Why Liverpool's European exploits could signal a return of English dominance
Written by: K.Koushik Venkatesh
The Reds' impressive campaign could be a harbinger of things to come for English clubs on the continent.
We’re at the business end of the footballing season and it’s the Champions League final in a few days. The surprise package Liverpool take on the ever so majestic Real Madrid in one of the most awaited finals. This Champions League campaign saw five English teams enter the fray and it was going to be a year of promise for English football.
With Manchester City dominating league football and the way they were doing it made them the most fitting torchbearers of the Premier League and how they obliterated teams left, right and centre made them one of the big favourites to win the Champions League.
This was the first ever time that five teams had entered the Champions League from England and at the end of the group stage it was quite evident that it was not going to be the usual incompetency we see from them. All the teams progressed to the knockout stages in style as they recorded a 70% win rate which was the highest when compared to teams from Spain, Germany and Italy.
It’s taken five long and hard years for an English team to even get near lifting the coveted CL trophy and there was always an element of mediocrity amongst the sides as they were stereotyped to never rise to the occasion. Be it any team, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, and so on it was always the same story with these sides.
The teams could never manage to handle competition from other nations and more often than not, they came second best. The Europa League hasn’t been all that better too in recent times for the English sides. The quality that we see in EL teams from other nations is much better than the ones that go from England.
Chelsea were the last team to reach the final stages of knockout phase in UCL
The best period for English sides was between 2005 and 2012 where at least one of them made the final in seven out of eight campaigns. Gary Lineker described English football perfectly when he said it was all “blood and thunder.” The statement is fully accurate in the sense that the Premier League is extremely demanding when you compare it to La Liga or the Bundesliga.
Add to that, when you have to manage four competitions (PL, League Cup, FA Cup and the UCL) it gets hard for the manager to have an injury-free squad. However, there is now a sense of parity as some of the world’s best managers in Jurgen, Pep, Mourinho & Conte are all in the Premier League and the quality of football has seen an apparent increase in the Top 4 sides.
Manchester City were the outright favourites to win the Champions League out of all English teams and then came Jurgen Klopp's men who steamrolled the free-scoring Citizens 5-1 on aggregate. It was slowly donning on people that Liverpool were not some team that was lucky to be there, but they meant business and were going to hurt you badly if you do not treat them with the respect they deserve.
City and Liverpool were two of the most exciting sides in Champions League this season and who knows what would’ve happened if they had been drawn against different opposition? We could’ve possibly seen an all-English final. The quality amongst these two sides was astounding and it is surely a sign of things to come as these teams can only get better.
The English teams have been ruthless in their attack. Former Reds midfielder Steven Gerrard praised the attacking intent shown by City and Liverpool after their wins against Basel and Porto respectively. “It's the speed in which these teams are attacking, defenders just can't cope,” said Gerrard. “They have managers who put confidence into attacking players, who give them freedom.”
Although the same stage saw three English teams in Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and United get knocked out of the tournament, we saw some great, courageous football played by these sides before they succumbed to defeat.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have been this year’s surprise package. Having had a rocky start to the season, Klopp has completely transformed the side both offensively and defensively. The manager describes their style of football as “all inclusive” and the Reds have been making waves at every stage of the tournament and with every passing matchday in the Premier League.
Fast forward to the final, we see two teams who have been through some of the hardest games. When Real Madrid where on the brink of bottling their lead against Juventus, they showed great composure to stand back up and fight it out right until the very end. Similarly, when Liverpool conceded a goal as early as a minute into the match against Manchester City in the away leg, they showed great character to pull themselves together and brave the storm.
Irrespective of whether Liverpool win or not, this year has shown us a lot of progress when it comes to English teams battling it out with some of Europe’s elite. Even though there have been slip-ups, the English sides have been operating at a very impressive level and with every passing year, their quality has been improving.
The good times are right around the corner for the Premier League clubs. Each club has a unique identity and that is what makes it all the more exciting. We already know the four teams that are going to be taking part in next year’s competition and the four teams are all great clubs with shrewd masterminds at the helm. With the right kind of support from the board, the fans and with some consistency on the pitch, there is no doubt that English sides can dominate the European scene for years to come.
Published: Fri May 25, 2018 08:10 PM IST