The Premier League’s European Resurgence

Tonight’s game between England’s two most exhilarating attacking teams offers the opportunity for one to move a step closer to the semi-final. Manchester City and Liverpool have lit up Europe’s premier football competition over the last six months, but now they must face each other in the biggest game of the season. Simmo looks at how English teams have enjoyed a European rennaisance in this seasons Champions League. 

The success of English teams in the Champions League has not been too common in recent years. You have to go back to 2012 to see a Premier League team reach the final. That year it was Chelsea and although they did bring the trophy home, their win merely papered over the cracks of a disastrous domestic season where they finished in sixth place.

In fact English success in the last five seasons of the Champions League (2013–17) has been so infrequent that only Chelsea and Manchester City have reached the semi-final stages, in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Neither team ever looked likely to move beyond that stage and neither team won the league that season.

Compare that to the previous five seasons, (2008–12) when five English teams reached finals and two came home with the trophy; Manchester United in 2008 in an all-English final, and of course Chelsea’s win in 2012. During that same period, no fewer than eight English teams reached the semi-finals, including three in both 2008 and 2009.

After years of impasse, we are suddenly seeing English teams thrive on the European stage. But why after half a decade of mediocrity in Europe, are we now seeing a renaissance?

A big factor is that English teams now have millions to spend. All five of the English teams in the Champions League this season were among the top 20 spenders in Europe. City spent more than any other club (£220 million) on the continent while Chelsea found themselves in fourth place with a spend of over £150 million.

However, spending money is not the only reason Premier League teams are doing well. They now find themselves with some of the very best managers in Europe. Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino, Conte and Mourinho all led their teams into Europe’s most prestigious competition this season.

While some may debate whether Mourinho can still be classified among the elite, there can be little doubt that Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino have improved their teams’ European performances.

Last season, Liverpool did not even qualify, Tottenham finished third in their group behind Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen, while City got knocked out by Monaco in the round of 16. Only Leicester progressed to the quarter-finals.

In this season’s competition, Liverpool are the highest scorers with 28 goals from their eight games. Manchester City have retained the ball more than any other team, with an average 63% possession per game. They are also the only team to have completed over 6,000 passes in the tournament.

Tottenham enjoyed brilliant success in the group stages. Winning both home and away against Borussia Dortmund, as well as drawing with Real Madrid, last season’s winners, at the Bernabéu, before comfortably beating them at home. Before their unfortunate exit at the hands of Juventus (runners-up the previous season) in the round of 16, they had won more points than any other team in the group stage.

The Premier League is unquestionably the most competitive league in the world. No other league can boast the depth of competition that offers. However, in recent years, while the internal competition has been interesting, no team has been able to convert domestic success into major European success.

Now things seem different. Manchester City are the Champions League favourites; England is guaranteed at least one semi-final place as City have been drawn against Liverpool; and given the choice, both teams would almost certainly have preferred to avoid each other at this stage of the competition.

The results this season seem to suggest that the competition in the Premier League is aiding European performances. Collectively, English teams have performed much better. The acid test will be if English teams can maintain consistent performances in Europe over the next three or four years.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that English clubs are on the rise again, and the rest of Europe will be concerned.  

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Six reasons Juventus might not win Serie A this year

Serie A featured highly in this transfer window with Manchester United capturing Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuaín upsetting the entire population of Naples in a move north. Juventus start as overwhelming favourites for the new season. Their squad has tonnes of experience and a winning mentality to rival any side in Europe. Nevertheless, all good things come to an end and could the sale of Pogba disrupt the happy camp? Anything other than a sixth straight title will require a serious dip in form, or the likes of Napoli and Roma to overachieve and amass nearly 90 points. Here’s six reasons it might just happen.

1. Their desire for European success

Juventus have won five straight Serie A titles and have been the main Italian flag-bearers in elite European competition. They’ve not done badly either, making the Champions League final in 2015 and having a pair of wonderful games against Bayern Munich last time out. It’s easy to assume the likes of Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will never get bored of winning Scudettos but the squad seemed to suffer from a bout of the ‘lack-of-ambitions’ at the start of last season and were supposedly put back on track by the words of Buffon prior to the Derby della Mole. Napoli had waltzed to the top of the league and a sleeping Juve were rudely awoken. It’s not out of the realms of possibility that Juve will wobble again as they target a return to the latter stages of the Champions League.

2. Improvements lower down the league

One of the biggest factors in the Serie A title race will be the performance of the teams outside last year’s top three. When Napoli were chasing Juventus at the end of last season they found no favours from Inter, AC, Lazio and Fiorentina. In fact, against that quartet of Italian giants Juventus dropped just two points (a draw with Inter in October). Both Milan clubs made hard work of their seasons whilst Lazio were inconsistent and Fiorentina won just twice in the last three months. All four will be expecting better from 2017. Milan are in dire needed of a return to European football and will be hoping the talent packed into their squad can start performing on a regular basis. Lazio would love new man Ciro Immobile to get close to 20 goals having lost star player Antonio Candreva this summer. The Italian international will now ply his trade under new Inter manager Frank De Boer. Whilst none of these sides will likely surface as title challengers, stronger and longer patches of form will make for a tougher division and less chances for Juventus to disappear over the horizon.

3. Hell hath no fury like an ‘Ultra’ scorned

The first of two big summer stories involving Juventus saw last season’s record-breaking goalscorer Gonzalo Higuaín arrive for a staggering fee. The sometimes underrated Argentinian bagged 71 league goals in three seasons at Napoli and (surprise, surprise) scored on his league debut for Juventus. However, when the three-time La Liga winner was prized by league favourites Juventus he caused an uproar of Neapolitan proportions. The stories immediately began to fly out of Naples – a pizzeria offered free food the first time Higuaín gets injured and toilet paper was printed bearing his face. A coach arrived spelling out ‘core ‘ngrato’ (search it) and an exchange was set up for unwanted Higuaín shirts. The lethal finisher has the talent to respond to his haters but perhaps their unrelenting feeling of betrayal – combined with his lofty price tag – is enough to make him buckle.

4. Replacing Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata

Regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba was worth the money dropped by Manchester United, he will be sorely missed in the Juventus midfield. There is nobody else in the squad – perhaps the world – that can make the same offering as Pogba; fast yet tall, skilful yet strong, equally as likely to rifle the ball home from 30 yards as he is to win possession and dispatch a pass across the pitch. This isn’t to say Juventus can’t replace the sometimes misfiring Frenchman, but their midfield will surely have a different feel. Juve sent another message to the south when pinching Miralem Pjanic from Roma, and the Bosnian looks the likely replacement in their starting XI. Real Madrid further proved Juventus’ transfer dominance is bounded by Italian borders when activating a clause to re-sign Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard settled better than ever away from his home club, striking strong friendships with a number of Italians in the squad. He was Juve’s most willing runner and had an eye for important goals. On the brightside, Juventus made over €100 million sending players back ‘home’.

5. Ridiculously high standards

After a rocky start to last season Juventus lost just one of their last 28 games. Frighteningly, they racked up 26 victories from October to May with a 15 match winning streak across the winter ended by a 0-0 draw against Bologna. Realistically, this form will not be replicated throughout the 2016-17 campaign. Games at the Juventus Stadium will continue to shower the home side with success, but no side has left with so much as a point since last September (respect to Frosinone) and I expect this to change before Christmas. Napoli, Roma and Sassuolo will be visiting Turin in the next few months and won’t want to leave empty handed.

6. Blooding new stars

The Juventus academy has seen plenty of graduates go on to have international careers – Alessandro Del Piero, Claudio Marchiso, Sebastian Giovinco – but ‘The Old Lady’ have often relied on signing established players from other clubs and nurturing them into the next champions of Turin. A prime example is Andrea Barzagli who, despite winning the World Cup in 2006, has seen his best year’s post-Wolfsburg and post-30. He is now 35, the same age as Patrice Evra and a handful of years older than Giorgio Chiellini. This season’s transfers have suggested more of the same with Dani Alves arriving at the age of 33 and €90 million being thrown behind the 28-year old Higuaín. There are a number of hot prospects in the squad but those brought into the first team will need time to adjust to the 3-5-2 formation established by Antonio Conte. Daniele Rugani is Juve’s centre-back heir apparent whilst Marco Pjaca arrives from Zagreb to offer some dynamism to the frontline. ‘Juventus’ translates to ‘youth’ in Latin and the club will hope the passing of the torch goes as smoothly as possible.


Mike Franchetti