2019 saw an unprecedented all-English European finals line-up, as the Premier League well and truly conquered Europe.
Divock Origi smashed home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s clever, impulsive corner routine surrounded by stunned Barcelona defenders. Anfield erupted into rapturous noise after witnessing easily one of the greatest European comebacks of all time. History had been made. A comeback of four goals without reply saw Liverpool overturn all odds to beat Barcelona. They’d reach a second consecutive Champions League final.
History had been made. A comeback of four goals without reply saw Liverpool overturn all odds to beat Barcelona. They’d reached a second consecutive Champions League final.
Just 24 hours later, and Tottenham were doing the same smash-and-grab comeback against Ajax. They’d fallen 3-0 down on aggregate, away from home, and with 45 minutes to salvage the tie. And yet they somehow pulled it off. A Lucas Moura hat-trick capped a scintillating set of semi-finals for English teams. In the process, ensuring an all-English Champions League final for the first time in over a decade.
Rewind to the 2012/13 season, where the four semi-finalists were Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund; Spain and Germany dominated the latter stages, but even the quarter-finals didn’t feature one English team. So how have English clubs forced themselves not just back among the elite, but leading the charge for European trophies?
Depth of quality throughout the Premier League
Shortly after we knew the Champions League final line-up, both Arsenal then Chelsea booked their places in the final of the Europa League. This meant for the first time in history, teams from the same country had taken all the European final places. The Premier League had conquered Europe for the first time ever.
This unprecedented turnaround from just 6 short years ago speaks volumes about the competitive nature of the Premier League. And the leading clubs within. Even the 2 Manchester clubs reached the quarter-final stage. This meant each of the Premier League’s top 6 teams had reached the latter stages in Europe.
By contrast, there were 3 teams from Spain, 2 each from Italy and Portugal. Also, one apiece from the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Germany in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Europa League combined.
That England’s sixth-best team beat the champions of Italy and France before being eliminated by the champions of Spain, says a lot; the Premier League’s depth of quality at the top is unmatched in any other country. Could France or Italy’s sixth-best team hope to progress so deep in Europe? Not on current evidence.
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The Premier League as a product has always prided itself on its global appeal. The terms of the current TV rights mean its reach will grow even further over the next 3 seasons. But with this arrangement comes a self-perpetuating cycle of wealth.
Bigger TV rights means more money for English clubs, meaning greater investment in quality players, quality managers, and deeper squads. This in turn creates a better competition, a more difficult and competitive league, and an onus on intensity and speed. With this comes a higher level of quality football all-round.
When English teams have faced European opposition this season, they have generally been pretty well prepared, physically and tactically. This was abundantly obvious in the recent latter stages; the likes of PSG, Barcelona and Ajax just haven’t seen the same level of quality and intensity in their own domestic leagues.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Spurs and Liverpool’s relentless intensity, even in the face of defeat, would result in victory in the biggest games against the continent’s best.
As it stands, English teams have the wealth to build squads equipped to press hard and with intensity to the very end, to pay the world’s top coaches to manage them, and therefore will inevitably always be competing as long as this is the case.
It might not seem fair, but based on the evidence of this season, this approach has raised the standard of entertainment for the neutral to a whole new level. It’s now up to La Liga, the Bundesliga, Seria A et al to fight back and knock the English off their current lofty perch.