If you cast your mind back to the 2006-2009 period, the so-called ‘Big Four’ from the Premier League of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal were a dominant force in Europe’s premier club competition.
Their biggest rivals in Europe were often each other. Chelsea and Liverpool met on a regular occurrence in quarter-finals and semi-finals. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, three of the four semi-finalists were English.
Manchester United and Chelsea clashed in an epic 2008 final in Moscow with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men winning out on penalties in the rain in the early hours of the Russian morning.
United were beaten in the 2009 and 2011 finals by Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona team while Chelsea famously came out of nowhere and incredibly rode their luck to claim the holy grail in 2012 in Bayern Munich’s backyard.
However the tide was turning as it so often does, Barcelona had produced arguably their greatest team ever which ironically forced Real Madrid to splash the cash to get back to the top.
A defining moment was perhaps when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United.
Atletico Madrid ensured Spain had three clubs contending for the Champions League title. Spain had leaped ahead of England in the pecking order.
The last four winners of the famous trophy have come from Spain with two of those finals contested by the two Madrid teams.
The only English clubs to have reached the semi-finals since 2012 have been Chelsea in 2014 and Manchester City in 2016.
The reasons? Poor spending, questionable managerial appointments and increased competition which has resulted in England’s two most successful clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool struggling to even qualify for the tournament.
However, there is more reason for optimism this season that the Premier League’s big guns could challenge Europe’s elite once again.
As a result of United’s Europa League triumph, there are five English clubs in the Champions League this season and all five clubs will fancy their chances of making the last 16 at the very least.
They also arguably boast the finest collection of managers in Europe who have now had time to rebuild and shape their teams in their own image.
City and Liverpool have the attacking firepower if not the defensive capabilities. United have the physical power throughout their squad and pace up top like a typical Mourinho side. Conte’s Chelsea have picked up where they left off last season after a brief blip.
The significance of Tottenham’s win against Borussia Dortmund cannot be underestimated. It was huge in what is essentially the Group of Death and the performance showed signs of a team maturing into a side who could go to the next level. Harry Kane can now do it at the very top level.
Are English clubs among the favourites to win it? Probably not.
Real Madrid, PSG and still even Barcelona would be ahead in the pecking order.
However, this could finally be the season where Premier League clubs can be a serious threat at the very business end of the competition.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena
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