The Premier League this season could be labelled as possibly one of the least competitive ever, as evidenced by recent results in the Champions League knockout stages.
It seems a long time ago that the two English clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, were battling it out in Madrid for European glory.
Although it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of showcases for the Premier League, the 2019 final was a showcase none the less. For the first time since the 2008 final, and the second time ever, two English teams progressed to the final, seemingly establishing the Premier League as the elite division in Europe.
However, this year, the four English sides are facing uphill battles to reach the quarter-finals. Tottenham, Chelsea and defending champions Liverpool all lost their first leg ties. As it currently stands only one English team, Manchester City, are in pole position to progress to the next round.
Last season, the Premier League showcased its combativeness with both Liverpool and Manchester City going toe-to-toe all season with the latter pipping it by one point. City accumulated an incredible 98 points by the end of the season. The Premier League’s quality was reflected in the Champions League when all four English sides made it through to the quarter-final stage.
However, this season, the Premier League has been undeniably one-sided. Liverpool are currently 22 points clear at the top of the table and need just four more wins to clinch their first domestic title since 1990. It is the strongest start seen in top-flight history across England, France, Germany, Italy or Spain. Jurgen Klopp’s team are on track to emulate Arsenal’s invincible season of 2003-04 and have already amounted more points than Manchester United’s treble-winning 1999 side.
The brilliance of Klopp’s men is unquestionable, but it also underlines the drop in standards from the other teams in the English top-flight.
It is interesting to note that league leaders have not historically benefited in the Champions League, Bayern Munich being the prime example. In the 2013/14 Bundesliga season, they cantered to the league title with a 19-point gap between them and their nearest rivals, Borussia Dortmund. But they came up short in the Champions League.
Bayern, who were defending European champions and looked on course to repeat their triumph, reached the semi-finals where they were knocked out after a 5-0 aggregate loss to eventual winners Real Madrid.
Domestic dominance has also been a European Achilles heel for Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, who have invested heavily in their squads with the aim of winning the Champions League, but the results have not translated. PSG have not been past the last-16 of the Champions League since 2016. Juventus last won the competition in 1996.
It could be perceived that a lack of competition in their domestic league could have a knock-on effect in Europe, causing a sharp blade to become blunt.
Chelsea lost their home tie to Bayern on Tuesday, conceding three goals and getting a man sent off. This defeat was the Blues eighth at home this season in all competitions – the highest such figure they have recorded since the 1985-86 campaign.
Despite this poor run in form, Chelsea currently occupy fourth place in the Premier League with 44 points, compared to this stage last year they sat 6th with 53 points. They are on course for the lowest points fourth-place finish since David Moyes’ Everton qualified for the Champions League in the 2004-05 season.
Spurs, like their London rivals, lost at home in the Champions League last-16 first-leg. Timo Werner’s goal gave RB Leipzig the victory last week at the new White Hart Lane.
It was Tottenham’s third defeat so far in this European campaign. Although they have been slightly rejuvenated under Mourinho, they still appear to be a shadow of the team that was in touching distance of European immortality last year.
Tottenham are currently in 6th place in the Premier League, level on points with Sheffield Utd with 40 points. At this stage last year, Spurs sat three positions higher in the table and had amassed 60 points. The evidence suggests that this is has not been a vintage season in the Premier League, beyond Liverpool’s stunning title-charge.
Despite leading the Premier League by a titanic chasm, Liverpool suffered their third defeat of the season when they lost 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in Spain. They failed to register a single shot on target against Diego Simeone’s side, who sit in third place in La Liga.
Manchester City were the only English side to win their Champions League fixture, grabbing a late double to defeat Real Madrid in Spain. Although City still hold the same position in the table as last year, they are eight points worse off.
In comparison to the other top leagues in Europe, the Premier League’s lack of competitiveness can be clearly seen. In the Serie A and Bundesliga, first and second are separated by only one point. Whereas in La Liga just two points separate the top sides. Even in Ligue 1, which has been predominantly known as a one-horse race, with that horse sporting diamond-covered hooves, there are nine points less of a gap than Liverpool’s lead.
As it stands, it looks like it may be difficult for English sides to venture as far into the tournament as they did last season. Four Champions League knockout games is a small sample size, but, an all-English final certainly looks unlikely. These results are a slight reminder that Premier League clubs – bar Liverpool – have somewhat regressed and as a result, show signs of faltering in Europe.
However, even though three out of four of these Premier League sides have had poor results, there still may be a possibility of progression, most notably for Liverpool who have a habit of overturning European deficits.