Champions League: Can a Premier League side go all the way?
Not only does the Premier League boast the impressive total of five entrants this season, thanks to Manchester United’s dogged perseverance in last season’s Europa League, but all five English clubs look set to advance into the knockout stages of the competition.
English teams looked good again at the turn of the century before Barcelona and Real Madrid began to dominate in recent years. But now, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are ageing, Barcelona's golden generation has ended, the heir to Messi's throne at Barcelona - Neymar - has left, and Real Madrid are struggling in La Liga. Could the tide be about to change once more?
The Premier League now boasts the world's greatest managers in Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. When English clubs made premature exits last term, Steve McManaman, two-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid in 2000 and 2002, said it was because Premier League sides were not stable enough to sustain a challenge in Europe. He told BT Sport: “Look at last-stage regulars like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and they don’t change much from year to year. You just see small nuances here and there, whereas in England the response to an unsuccessful season is often to rip everything up and start again.”
Every manager in charge of an English club is now in at least his second season and all the better off for it. Guardiola has tightened up his defence, Mourinho has added power to his front line, whereas Pochettino is reaping the benefit of having put together a strong side that is visibly growing in terms of confidence and experience in Europe. Despite defeat in Rome, Antonio Conte has led Chelsea to the last sixteen and Jurgen Klopp has a Liverpool side who on their day can beat anyone as they currently lead their group. While the likes of Maribor, Qarabag and Basel present a set of opponents no Premier League club should have any great trouble with, Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Dortmund and Real Madrid also stand amongst the English scalps this term. English sides have sent out a message.
No English club has reached the Champions League final since Chelsea's remarkable win in 2012. English sides competing in the latter stages of the Champions League appeared to be a foregone conclusion as Spanish and German sides began to dominate Europe’s top tier. Leicester City were the only top-flight outfit to reach the quarter-finals last season, but all five Premier League sides look well placed to reach the knockout stages this time around. Real, Bayern, Barca and Juventus - the big hitters in recent years - all look to have taken a backward step. PSG are making huge strides and look like the team to beat.
English sides are very much in the mix and have a fantastic chance to regain their place at the pinnacle of European football once more. The Premier League sides have undoubtedly enhanced their reputation but they will be looking to create a long-lasting legacy in order to progress this season.
Realistically, all five English sides could win it and many would suggest that with the amount of funding and money invested into English football they should be challenging regularly. Between Mourinho, Guardiola and Klopp, the trio have led four different teams to 5 Champions League finals - No easy feat. They all possess a wealth of experience are now settled in their respective roles after somewhat turbulent beginnings, success is, perhaps, to be expected.
For Pochettino at Spurs, they looked vulnerable and out of their depth at this stage last season. However, Spurs now have a side capable of matching anyone. Pochettino has moulded a dangerous side with a nice balance which suits continental football. Spurs have proved that they are more than capable of holding their own having gained results against both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. This has to be one of the most open Champions League tournaments in many a year with clubs from four different countries in the top five in the betting.
Manchester City look like they are the best side in Europe right now and they may not get a better chance of winning the whole thing. Manchester United have looked untroubled in a relatively straight-forward group with last season's Europa League triumph having given them the belief they can go all the way in Europe once more. Spurs showed what they are capable of by dismantling Real Madrid. Then there's Liverpool. Not many would fancy a trip to Anfield in the latter stages. Sending five clubs into the Champions League is already a feat worth noting and having five sides in the knockout stages is even more impressive. However, the big test remains to be how long they will last and if one of them can maintain their form to be crowned champions come May 2018 in Kiev.