Foot­ball: can an English club win the Cham­pi­ons League?

The Week Middle East - - News -

Ever since the Pre­mier League was founded, 25 years ago, English clubs have “paid the big­gest wages and at­tracted some of the best play­ers in the world”, said Graeme Souness in The Sun­day Times. Yet those same teams have sig­nally un­der­per­formed in the Cham­pi­ons League: there have been just four English win­ners in that pe­riod, most re­cently Chelsea in 2012. But now, fi­nally, the tide seems to be turn­ing. Four matches into the group stage of this year’s tour­na­ment, the five English clubs in the com­pe­ti­tion are thriv­ing: they are av­er­ag­ing 2.45 points per game, with just one loss be­tween them. Manch­ester United, Liver­pool and Chelsea are all likely to make it to the last 16; Tot­ten­ham and Manch­ester City have already qual­i­fied, thanks to Spurs’ 3-1 vic­tory over Real Madrid last week, and City’s 4-2 win at Napoli. Those two re­mark­able re­sults con­firmed that, this sea­son, English teams should not be “fright­ened of any­body”. This was the mo­ment Tot­ten­ham “an­nounced them­selves as a Euro­pean power to be taken very se­ri­ously”, said Phil McNulty on BBC Sport on­line. The reign­ing Euro­pean cham­pi­ons, Madrid have won the Cham­pi­ons League in three of the past four sea­sons. But at Wem­b­ley, they were ut­terly out­classed: led by Dele Alli, who scored two goals, Spurs played with an “in­tox­i­cat­ing com­bi­na­tion of in­ten­sity, pace and power”. Few tipped them to even progress beyond their “group of death”, which fea­tures Borus­sia Dort­mund as well as Madrid – yet they have qual­i­fied with two games to spare. Spurs were “very good” in­deed, said David Walsh in The Sun­day Times. But City’s per­for­mance in Naples was “a level up”. City’s man­ager, Pep Guardi­ola, in­sists that his team lag be­hind Eu­rope’s elite. Yet at a time when they are play­ing the “best foot­ball” ever pro­duced by a Pre­mier League side, such claims ring hol­low. For years, “English un­der­per­for­mance in Eu­rope” has been blamed on the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the Pre­mier League, said Jonathan Wil­son in The Guardian – the com­pet­i­tive­ness that forces teams to slog away week af­ter week, drain­ing them of en­ergy. Yet that now seems to be work­ing to English clubs’ ad­van­tage. Over the past five sea­sons, four dif­fer­ent sides have won the Pre­mier League ti­tle; in that pe­riod, both Bay­ern Mu­nich and Ju­ven­tus have won their re­spec­tive leagues five times, and Paris Saint-Ger­main have won Ligue 1 four times. Teams ac­cus­tomed to such dom­i­nance can floun­der when they fi­nally face “gen­uine op­po­si­tion” in Eu­rope: wit­ness PSG’s 6-1 loss to Barcelona last sea­son. But English sides don’t have that prob­lem, as even the bot­tom sides in the league are now “wealthy enough” to trou­ble even the top teams. The Pre­mier League “rat race” is giv­ing English clubs a new edge.

Dele Alli (right): scored twice

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