Chelsea’s famous 2012 Champions League Final win over Bayern Munich was the last time a Premier League side lifted club football’s most prestigious trophy. However, with five Premier League sides still possibly making it to the quarter-finals, the Premier League is well and truly back on the biggest stage of all.
Whilst Messi and Ronaldo are two of the greatest players of all time, Premier League players have set the standard this season. Harry Kane, Mohammad Salah and Sergio Aguero are Europe’s leading goal-scorers in all competitions – with 33, 30 and 29 goals respectively.
Therefore, we must attribute some of the dominance of the Premier League in Europe to the fine form of the three aforementioned forwards. In spectacular form throughout the Premier League season, all three forwards have taken their scoring boots into the Champions League.
And, just as many Premier League defenders have discovered, some of Europe’s best defenders have also found it hard to contain the Premier League’s greatest attacking players. Whether they can take their form all the way into the final remains to be seen, but their impact on Europe has been just as devastating as their destruction of the Premier League.
It is often said that behind every great player is a great manager and that is certainly true with some of the world’s greatest managers gracing the Premier League. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard illustrated this on BT Sport:
“It’s the speed in which these teams are attacking, defenders just can’t cope,” said Gerrard. “They have managers who put confidence into attacking players, who give them freedom.”
With the likes of Klopp, Guardiola and Pochettino giving their players freedom to play expansive football, the football can be great to watch. Perhaps words fail to do such free-flowing football justice but Liverpool’s 0-5 win at Porto and Manchester City’s 0-4 win at Basel illustrates part of their formidable attacking strength.
Tottenham, though, signify something slightly different to Liverpool and Manchester City. In coming from 2-0 down away to Juventus to draw 2-2, they illustrated a grit and determination that makes the Premier League such a compelling league. Whilst Spurs will now be favourites heading back to Wembley, it would be incredibly “Spursy” (and perhaps not surprising based on track record) of them to ruin such a courageous comeback in Turin.
Historical mishaps aside, Tottenham’s transformation in Europe this season is very impressive. With victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stage, they finished top of their group. Pochettino looks to have found the perfect balance of attack and defence but the clock is rapidly ticking before trophy-less Spurs become the nearly men. That said, Spurs will fancy their chances of advancing through to the last 8, with 2 away goals to hold on to at Wembley.
Although their trip to Camp Nou will be incredibly tough, Chelsea, too, should take credit for their Champions League performances in the first leg. Barcelona brought a new style of football to Stamford Bridge, one that perhaps shows their evolution. Chelsea’s discipline slipped once during the whole game, and the chance that fell to Messi was never going to be missed.
All in all, though, the diligence of Chelsea and limiting Chelsea to just one goal against the Catalan giants shows progression. Going to the Camp Nou and having to score is an almighty task, but it is one that Chelsea have successfully completed before.
In Seville, Manchester United held on for a 0-0 draw. Another demonstration from David De Gea as to why he is the world’s best goalkeeper kept United in the driving seat for the return leg at Old Trafford.
In summary, Premier League teams have proved that they have the ability to outscore, fight back and defend superbly against Europe’s top clubs. The last eight may well include five teams from the Premier League, if Chelsea can pull off a miracle. But, with the way that the Premier League is returning to form in Europe, you cannot rule that out.
One may look to the record spending of the Premier League to account for such increase in performances in Europe. Indeed, the introduction of top stars has come at a top price, but that isn’t something we should bemoan.
The return of English teams to the top of the European ladder should, instead, be treated as a signpost for the global progression of the Premier League. In a competition that rewards astute tactics and courageous attacking play, Premier League clubs are collectively leading the way in one of the most competitive knockout rounds in recent years.