Can the Premier League dominate Europe again?
Background photo: Rept0n1x, CC BY-SA 3.0
The holiday season approaches. For players in the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and every top division except the Premier League, a break to spend time away from football, relax and think of other things, such as wives and children, beckons. Premier Leaguers receive Christmas Eve and Day off but are back to work on Boxing Day. It's the most intense period of the campaign. Immediately thereafter, the FA Cup adds to their concerns. Finally, the top sides return to the Champions and Europa Leagues, where they must find the energy to deal with fully refreshed opponents.
Last year, English football dealt with the challenge comprehensively. Four Premier League clubs contested the Champions and Europa League finals. While Bundesliga, La Liga, Liga NOS and Premier League sides have all paired off against divisional rivals in the past, no league had filled all four slots in the same campaign. Can they repeat the feat?
English clubs continue their march on Europe this season. Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all progressed to the knockout stage, City and the Reds as group winners. In the Europa League, Arsenal and Manchester United topped their groups. Wolves also progressed from theirs. Premier League outfits will be represented in greater numbers than any other division come the New Year. On that fact alone, one must conclude English football is poised to continue its continental dominance.
Liverpool are in great form at the moment. The Reds are yet to taste defeat at the domestic level this season and they are also one of the top performers of the Champions League group phase. Without doubts, Jurgen Klopp's men remain the team to beat in the tournament. While they are focussed on breaking their Premier League duck at long last, there is no evidence the Merseysiders cannot do the double.
Manchester City must be reckoned with as well. Their domestic form suffers without Aymeric Laporte in defence but a 14-point deficit to Liverpool allows the Sky Blues to focus on the Champions League. In trotting out Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan in his starting XI against Arsenal yesterday, Pep Guardiola signalled he intends to do just that.
Chelsea's recent slide doesn't afford Frank Lampard the same luxury. The Blues' loss to Bournemouth on Saturday was their third in four league contests. On the other hand, their reprieve from a transfer ban thanks to the Court for Arbitration of Sport permits the board to make a depth signing or two in the January window to carry the Stamford Bridgers through the season.
Tottenham cannot be written off either. No one expected Spurs to reach the final last season. With Jose Mourinho now in charge, who is to say the Lilywhites can't win it?
Manchester United and Arsenal might be inconsistent in the Prem but are yet to be troubled in the Europa League. Wolves are nestled between the two in the domestic table. Like Lampard at Chelsea, Nuno Espirito Santo has earned a player or two in the January window. If the Wanderers board agree, the side from the Black Country can continue their good work abroad.
In the past, critics believed the lack of a winter break and Premier League's intensely competitive environment in which no side can take another for granted wore English teams down in the Champions and Europa League's later rounds. Now, it appears they are the strongest, fittest and most prepared.