London, United Kingdom | AFP | Brexit, what Brexit? All four English entrants are still in Europe.
For the first time in a decade the Premier League reigns supreme, providing half of the Champions League quarter-finalists for Friday’s last-eight draw.
Liverpool were the last to book their ticket, with a hugely impressive 3-1 win away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, joining Tottenham and Manchester City in beating German opposition, while Manchester United’s miraculous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain will live long in the memory.
“It had to be Liverpool ensuring a Fab Four from England were touring Europe,” wrote Henry Winter in The Times.
Not since 2008/09 has the Premier League, or any other league, enjoyed such a privileged position in Europe’s premier club competition.
Despite record broadcast deals bringing in billions from around the globe, English clubs have been out-thought and outplayed at Champions League level over the past decade.
The 2009 final, that saw Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona defeat a much-fancied Manchester United in Cristiano Ronaldo’s last game for the English club, kicked off a decade of dominance for La Liga. That was thanks, in no small part, to the magic of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Ronaldo during his nine years at Real Madrid. Between them, those clubs have won seven of the past 10 titles.
“In the last decade Spanish teams controlled everything. It is good for us. For English football it’s incredible,” said mow City boss Guardiola after his side’s 7-0 mauling of Schalke on Tuesday.
Madrid may have been dethroned as kings of Europe, but Messi and Ronaldo still pose the greatest threat to a first Premier League winner since 2011/12.
Messi gave a masterclass as Barca thrashed Lyon 5-1 on Wednesday. The previous evening, Ronaldo, 34, showed why Juventus paid 112 million euros ($127 million) for a veteran last summer, with a hat-trick to break Atletico Madrid hearts.
– Premier League stars –
The Premier League may not have Messi or Ronaldo but it has a collection of stars, from Virgil van Dijk to Paul Pogba, Harry Kane to Sergio Aguero.
They also have each other. The constant grind of a top six vying every season for just four Champions League places allows nobody to rest on their laurels, on the pitch or off it in the recruitment process.
Chelsea and Arsenal could also reach the Europa League last eight on Thursday.
The two landmark victories of this round were Liverpool and United going to two very different European powerhouses — traditional giants Bayern and nouveau-riche PSG.
But those clubs are hampered by a lack of domestic competition that has seen an ageing Bayern go stale and PSG fail to handle the pressure when an opponent is not easily knocked out and hits back just as hard.
“England 3 Germany 0. Three matches against Bundesliga opposition for Premier League teams, three victories,” wrote Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, who went on to refer to the recent trend of promising players leaving the youth programmes of England’s richest clubs to find regular first-team football in the Bundesliga.
“Maybe there is a reason young British talent finds it easier to get a game here than they do at home. This isn’t a vintage season for German football. Munich are top of the league again but unless Liverpool caught them on an off night, look very ordinary.”
Crucially, the Premier League now also boasts not only money, but world-class coaching that has been given time to build.
Guardiola is in his third season as City manager, Jurgen Klopp in his fourth at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino near the end of season five at Spurs.
Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the outlier, just three months into a temporary reign. But the Norwegian’s impact has shown the talent at the club, despite Jose Mourinho’s struggles.
Liverpool showed the way last season as the first English finalist for six years, before falling at the final hurdle to Real.
Klopp took extra satisfaction because the victory in his homeland on Wednesday confirmed the progress being made to make the five-time European champions serial contenders again.
“It’s massive, a big step for us — a big, big, big one for us,” he said. “We will see what we can do with it, but it is still a fantastic sign that we again set a mark for LFC, for this wonderful club, that we really are back on the landscape on international, top-class football.”