A look at the Champions League pecking order of favourites before the start of any edition, you can usually spot a strong trend. Occupying most of the favourite-berths for the competition are English and Spanish clubs. This is no surprise because in the last eight editions of UEFA’s top club competition, six of the finals have been won by a Spanish or English club. Chelsea continued England’s showing in the competition with a win over Germany’s Bayern Munich in last season’s final. But are English sides losing their influence?
Are things going to swing back in favour of Spain this time around? Barcelona have won the Champions League three times in the last seven seasons and along with La Liga Champions Real Madrid plus a fantastic campaign by Malaga, the Spanish representatives look set to outshine the presence of the English Premier League sides. The reigning Champions, England’s Chelsea, are on the brink of becoming the first ever defending Champions to be knocked out in the group stage the following season, while Premier League Champions Manchester City have already been knocked out before their final game. The second time in a row City have failed to make it out of the group stage.
So England will likely drop two of its four representatives in the round of 16, with the seasoned hands of Arsenal and Manchester United making progress. That will be in comparison to Spain’s three entrants, all of which will be making their presence known in the knockout stages. Out of the three La Liga side contesting, surprisingly it is Malaga who are the only ones who remain unbeaten, with Barcelona getting stung by Scottish side Celtic in Glasgow in a 2-1 defeat, while Real Madrid were gunned down by the German Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dortmund.
So with potentially only half of England’s top sides getting out of their groups, what message is this sending to the rest of Europe. For a long time the English Premier League has been a popular destination for players, lured by the massive fan base, high wages and promises of domestic and European club silverware. But with evident problems in Arsenal’s and Manchester United’s respective season, where a lack of quality has been pinpointed, has the Premier League started to lose its grip on the European front?
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Even last year’s winners, Chelsea, didn’t win the tournament with any style, riding their luck against Barcelona in the semi finals and Bayern Munich in the final itself, having been totally outplayed by both opponents. The 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals saw the giants of English football, Manchester United, totally out-classed against Barcelona on both occasions. So is the English influence diminishing in the Champions League?
What Malaga have achieved, quite remarkably in fact given all their financial troubles over the summer, has shown the biggest shift of all. They have been courageous, adventurous and enjoying their first foray into the UEFA competition. So far, they are more than living with the best after finishing third in La Liga last season. It is something English champions Man City have failed to do, their first two attempts at the Champions League failing miserably. So is the Spanish style and quality of La Liga pulling out beyond anything the English Premier League can muster up?
You will always look at the overwhelming abundance of talent that Barcelona and Real Madrid have, but the big shift could all be summed up in the presence of Malaga this season. They have outshone the experience of AC Milan and are one of the highest scoring teams in the tournament this season. For the Spanish clubs, it looks as if encounters in Europe are theirs to lose, while the remaining English sides could be chasing shadows of not only the Spaniards, but the power of Germany’s best and the resurrection of Italian football as well in Juventus.