For the first time since the 2001/02 season, the Premier League could lose its fourth Champions League spot. Only the top-three ranked nations, according to UEFA rankings, would claim a fourth Champions League place. If this incomprehensible loss were to happen, Italy’s Serie A would, being the closest challengers to the Premier League in correspondence to rankings, take the spot. After an inconsistent European journey in the last decade, Italy has not had a fourth team in the competition since 2011, after losing the spot to Germany’s Bundesliga.
The Italian side Internazionale (also known as Inter Milan) managed to successfully defeat Bayern Munich in the much-anticipated 2009/10 final in Madrid, by two goals to nil. More recently Juventus reversed Manchester City’s 1-0 lead in the Group Stages of the competition this season, scoring twice in the last twenty minutes. You may also recall that on 6th June this year, Juventus were unlucky to narrowly lose to Barcelona in the 2015 final, despite a strong and consistent campaign leading up to that disappointing night in Berlin. Although they could not go all the way last term, the recent success of the Italian system can only be worrying to any Premier League club aspiring to qualify for the Champions League and progress to the latter stages.
Last year’s 2014/15 season saw all Premier League teams fail to progress past the Round of 16; Liverpool performed with an even more abject display in the competition, and were eliminated at the Group Stages. Along with this, Hull, Tottenham and later Liverpool (who were given another opportunity for silverware in Europe’s secondary competition) performed far below par in the Europa League. As already mentioned, Italy’s Serie A saw Juventus reach the final of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, whilst Napoli and Roma celebrated success in the Europa League. This may not appear as too much of a problem, after Chelsea’s dramatic victory in the 2011/12 competition, as well as the successes of the Premier League clubs in Europe over the mid-to-late noughties. However, as the world-renowned European competition arguably enters into a new era, a change in rules will see results from the 2010/11 season and before not counted in UEFA rankings. This will be the case from the 2017/18 season and onwards. This would consequently mean that when rankings are reassessed by the UEFA governing body, the Premier League could lose its fourth spot if European results do not improve this year. This is regardless of whether media outlets and the like from across the globe still consider England’s top division as the best and most competitive in the world.
This recent pattern of failure has led fans of the more ambitious sides to ask why English clubs continue to falter in the competition? By looking at Manchester City and Chelsea, squads that include expensive acquisitions such as Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne in the former, as well as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in the latter, one might ask: do the squads of the Premier League competition need any more investment? Or perhaps clubs need to approach the European competitions from a different angle than the domestic league.
In my opinion, avoiding complacency is key for Champions League success. The likes of Manchester City have demonstrated this in recent seasons, after failing to hold onto sometimes comfortable leads, in games where, on paper, they would expect to win. Despite this, it is vital to remember that it took Chelsea ten years to win the competition after being acquired by Roman Abramovich, despite large-scale investment over this period of time, while even Real Madrid struggled to win ‘La Decima’ (tenth European title). The level of competition and quality in the present competition is astounding and whilst the English sides may claim to have some of the world’s best and most expensive players, only a combination of time, exceptional quality (both on and off the pitch) and real Champions League experience, can contribute to bringing the trophy home.
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