By Kay Ajibade
It’s a Full English in Europe this year, with Liverpool appearing in their second Champions League final in two years, they face off with Tottenham Hotspur, whilst Chelsea face Arsenal in the second tier European final.
A Premier title race to remember
English clubs have created European football history by taking all four final spots in the continent’s two major competitions. There have only been two all-English finals before, with Tottenham beating Wolves in the 1971-72 Uefa Cup and Manchester United beating Chelsea in the 2007-08 Champions League, however across both tournament’s it’s never been done simultaneously.
English teams not affected in Europe by Brexit woes
This year’s title race was relentless between Manchester City & Liverpool, with City emerging victorious. The top two amassed 195 points – a top-flight record for the champions and runners-up. The battle for the top four was fierce, with Champions League qualification at stake, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United & Tottenham fought a tense battle with Spurs & Chelsea clinching the final spots.
That’s just it: the competition in the league this year has served English clubs well and reflected in their European campaigns. In France’s Ligue 1, PSG have again run away with the title, to nobody’s surprise. However, the lack of competition domestically has been noticeable over the last few years and as a result harmed them in Europe.
A struggling Manchester United were able to overturn a first leg 2-0 loss at home to comeback and beat PSG at Parc des Princes. Admittedly, the VAR decision that gave United the winning penalty was highly controversial, but the Ligue 1 champions never looked convincing against lacklustre opposition.
In Italy’s Serie A, Juventus retained the league title by 13 points, their eighth consecutive title: again to nobody’s surprise. In Europe however, this time last month, an exciting Ajax team knocked the Old Lady out of the Champions League, winning the decisive leg 2-1 in Turin. Yet again the lack of competition in domestically has been detrimental to non-domestic football. Italian football at the moment is a far cry from it’s glittering status in the 90’s or early 00’s where the Milan derby made Pro Evolution Soccer 3 the most coveted football game of it’s time and Pierluigi Collina made his name.
Real Madrid and Barcelona between them have won the last 5 Champions league competition as well 7 in the last decade. There is no question of the pedigree of Spanish football in recent history. In the Europa League 6 of the last 8 competitions have been won by Spanish teams.
Barcelona won their domestic league this year with an 11 point margin. In previous years, La Liga has been competitive with Barcelona, Real Madrid & Atletico all battling for the titles. This year however, in the aftermath of Ronaldo’s departure the previously formidable Real Madrid struggled severely, finishing their campaign unconvincingly in third place.
This lack of competition was reflected in the Champions League. Both Madrid clubs failed to make the quarter finals and Barcelona dropped a 3-0 aggregate lead, losing 4-0 to an inspired Liverpool side.
The Liverpool-Manchester City rivalry spills into Europe
Ahead of that second leg, Liverpool were in fantastic form keeping the pressure on Manchester City. The intensity of the league race between both clubs likely had an impact on City during their Quarter Final tie with Tottenham, losing on away goals.
The competition for the top four has raised the importance of the Europa League for English clubs. In the 2016/17 season Manchester United prioritised the Europa League beating Ajax in the final, whilst finishing 6th in the Premier League, crucially qualifying for the Champions League. Arsenal appear to have done the same in prioritising the Europa League this year.
Big spending in the Premier League
The money surrounding the Premier League is another factor that can’t be ignored. In 2018, Sky Sports and BT penned a £4.4billion deal to live broadcast Premier League games from 2019-2022. This is a large sum of money which Premier League clubs receive and can subsequently use to fund marquee signings and high wages to keep star players. According to Talk Sport, over the last nine years, three English clubs sit in the top five of money spent in the transfer window. Manchester City having spent £1.325billion and Chelsea £1.31billion since 2010.
Being able to attract and fund world class players such as Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling points to the potential of the Premier League, and the first all English European final points to the coming reality: the Premier League is not only the most competitive league, but it’s also the most talented.
Could the reign of Spanish teams in Europe be coming to an end? Is this all English final a sign of things to come? For now we look forward to watching what will certainly be an exciting set of finals.