Seems like forever ago that people witnessed the presence of English teams in the later stages of the Champions League. May it be the semi finals of the 2008-09 Champions League where Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United decorated the final four or the final four of the previous campaign in which United faced Barcelona and Liverpool battled with Chelsea. Even in the 2006-07 campaign where a brilliant AC Milan side won their seventh title, it was three English sides that played along with the Italian giants. And once again it was the aforementioned trio.
In the famous 2004-05 Champions League campaign when Liverpool beat AC Milan in a dramatic fashion to win their fifth title, it was Chelsea and Liverpool who played against each other to decide the finalist. In the following season, Arsenal reached the pinnacle only to be defeated by Barcelona in the finals of the 2006 campaign. From the 2005 to the 2012 season, at least one English team had featured in seven finals out of eight, with Chelsea being crowned the champions in that edition, becoming the last English club to win the coveted title in recent years.
Chelsea’s triumph will be cherished by their fans for they won against Bayern Munich in Allianz Arena courtesy of a stupendous defensive display. The picture has changed after that, as Man City under Pellegrini in the 2015/16 season, were the only English team to reach the Semi Final stage. While right from the 1998/99 season where Manchester United produced one of the greatest Champions League comebacks of all time or that final in Istanbul, at least one English team has featured in the last four for 13 times in 16 seasons from 1999 to 2014.
The presence of English teams in Champions League has seen a drastic change in over just half a decade where teams have failed to even get past the group stages. The likes of Manchester United in the 2015-16 season and Tottenham Hotspur in the next season have been dealt severe blows though the opponent teams clearly were not in the same level of them. This just goes on to show as to how English teams have failed to translate their performances in the Premier League to the Champions League.
While the talk has become more relative to being the best team in England rather than becoming the best team in Europe, teams fail to give more importance to the continental championship rather find more comfort in playing well in the Premier League, something that Spurs were guilty of last season. Moreover the influence of money in the recent years especially in England compared to other countries translate into hype with the footballing fraternity expecting English teams to thrive and make it count in the biggest stage in Europe.
Also the complexity in the Premier League has made it tougher for the English teams. Just like Andy Gray’s slur at Messi, “Can he do it on a cold, wet Wednesday night in Stoke?”, it is tough for the top Premier League teams to win games away especially against the likes of Everton, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and West Ham United. And the tough run of fixtures in Premier League affect the outcome in Champions League which often leave the players exhausted, virtually nothing left in the tank.
Arsenal known for their ever presence in the Champions League, failed to qualify for the first time in 20 years last season. Even before that, their performances in Europe’s Elite Club Competition had been dismal. Though they had finished first in their Group in the 2016/17 season, they failed to overcome the German Champions Bayern Munich losing 5-1 both home and away with an aggregate of 10-2. In the previous season, they suffered defeats in both the Round of 16 legs against Barcelona.
For all their experience in Europe, Arsenal couldn’t step out of the first round of knock out stages. And for a fact, Arsenal having qualified from the group stages have failed to get past the round of 16 for seven consecutive times right from 2010/11 season to 2016/17. While it can be argued to some extent that the draw has never been too kind for Arsenal, it just goes on to show the quality in the Premier League if one of their top clubs get so handsomely beaten by Bayern or Barcelona. The one time that Arsenal did avoid Bayern in the knockout stages, Monaco dispatched of them with nonchalance.
While United reached the 2011 season final only to be humbled by Barcelona, along with Liverpool and Chelsea they have been the front runners of Champions League from England for the early stages of the 21st century. In the recent years Man City and Spurs have made the cut by qualifying for the group stages. However neither impressed as they bailed out in the Group stages or Round of 16. Manchester City’s Semi-final finish in Manuel Pellegrini’s final season was the only highlight.
However with the appointment of Pep Guardiola, Man City have shown signs of moving further in the Champions League. Last season they only lost to Monaco on aggregate in the round of 16 but impressed a lot of people by beating Barcelona handsomely, earlier in the group stages. While Chelsea have come back into the Champions League after an year gap, both Liverpool and Spurs have qualified as well. By winning the Europa League last season, Manchester United have booked their direct entry to the Champions league.
Five teams qualified for the group stages and now all the five teams from England have qualified for the knockout stages with relative ease. Barring Chelsea, all the other four teams have qualified as the group winners and await the draw on Monday with great anticipation. For the first time in many years, all the English teams have done what was expected of them, with particular praise reserved for Spurs, who have gotten themselves out of the group of death featuring both Real Madrid and Dortmund, but also as the group winners.
One of the most important reasons is the presence of managers who have been successful in the European stage. Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have been Champions of Europe twice while Jurgen Klopp has reached the finals in the 2012-13 season when Bayern won the famous treble. Spurs on the other hand under steady tutelage of Pochettino have been brilliant in Europe. Notching up wins against Apoel and Dortmund, they have claimed 6 points from 2 games.
Antonio Conte is a top class tactician and coach, with the right tools to succeed in Europe. Despite a lot of concern surrounding Chelsea’ second place finish, it is testament to the fact that they were expected to finish as the group winners, despite drawing Atletico Madrid and Roma, which comes down to the quality of their side. PSG and Barcelona, two potential opponents for Chelsea in the next round, will definitely not look forward to meeting Hazard and co.
United and City saw their groups off with relative ease and did so with a professionalism you would expect of a Jose Mourinho or a Pep Guardiola side. The fact that Spurs have been unbeaten in their group speaks volumes of their resolve in the Champions League this season, with excellent wins over Madrid and Dortmund.
Liverpool had indifferent results amidst some brilliant results, with a number of goals on show. Klopp is a great tactician and the fact that they possess Mane, Salah and FIrmino up top, with Coutinho in behind, supplying them, makes them a great threat on counters and any big side should be wary of facing them over two legs. Their susceptible defense is the only worry and if they sort that out, Liverpool might well prove to be the dark horses in this edition, with the added factor of the atmosphere in Anfield during European nights.
—Manchester City ✔️
—Manchester United ✔️
The Premier League makes Champions League history! 🦁 pic.twitter.com/7u8icrn4Cw
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 6, 2017
For the first time in many years, the draw for the knockout rounds feature so many quality teams and it is no denying that the Premier League clubs have played a major part in this. Barring Pochettino, all the four managers of the English clubs have solid experience in the Champions League and know how to set their sides up for the big occasions. It is no exaggeration to say that the Premier League is well and truly back on the biggest stage of them all, and with the proper results backing them up in the next round, it might well be 5 English teams out of 8 in the quarter-finals.