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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French flop five-a-side

Only 20 miles separates Britain and France at their closest points, and apart from the Republic of Ireland, no other foreign country has been more represented in the Premier League. Whilst you could count on two hands the number of British players to have crossed the Channel, the number of French players to have made the reverse trip is well into three figures. Since the Premier League’s creation in the early 90’s, some of France’s greatest ever players have graced its grounds. Players like Ginola, Vieira, Petit, Desailly, Deschamps, and Henry to name just a few have had huge impacts. However, not all those who have arrived on these shores have had quite the same level of success. Here is our list of five French flops who failed to live up to expectations.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

Apart from Iker Casillas, Barthez probably has the best CV of any other goalkeeper in the last 25 years. A Champions League winner with Marseille, twice a Ligue 1 Champion with Monaco and of course a World and European Cup winner with France, there really were great hopes for him when Manchester United snapped him up for just shy of £8 million in 2000.

In many ways Barthez’s stay in Manchester was not as unsuccessful as is often made out. He did win two Premier League titles and even made it into the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 2000-01 season. Yet despite these successes Barthez is often remembered for high profile errors and an inability to dominate his area. His diminutive frame was perhaps not cut out for the weekly rigours of the Premier League. Despite his undoubted talent, Barthez’s three year stay in Manchester will always be considered a disappointment.

The Stopper – Sébastien Squillaci 

Squillaci was 30 when he joined Arsenal for £4 million in the summer of 2010, and was seen by many as an impulsive signing. Indeed Squillaci’s time at The Emirates was pretty much a disaster from start to finish. Despite being a regular in his first season, playing in 32 of Arsenal’s 58 games, his poor form forced Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, to once again dip into the transfer market. The signing of Per Mertesacker, coupled with the emergence of Laurent Koscielny, meant that Squillaci’s first team opportunities were greatly restricted, and he appeared only seven more times for the Gunners over the following two years.

Widely regarded as one of Wenger’s worse ever signings, Squillaci left Arsenal on a free transfer in 2013 to join Bastia in his native country.

The Ball Winner  – Jean-Alain Boumsong 

This guy is perhaps one of the most famous failed Frenchmen in English football history. Outside of football Boumsong holds a degree in financial control and has forged a career as a respected pundit on French TV. Yet on the pitch at Newcastle United the defender could hardly have looked more out of place.

Newcastle United manager, Graeme Souness, the man behind the worst signing in Premier League history, Ali Dia, spent £8 million in order to bring Boumsong from Rangers. Boumsong’s career in the North-East was not far short of a catastrophe. He only lasted 18 months in the Premier League before Juventus, yes JUVENTUS, decided to try and make a success of the 27 time France international. Newcastle made a £5 million loss on Boumsong and his transfer was later part of Lord Stevens’ inquiry into corruption in football. An unsavoury episode all round.

The Playmaker – Florian Thauvin

The most recent addition to the team. Although Thauvin’s career to date has failed to live up to expectations, at still only 23 he has time to recover. When he joined Marseille for €15 million in 2013 there was a feeling that the winger could be one of the great French players. His two years at the Vélodrome were a success, he scored 15 goals in just shy of 80 games and looked to be developing into a decent player.

His performances prompted Steve McClaren, the then Newcastle United manager, to fork out £15 million in the summer of 2015. His displays in a struggling Newcastle side were underwhelming to say the least and he featured only 13 times and scored just once before rejoining Marseille on loan after half a season on Tyneside.

The Finisher – Stéphane Guivarc’h

Who do you think Stéphane Guivarc’h turned out for in the Premier League? Yep, you guessed it, Newcastle United. It seems the North East of England is a graveyard for French footballers – perhaps it is just that little bit too far from home? Anyway, Guivarc’h is one of those players that will constantly appear in football trivia questions. You will almost certainly come across questions such as who started up front for France in the 1998 World Cup final? or who wore France’s No.9 shirt during the 1998 World Cup? For those of you who did not know the answer already, you do now!

Guivarc’h is very much the forgotten member of that victorious French team. He started four matches in the tournament, but failed to score in any. Despite this disappointment, his performances had clearly done enough to convince Newcastle United to splash out something in the region of £4 million later on that summer. His arrival from Auxerre was seen as a major coup and many believed that he could go on to form a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer. However, it was not meant to be. Although he scored on his league debut he did not find the net again for the St James’ Park outfit and after just six further appearances, he crossed the border to join Rangers.