trading partner such as the United Kingdom that lies outside it, but apprehension is far more marked on the continent.

Financial constraints prevent much of the exuberant spending that once seemed to characterise owners such as Silvio Berlusconi at Milan. If any counterpart exists now it would be Sheikh Mansour and the extraordinary outlay he has authorised for Manchester City, but that was surely being done to make an impact in the period before the forthcoming financial fair play regulations take effect.

If wealth can, in practice, be kept at bay it will be richness of imagination in coaches and managers that is the greatest affluence. Some are well-accustomed to those strictures and it hardly seems to occur to Sir Alex Ferguson that he ought be able to go on a spree at a club of Manchester United's means and global popularity. Parsimony, of course, was not quite so much in favour with the crowd after their side was edged out of the Champions League by Basel.

Even so, we may be entering the era when the richness of a manager's thinking is the true opulence.

Luis Enrique, with his 62 caps for Spain, might have been viewed as a permanent member of the elite, but, in practice, he devoted the best part of three seasons to managing the Barcelona B team. That paved the way for him to take charge of Roma this season.

He may not have conquered Serie A immediately, but his side, in sixth place, are only a point behind Internazionale. Indeed those opponents were recently crushed 4-0 by Roma. There is, too, an emphasis on the evaluation of players, with the winger Rodrigo Taddei converted to full-back. By the same token, someone like Fabio Borini, once on Chelsea's books, has had an increased impact since joining Roma where his goals led to a permanent transfer for some £4m being agreed with Parma last month.

The economics are affecting football, but it at least means that there is little to be taken for granted. Acumen can be sensed anywhere, but Serie A football in particular, once known for an extravagance verging on exhibitionism, now appears to draw more on prudence. In a different form, such shrewdness will make life difficult for Arsenal and Chelsea.