As it stands, there’s a very real chance that five English clubs may make it into the final eight of the UEFA Champions League. Have the tables finally turned – and is the Premier League back atop the European tree?
Taking them as individual cases and allowing for the fact that Manchester United are only in the competition courtesy of their Europa League win last year, let’s examine the state of play.
Starting with Manchester City, who are the 100/30 favourites to win the entire competition. They may well have the best coach in the world, but they’ve yet to hit a bump in the road (unless you include Paul Cook’s forehead as one) and Guardiola’s not had to pick them up, per se.
What Pep does best is coach. Thankfully for his sake, this season has been one big adrenaline rush from the drop of the flag and he’s had to do very little actual managing. With that being said, they move the ball well enough to be considered favourites and I’m not sure too many will be in a rush to oppose them.
Across the city, United are being slated for their approach to their first leg against Sevilla. What they must remember is that Jose Mourinho is the master of knockout football, and he understands that the psychological element of two-legged affairs is prominent in how the tie plays out. Funnily enough, despite being the side who are receiving the most flak, they may be the best equipped in terms of Champions League experience from the sidelines. They’ve kept twenty-eight clean sheets this year – second only to Barcelona in the major leagues.
But maybe the most impressive result from the English clubs in the last sixteen came from Spurs in Turin.
In Mauricio Pochettino, they’ve got one of the hottest properties in world football and the resilience they showed to overcome a very well-organised Juve is a huge endorsement of their character and their technical ability. Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane is one of the best combinations in world football. And they don’t concede too many, either.
Up until three weeks ago, Antonio Conte was being sacked at Chelsea. All of a sudden, they’re outgunning Barcelona in tactical battles and everything looks rosy again. They’ve certainly got a thin squad, but they’ve also got a core of players that won a Premier League trophy last year, and they were unlucky not to keep a clean sheet against Messi and co.
Liverpool broke the record for the biggest away win by an English side in the Champions League following their demolition of Basel in Switzerland. While they’re easily the worst of all the Premier League sides at the back, they’re not going to be tested over the course of thirty games in knockout football, and the potent threat of Firmino, Salah and Mane could cause anyone problems – as Man City found out.
So, no, the best sides in Europe are probably not Premier League clubs, save Manchester City.
But in their own right, they look far better-equipped for the job than previous groups of English sides in the Champions League.
Collectively in a unit, they may not be as stylish as some of their continental counterparts, but they do have five of the best managers in the world. Never before could we have said that. There’s certainly reason to believe that the Premier League is the best league in the world, once again – and European showings only reinforce that idea.