Later this week (as I write this) Europe’s two largest finals, the Champions League final and the Europa League final, will be contested by four English sides for the first time in history. Liverpool’s match-up with Tottenham Hotspur will be the first all-English encounter in the Champions League final since 2008. Gone are the days of Barcelona’s possession-based, tiki-taka style football, which led the Catalan side to three Champions League titles in six seasons between 2005 and 2011, in addition to the Spanish national team’s success in two successive European Championships, and the 2010 World Cup. We witnessed how the more physical German football overtook the likes of Barcelona, through the 2012-13 season’s all-German affair in the Champions League final, which was followed up with a world cup success just one year later. In the five years that followed, there was complete Spanish dominance, resulting in four champions league trophies for Real Madrid, and one for Barcelona, including two all-Spanish finals.
This, however, brings me onto Madrid. Given Liverpool’s near-miss in the final last year and their reappearance in this epic, it suggests that English football, and particularly Klopp’s football, has driven the English to the top of the pile in European football for arguably the first time in 11 years. We must not ignore Tottenham, an English side who had never before qualified for the Champions League on the last occasion that there was an all-English Champions League final. Along with Arsenal’s success against Italian powerhouses Napoli in the Europa League, and Chelsea overcoming similar opposition, this indicates that a new era for English football has begun.
While we can identify many factors in the recent growth and success of English football, including the increased expenditure by both Manchester City and Liverpool, we need not look much further than last summer’s World Cup, which saw the English national team reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990, an unexpected success for the country. They followed this by reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League, due to be played in the next fortnight, which would see them win their first International trophy since the World Cup in 1966. Whilst this is far from certain, their progress thus far indicates that Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal’s success in Europe this year has not been fortuitous – the competitiveness of English football has increased both with investment and the emergence of English players, such as Dele Alli and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who have played a pivotal role in both their sides’ appearances in the Champions League final. It is also important to consider that the UEFA Super Cup has never been competed by two English sides, until this year, where it is a certainty. It will be interesting to see whether the English clubs can continue this superiority in the following years, or whether their legacy will fade rather quickly, as did Bayern’s European dominance following the 2012-2013 season.
England’s unexpected run to the World Cup semi-final has contributed immensely to the momentum of English clubs this year in Europe’s two main competitions. Last summer saw the emergence of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who put in a series of promising performances on the International stage, and has this season been an important presence in the Chelsea first-team especially towards the latter part of the season in which they secured a top-four finish and reached the Europa League final. In the same vein, Callum Hudson-Odoi, despite not being included in last summer’s world cup squad, has featured frequently throughout Chelsea’s Europa League campaign, spurred on by an encouraging international debut in a 5-1 England win against Montenegro. Hudson-Odoi has tallied four goals and two assists in just 416 minutes in the Europa League this season, showing his importance to Chelsea’s play, which will be of great importance in the final this week. The experience for capped England players, such as Dele Alli and Harry Kane, will be of utmost importance going into the Champions League final this weekend. Having played on the world stage and just fallen short, these English players have the opportunity to go one better and win the greatest prize club football has to offer.
One of Tottenham or Liverpool, and one of Arsenal or Chelsea, will win the Champions League and the Europa League respectively, in what will prove to be a year of English conquests that very few could have foreseen. It appears as though English football is creating a sphere of influence – with Liverpool eliminating Spanish giants Barcelona and Tottenham eliminating German league table leaders (at the time of the fixture) Borussia Dortmund, the English sides have proven they can beat anyone in Europe. A new English dynasty has begun, but one question still remains: who will take the crown?