Wind of change: The resurgence of Premier League sides in the Champions League
A look at how the Premier League sides are slowly looking like challenging for Europe's biggest prize.
We’re halfway through the Champions League group stage fixtures and there's already something different compared to what we're used to seeing over the past few seasons. The Spanish dominance over the competition, which has been evident for good part of a decade, seems to now be going away.
The emergence of English clubs in the competition this season has seen a certain change in dynamics in the complexion this season. Add to it the Financial muscle of Paris Saint-Germain along with the ever presentees in Bayern Munich and Juventus and it all makes an interesting read from a neutral point of view.
Absent for too long?
While the emergence of the English clubs in the competition was pretty much inevitable, it does look like a couple of them could well end up in the final four of the competition. Over the years, especially in the last five years, we’ve seen the odd English club doing well in what could be described as a short burst of form in the competition.
Chelsea winning it in 2012, Manchester City making it to the semis in 2016, Leicester reaching the quarterfinals in 2017, are some vivid exaggerations of such displays. The shocks and miseries have however overshadowed the triumphs. Chelsea won it in 2012 and the following season could only manage the Europa League. City beat PSG to reach the semis but were guilty of not really showing up against Real Madrid. Safe to say the English presence over the competition has been somewhat missing for close to a decade.
However, things look to be heading in a different direction this time around. The sides under new managers, all with a taste of success, look like they are in or a long haul in the tournament. All English sides have had great starts to the competition and are somewhat surprisingly for a few, top of their respective groups.
Manchester United, in typical Jose Mourinho style, are off to a hundred percent record in three games, looking at relative ease throughout. Chelsea put in perhaps one of their most impressive European performance in recent years when the beat Atletico in Madrid on matchday two. A complicated away fixture at Roma awaits them but Chelsea at the moment look in a good position to go through from a tough group.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have stumbled over a couple of games this season after draws against Sevilla and Moscow, looking as perhaps the weakest of all English sides. But the most impressive and brave display has come from Tottenham Hotspur. A victory against Dortmund at Wembley followed by a brilliant display away to Real Madrid, which earned them a well-constructed draw.
The performances so far have been encouraging. Had it been only about the results one might not have thought of them as serious contenders but it’s the performances that have bought up the contender tag along. Manchester City, who we missed out in the above passage have had a brilliant start of their own this time around.
Wins against Shakhtar, Feyenoord, and Napoli have meant that City are almost there when it comes to qualifying. Their Premier League performances have somewhat been mirrored in the Champions League and unlike last season have already made a lot of heads turn this season. The European title has eluded Pep since his Barcelona days and although the Premier League might remain his priority, a final four spot In the Champions League doesn’t seem too far off.
Near perfect displays
Continuing with performances, the London sides’ performance at Madrid were good money for their fans. Coming from a goal down away against Atletico is tough by all means, Chelsea did that extremely well. Calm on the ball, agile and aware off it, Chelsea did pretty much everything that Atletico have been known of over the past few seasons.
No wonder it was one of Chelsea’s best away performance in the Champions League. Seven points from three games in what is a complicated group for all the sides involved is a good total. The comeback draw against Roma was another interesting display by the Blues, showing that Conte’s men cannot really be counted out at any point in time. Especially given the rise of the two Manchester clubs this season.
A tough fixture at Roma awaits the Blues from West London but one can be pretty sure of that Chelsea, despite all factors will probably make a good fist of it. Given Conte’s background of the Italian game, a win shouldn't surprise many.
Tottenham’s display away to Madrid was a show of strength and determination. Defending deep when they had to, Spurs looked inspired by heroics of captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman made some fine saves to deny Madrid the lead on several occasions.
A draw was nothing short of what Spurs deserved on the day, not to forget, Kane could've easily won it for Spurs late on had it not been for Keylor Navas in Real’s goal. The performance against the reigning European champions went on to show that Spurs had more than moved on from their last season’s Champions League nightmare and were ready to fight it out against the big boys.
Could this be the year?
Tottenham and Chelsea had excellent displays against two of the most consistent European sides in recent memory how good the English sides have done so far. Not just in terms of talent on the pitch but also the tactical nous the managers have shown. While both Real and Atletico have had their struggles early this season in the La Liga, it’d be wrong to say that Chelsea and Spurs played against two out of form La Liga sides. They by no means did and fully deserved the plaudits.
The shift in power, if one may say it, is probably starting to take place now. While Barcelona have started well, you won’t put it past any of these English sides under the current set of managers to beat them on the big stage. Real Madrid will always be a giant of a side on the European scene but they have shown frailties and inconsistencies in the early part of the season.
Perhaps this could be a season where the English dominance is restored in the European competition. Competiton with high flying sides like Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain will always exist but one does get a feeling that perhaps an English side lifting the UEFA Champions League is not too far off.