Since Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 in Munich, the Premier League has only had two representatives in the semi-finals: Chelsea again reaching the final four in 2014 and Manchester City in 2016. In the same period, only two others reached the quarterfinals: Manchester United (2014) and Leicester City (2017). In contrast, in the three consecutive seasons from 2007-2009, England had provided three of the four semi-finalists. So what happened to England’s heavy European presence?
There’s no question that Bayern Munich and Juventus have dominated their respective leagues for the last few years; this year Juve won Serie A for a record sixth consecutive year, and Bayern won the Bundesliga for the fifth. And while Premier League fanatics would have you believe that other European title races maybe aren’t as competitive as their own, both Chelsea this year and Leicester last won the title at a relative canter.
And those dominant squads have then dominated European competition. The Spanish super trio of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid, and now the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich, have all been winners or runners-up in the last five barren years for English sides.
There’s also no doubt that there some of the genuine super powers in Europe right now have very talented squads. Monaco’s squad, who made the Champions League semifinal this past year, is already getting picked apart for its talent, with stars like Mbappe and Thomas Lemar being linked with moves away.
Where does the priority lie for Premier league sides? Financially, the owners are left in no doubt as to which is more profitable; Chelsea pocketed around £150 million from the TV companies for last Premier League season, while Real Madrid got around £83 million for their victorious European campaign in 2016.
Nor can it be overlooked either that the English clubs have overspent — and, in most cases, wasted money — on inflated transfer fees and wages thanks to the astronomical TV deals currently in place. They must learn to spend their ‘war chests’ more efficiently, and maybe even focus more on promoting more youth players through the ranks. However, whether the owners’, and the fans’, impatience in needing to see immediate results would allow for this is another question altogether.
And it seems that English clubs, knowing the current trend of their overall success in Europe, have already gotten their excuses in place. But Tottenham will have to accept that they will be playing their home games at Wembley; Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho are no longer ‘new’ managers. They have had a chance to analyse their respective squads, and therefore must strengthen where necessary during the close season.
Plus, none of them are exactly strangers to Europe or the attention and depth it needs.
But there are indicators that next season may see a change in English clubs’ performances in the Champions League — although not necessarily because of them.
For one, Barcelona have gone out at the last eight stage in three of the last four years. While Messi continues to perform at extraordinary levels, the rest of the side is not at the level of the team that was considered the best ever back in 2009-2011.
Atletico Madrid are currently under a transfer ban, meaning they cannot strengthen this offseason.
Juventus have compiled an awesome squad, thanks in part to the money they received from Pogba’s transfer to Manchester United. But some of their stars are in the twilight of their careers. Dani Alves looks soon to be departing, with questions marks also over Bonucci and Sandro — not to mention that Buffon, Chielini and Barzaghli are all on the wrong side of 30.
Bayern Munich face a similar problem. Lahm and Xabi Alonso have already retired, and others like Robben and Ribery are also nearing the ends of their career.
Real Madrid look most likely to remain a major obstacle for English squads this year. But like Juventus and Bayern Munich, Real Madrid’s squad is not the most youthful — despite Cristiano Ronaldo continuing to score as freely as he did in his 20s.
Premier clubs will hope that all of these squads’ possible problems come to a head at once, while also getting their own affairs in order regarding signings and tactics. They are all big ‘ifs,’ but it’s time the Premier League had the strength and fortune to fight back. And with 5 representatives set to compete in the 2017-18 Champions League, next season looks like it will be a good place to start.