The race to finish in the top four of the Premiership looks set to go right down to the wire and it should be a thrilling second half to the season. But while the Premiership has continued to enthral fans of UK football clubs in recent years, Premiership teams have failed to hit the heights of the previous decade on the European stage.
Rewind back to the mid-2000s and English clubs had become the dominant force in the Champions League. In the six seasons leading up to the 2011-12 campaign, an English club made the final on five occasions. The dominance of the league was at its starkest in 2007-08, when the Champions League witnessed its first all-English final as Man Utd beat Chelsea on penalties. Chelsea finally won it in 2011-12 when they won a shootout against Bayern Munich, but since then English clubs have failed to make the final.
It can be attributed to a hefty response from Barcelona and Real Madrid, who began matching English clubs blow for blow in the transfer market. The two clubs now possess most of the world’s leading stars, having forked out astronomical sums on the likes of Neymar, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale to complement Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Bayern Munich have also excelled in that time, as have Atletico Madrid.
But English clubs have gone backwards. This season their chances of winning the Champions League do not look like improving. Chelsea, the dominant force in the Premiership this season, did not qualify as they had a disastrous 2015-16 and finished mid-table. The other form team, Tottenham, did not make it past the group stage.
Now we are left with just three clubs in the last 16: last season’s champions Leicester, who are now hovering just above the relegation zone, an Arsenal side that has not made it past the last 16 in years, and a really out of sorts Man City.
A review of bookmaker shows that none of them are fancied to make much of a splash in the competition this season. Man City are fifth favourites, despite only once making it past the quarter final, and that surely has a lot to do with Pep Guardiola’s presence in the dugout. He won the Champions League twice at Barcelona, but could not do it with a very strong Bayern Munich squad and is likely to struggle with this Man City team. Against an organised, disciplined team like Bayern or Real Madrid, you would fancy their weak defence to struggle.
Arsenal are eighth favourites, but seem to lack the requisite quality and mental strength. They have a couple of stars in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, but those two were deemed surplus to requirements at La Liga’s big two and that illustrates how many big guns those teams have on hand to tear apart an Arsenal defence that is constantly exposed in the knockout phases of the Champions League.
And then there is Leicester, trading at 60/1 with some betting websites. They surprised everyone and hit the bookies hard by winning the Premiership last season, but they are struggling badly this time around and have won less than a quarter of their league games. That is not form to strike fear into the hearts of Barcelona et al, and you worry Leicester would be on the wrong end of a hiding if they were to meet one of Europe’s elite, embarrassing the Premiership in the process.
Perhaps this time next year a review of bookmaker sites will show a different picture, with Chelsea in the picture and possibly Man Utd, who will have had longer to gel under Jose Mourinho, or Man City might be on an upward curve if Guardiola overhauls his ageing squad, but right now the Premiership club’s prospects of challenging for the Champions League look poor.