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Why Aren’t English Teams Making Their Dominance Count in the Champions League?


That the EPL is the best championship in the world is plain for everyone to see.  The teams are far and away the strongest, most physical, and quickest.  With exceptions to super teams like Barcelona, the four Premier League teams involved in the Champions League can (and do) knock off foreign opposition rather easily.

Yet in 5 finals in which an English team has played, only two have been champions.  A 40% winning percentage doesn’t seem bad, but consider that the winner between Man United and Chelsea had to be from the EPL.  That leaves 4 finals that a continental team could win, and they have won 3 of them.  1 out of 4 is not at all impressive, especially considering the ease with which the EPL teams seem to reach the final.  So what accounts for this discrepancy in dominance and silverware?

One account might be that the English teams have been unlucky to only win one.  I would disagree.  If anything, Liverpool (and by extension, the EPL) are the luckiest winners of the four games, beating a Milan team that really should have won if not for a string of miraculous goals and saves.  Barcelona and Milan in ’06, ’07 and ’09 were in far greater control of the games than their British opposition, though Arsenal at least had the excuse of being a man down.

One account might be that the EPL is not as dominant as it seems.  There is strong bias in the English-language press, and it manifests in the constant recitation of English superiority.  Considering this, one could argue that despite the routine losses, continental clubs actually put up the stiffest resistance to English clubs.

One can  see this during the 2009 edition.  Over two legs, Manchester United beat Arsenal by 3 goals, but Porto by 1 and Inter by 2.  Chelsea beat Liverpool by 2 but could only beat Juventus by 1 and could only tie Barcelona.  Against weaker opposition in the group stage, the EPL looks fantastic, but against top clubs, especially those with lots of players with Champions League experience like Milan and Barcelona, passing through to the next round in the knockout stage is never assured.

Unfortunately for this theory, those who actually watched the games will probably say the 1 and 2 goal score lines do not really do the games justice, and that Chelsea should have won the second leg by at least 1.  The EPL teams have been stronger over the past five seasons; it should be quite clear to anyone who watches for a few matches with EPL clubs and then compares it to a Porto vs. Atletico Madrid showdown, for instance.

I would argue that the reason is a strange combination of luck and inspiration, and maybe a touch of club attitude.

The best team does not always win the Champions League.  In 2007 Milan was not the best club in the tournament.  They were lucky at times, but mostly it came down to a Kaka playing like he was inspired by God.  (Oh, that’s right, he actually was.)  He single-handedly took apart Man United, downed Celtic, and was the impetus behind both Inzaghi goals in the final.  During that season in the Serie A, they finished 5th.  Runners-up Liverpool were 3rd, ahead of Arsenal on goal difference. They were also not the best team in the competition, they were like Milan in that they were best at the competition.

AC Milan, according to their website, is the most successful international club in the world.  It seems part of their culture to do well in in tournaments, just like Liverpool seem to light up on European nights as they flounder in EPL purgatory.  There’s no science to it.  Arsenal and Chelsea try and try to be successful in the UCL but it hasn’t come.  Sometimes the best win, like in 2006, 2008 and 2009 but often times the teams that are good at winning it do so, like in 2005 and 2007.

This season the best team won, but they also had all the right ingredients.  They had Messi the inspired superstar; they had the 93rd minute Iniesta wondergoal, and the general team inspiration in quest of the first Spanish treble.  Barcelona might not have the history of Milan or Liverpool, but it looks like they’re trying to build it.

While the EPL dominance may continue for 2 years, 5, or 10, I’m not sure how many Champions League trophies will find their way back to England.  As long as teams like AC Milan, Barcelona,  Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are around, the gulf in class can be overcome on any given European night.

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  1. spain > england

    February 24, 2010 at 11:21 am

    EPL = foreigners = no success internationally. further more your country has no talent that is why they always snooping around the rest of Europe for players. EPL more money? yes, but look now whats happening to the clubs during recession, they cannot manage whereas Spanish teams are doing just fine. Real Madrid vs Barcelona had 1 billion viewers glued to their screens. Man Utd vs Liverpool had 1 billion pounds combined debt……………………. food for thought.

  2. Arsenal14

    September 1, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    What Champions League Finals Have you watched? have you watched the Arsenal Barca and Milan The Pool 2? Arsenal even a man down was the FAR better team than Barca till the goal went in with 20 left or whatever it was..I forget..TH14 had a glorious chance to put the game at 2 Nil and was begging Wenger to put another man up front bc we had the run of play even a man down..BREAK OUT THE TAPE! the Pool Milan 2 was another game bossed by Pool and all real chances went to Pool till the goal went in..I have Milan friends and they know they wernt the better team that day..In the 1st Final Pool shoudlnt have won but did in the 2nd they deserved to but didnt! Also the Rooney thing from this weekend was a dive just like he DIVED to end the unbeatin streak! Christina is gone so now the other little crying baby needs to do the simulation! Also any1 who thinks the Epl is not the top League by far go get a Brain. Top League..Top Product, Top Fans, best experience game in and game out..yeah theres the Big 4 but even the teams at the bottom never give up when being hammered..La Liga has 2 teams plus on some years maybe 3..and when Teams get up most teams cant be bothered closing down or even trying..also there is no athmosphere in any of their stadiums

  3. ish

    September 1, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    the english teams dont usually give a real rat’s arse about europa. The squad’s they usually put out are similar to what comes out for the carling cup or worse. The UEFA Cup now europa dont have enough money for the number of games you need to play. At the end of the season finishing 1 place higher could mean more money then winning the trophy. For teams like everton, aston villa, mancity and even tottenham they are all aiming for that CL spot so they dont want to waste players on nothing competitions.

  4. Thomas

    September 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I follow the EPL more closely than any other league. But to say it’s the best is absolutely bullshit. The league might spend more money than all the others, but besides the top 4 teams, English teams do rather poorly in UEFA Cup and other “mid tier” European competitions. I think it would be hard to say that La Liga isn’t close to the quality of the EPL. Serie A is taking a back seat…but if it is such a poor league, how did the entire Italian squad play in Serie A in their World Cup winning year.

    I think it’s horrid to say the EPL is without a doubt the best league. It might have the best TOP sides, but through and through it’s not that great.

    And to think of why some of the teams that win in Europe are “good at the competition”…picking between the top sides of Europe, there isn’t THAT big of a gulf between their respective talent levels. Sure Chelsea and Man U have been better than Arsenal or Liverpool in the league, or Inter > AC, but all these teams have so much talent that over 2 legs, it’s quite possible for an “underdog” to win the match.

    So it shouldn’t be that surprising that English teams haven’t won that much. Not to mention, you can’t really make many mistakes in any stage of the knock-out rounds. You pretty much have to play near flawless football against top competition each round to move on.

  5. ish

    September 1, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Like any Cup competition much of it is based on luck and form. English teams do exceptionally well through the group stages and knockout stages because they have the biggest squads usually. Take a look at chelsea they have 20 players that could walk into many teams in the world, manU does massive player rotation. Liverpool and arsenal have smaller squads but even they have more cover the many except the biggest clubs, they also usually by that time are only in the game for 1 competition(much like milan when they won it).
    A large squad lets you challenge in the cup and the league at the same time. Barcelona learnt their lesson last season and won the damn thing by brining in extra men for rotation as well as having a dominant messi, much like ronnie in 06 where they were pretty lucky to win it.
    The final however is a differnt story, simply put each team gets enough rest and recovery because the season is over and they only need to concentrate on 1 thing. When this happens the english teams’ extra men dont mean jack shit. Its more an even field and what generally happens is that english teams arent as dominant and it comes down to luck and that little bit extra.
    Gerrard, ronaldinho, kaka, c.ronaldo, messi respectively have all been players that pulled their team up through the stages into the final and contributed to winning it. It sometimes takes a world class player to give a team that little bit extra.
    Chelsea have been extemely unlucky i think, possibly the unluckiest team in the world in the CL, they have so many times been within a sniff of the finals or of winning the thing but they just stumble in the last hurdle. The one time they did get into the final it was due to a lucky own goal from riise, the luckiest they have been in the comp ever. Against barcelona last season they were very unlucky to only draw, drogba just missed soooo many sitters.
    Liverpool have generally been the luckiest while manU have been the most consistent and arsenal have been all over the place many times doing poor 1 game then amazing the next, they have been lucky with most of their games in terms of who they play though, usually a fallen team or a weaker team. Rarely have they had to entertain a major team early on.

    Either giving up on the league or a large pool of players gets you to the semi’s at least. The semi’s and finals are all about luck, a great player to pull you through and a great manager. The teams that win it rely most on the great player, said player usually drags the teams kicking and screaming into the final and onto the trophy.

  6. jm

    September 1, 2009 at 9:03 am

    You answered your own question right at the outset I think. You noted that English clubs are dominant, except when compared with a few super clubs like Barcelona.

    Which side won two out of those four finals you are looking at? Barcelona!

    The fact that English sides have done so well in getting to the late stages shows the quality of the league. While people might be want to agree that the Premier League is the best in the world, that doesn’t mean that the top Premier League clubs are better than Barca, for example. I don’t think there is any deep question about why English sides haven’t won the title – they have won a few, and given themselves a bunch of chances. The other clubs you have to beat to win the title are really, really good (better than the teams you have to beat to progress!), and that’s all there is to it!

    • Cam

      September 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm

      Totally agree!!

      I guess I’m just happy my team plays in the finals…some supporters don’t even get to see that!

  7. Johnny

    September 1, 2009 at 8:07 am

    As long as teams like AC Milan, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are around, the gulf in class can be overcome on any given European night.

    Excusing me for commenting again but this is another pathetic piece with the English viewpoint – “we are better than you, but we lose anyway, for some reason” – pathetic! It may be normal to most people reading this site, but it’s exactly why England footy fans and their viewpoints are laughed at.

    • Tyson

      September 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

      Yes English viewpoints being laughed at after all they only invented the sport.

      Some peoples mothers should be shot for giving them birth.

    • Joel

      September 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm – the name says it all, doesn’t it?

  8. Johnny

    September 1, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Funny you mention Porto vs Atletico as some kind of “EPL dominance example” – 99 times out of 100 I would rather watch that tie than anything with EPL clubs in it.

  9. Sam Hiser

    September 1, 2009 at 7:59 am

    When English teams are tactically inferior, their huff-puff works against them.

  10. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    September 1, 2009 at 7:49 am

    “Strongest, most physical and quickest”

    Tactical savvy and Technical skill matter also and on this front, England is still behind Spain.

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