After Liverpool’s emphatic 5-2 first leg win at Anfield against Italians Roma, there was a real sense that Jürgen Klopp’s men had placed one foot in the door for the final in Kyiv come the end of May.
Not many pundits, fans or even club officials would have said that Liverpool could, realistically, reach the Champions League final this season. Yes, they had a promising attack and still maintained Philippe Coutinho until January, but their defence was leaking in goals left, right and centre. To have thought they would be 180 minutes away from lifting the trophy for the first time since 2005 under Rafa Benitez’s kinship would have been ludicrous.
And yet, Liverpool are on the verge of something truly spectacular. Through Mohamed Salah’s brilliance, Sadio Mané’s relentless energy and Roberto Firmino’s selflessness, along with a fantastic manager and team cohesion, the Reds are halfway to the Champions League final.
Recent Champions League Performances
The last English team to reach such a stage in European football was Chelsea, back in 2012, when Robert di Matteo took his team to Munich to face Bayern. Again, somewhat surprisingly, the Blues made it against all the odds and obstacles in their way. They went on to lift the Champions League and that was the last time an English club did so.
The intermittent years between 2012 and 2018 have been barren for English clubs. Less of the European celebrations and more of the keeping their heads above water. The lack of competitiveness in the Champions League has been worrying and their absence has been filled by the dominance of Spanish teams.
Even with the influx of money, English teams have failed to mark their stamp on continental football and have been left in the shadows. Manchester City were one of the outright favourites for the competition this season, but fell at the hands of Liverpool in a thrashing that was unforeseen. While the Reds are not the runt of the litter in terms of expenditure, they are not the all-boasting, all-powerful club that the Citizens are with being bankrolled by Abu Dhabi.
UCL German and Spanish Dominance
This season has seen five English teams in the Champions League in which four made it through to the Round of 16. Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool and City were the contenders; the first time since 2011 in which more than two Premier League clubs have represented the nation in Europe past the knockout rounds. It might not sound overly impressive, but it’s quite clearly a step in the right direction.
European football does go in cycles and it has been seen by fans for the past decade. English teams were prominent from 2008-2012, especially with Man United winning it with Sir Alex Ferguson, then came the German influx with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich challenging, and the Spanish have taken over for the past four years. There is always a rebuilding process that countries and leagues go through, but this could well be the start of England’s revival in Europe.
Premier League Clubs Edging Towards European Glory
It’s going to be a steady process, but that’s how long term success is garnered and maintained. José Mourinho’s United are slowly returning to form in Europe, even if they did get knocked out to a poor Sevilla side; Pep Guardiola’s City show that they have the money to continue to invest and philosophy to get further with each year that passes; Chelsea might not have stability in their own club at the moment, but a manager such as Luis Enrique can guide them back into the
depths of European football with his vast experience and funds available; Mauricio Pochettino has done miraculous work with Spurs and was unfortunate not to progress past Juventus; and Klopp has already shown that his side is made for the Champions League.
While the title race in the Premier League was non-existent, and may remain that way for years due to City’s excellence, English teams might find other means of success and start to rival the regime of European football. Liverpool have certainly done so this season and it will be intriguing to see them in the final against Real Madrid, and how they fare.
There has certainly been improvement in this year’s Champions League from English teams, but it’s up to them to continue to rise to those standards each season. If they want to regain their throne in Europe, they have to add a layer of consistency like Real Madrid have for the past four years. But, for now, English football is slowly on the rise once more.
This article was written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box. Shop with us for all your official 2017/18 Premier League kits, and look out for the arrival of next seasons shirts too.