I like Sevilla but a win would be really great for Liverpool. Could kick-start a new period of success. Possibly.
While it’s understandable that the author below would argue fewer games would actually benefit Liverpool domestically, that alone doesn’t mean losing the final would be worth it. The Champions League schedule wouldn’t be as tasking as the Europa League one Liverpool had this season, plus a lot of the injuries come down, possibly, to Klopp pushing players during the middle of the season, an EPL season at that, without the winter break he’s used to. A full summer should help rectify that, along with the addition of a couple of players. Yes, the team may not be torn apart but higher quality additions interested in the UCL would help with depth both in Europe and domestically. Liverpool is a side that should be challenging on all fronts regular. The one season off one season on in Europe won’t cut it for a club of their stature and there’s no guarantee that no European football means a chance at the title increases.
Great piece here. Some good points throughout. La Liga teams just have a clearer idea of how they want to go about things even if, as the author said, it may not be perfect. Barcelona’s La Masia, Athletic Bilbao and the all-Basque selection, Villarreal and their sensible approach. Having better coaching and some very underrated players also helps. Simply put, the Premier League is more competitive but regardless of the dominance of the big two in Spain, there are some quality teams throughout.
My piece for the Boot Room on the Champions League and Europa League semifinals. I don’t think there’s one clear winner for either. We are in for, hopefully, some really good football.
The Champions League and Europa League return this week and nothing is guaranteed. Manchester City play Real Madrid while Bayern Munich face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. The Europa League sees Liverpool take on Villarreal as Sevilla battle Shaktar Donetsk. Each tournament has its favourites but their competitors are just as likely to progress. Each tie has its own fascinating tactical battles and the story lines for each team to consider as well. Barcelona’s defeat at the hands of Atletico mean that Bayern are the favourites for the Champions League. It’s certainly ironic that they face the team best-placed to stop them short of that goal.
Bayern will expect to dominate any of these teams in possession but the level of defensive intensity they face against Atletico will be huge test – just ask Barcelona. Pep Guardiola certainly has the options to match Diego Simeone’s team physically but the Spaniard won’t want to deviate from his preferred method of play unless absolutely necessary. Atletico are one of the few sides that are well-prepared to give up possession as part of their game plan yet pose a dangerous threat in attack. If the likes of Antoine Griezmann or Fernando Torres make the most of their chances then Atletico could be headed for another upset. The worry for the Spaniards is that too much focus on defensive endeavours will leave them toothless in attack. Bayern may well have preferred to face Real Madrid or Manchester City despite their more potent attacking threats as both have had their defensive issues this season.
The tie between City and Real Madrid could be an open affair. City may be more comfortable with the ball in their possession, but their performances against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round show just how potent they can be on the counter, especially with Kevin De Bruyne leading the way. Madrid have been in really good form since the victory over Barcelona in the most recent Clasico. A comeback victory against Wolfsburg in the recent round and domestically against Rayo Vallecano this past weekend means Zinedine Zidane’s side will be full of confidence. Madrid haven’t particularly impressed when favoured to win a tie, as their victories over Wolfsburg and Roma could well have ended up in defeat with better performances from their opponents, but City will like being the underdog. Throw in Manuel Pellegrini’s interest in getting one over the club that unceremoniously let him go, and they most certainly will not lack motivation.
The Europa League is Europe’s second tier competition but there was some quality play in the knock-out rounds. The four teams in the semi-finals were key to that quality and deserving of their current position. Sevilla will be favourites, they are looking for a third straight tournament victory after all, but there’s plenty to be excited about as the tournament comes to a close.
Sevilla face a winner of the predecessor of the Europa League; the UEFA Cup, in a Shakhtar side that had become much more accustomed to life in the Champions League. Their experience in that competition, generally reach the knockout rounds, has shown in their run to the semifinals. Attacking talents such as Taison, Wellington Nem and Bernard along with experienced heads such as Darijo Srna and Eduardo make them tough opposition. Sevilla will be well-prepared with Unai Emery at the helm but this has the looks of a very tight tie.
Nobody would have seen Liverpool and Villarreal as European semi-finalists at the beginning of the season. Jurgen Klopp has come in and transformed this Liverpool side, culminating in 4-3 second leg victory of Borussia Dortmund that vaulted them to this stage. Marcelino Toral’s Villarreal has progressed well in the last few seasons domestically, and are now reaping those rewards on the European stage. It will be the case of a well-organised, tactically sound Villarreal side against Liverpool’s ‘heavy metal’ football. Surely, it will be fun to watch and we are in for a feast of football.
All the semi-finalists are going through relatively good periods of form or recently picked up vital confidence-building results. Each team also has defining story-lines playing a part in their motivation.
Liverpool and City will feel the pressure of carrying the torch of the Premier League, having seen the league dramatically under-perform in recent seasons. A trip to the final would be a solid platform for a Liverpool resurgence while City will want to truly join the European elite. Shakhtar Donetsk have plenty of European experience but have ultimately failed to have success. Sevilla chase history while Bayern Munich look; hopefully, to repeat it and cement Guardiola’s legacy at the club. Atletico will want further vindication that their approach will work while Madrid can improve upon an astounding European legacy. Villarreal will see this as another step forward in their return to upper level of La Liga.
The final four of the Champions League and the Europa League will provide plenty of excitement. Despite supposed favourites, no team is a clear winner of their tie or the tournament. We’ve seen what happened to the teams previously in that category, Barcelona in the Champions League and Dortmund in the Europa League. European club football is considered the best in the world and the challengers in the continent’s two premier competitions have a chance to prove just that.
*Below is the original, full, version of the piece.
Results in the first knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League show that the perception of leagues matter little.
Let’s start by saying this.
Since 2000, teams from La Liga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 have won 21 out of 28 European titles across both of Europe’s top competitions. Another three of those titles went to Portugal’s Porto FC.
These leagues are generally considered the best in football, and therefore Europe, so that comes as no surprise. There are, as with any sport, peaks and troughs for teams and leagues but we seem to have come across a general consensus about the order of these leagues. The Premier League and La Liga are always in the debate for the first and second spots, with the Bundesliga, Serie A(once considered the mightiest of them all) and Ligue 1 shuffling around the other spots.
This 2014/15 season has again seen a large number of participants from these leagues and that’s partly down to how UEFA’s coefficient ranks their leagues overall.
Those rankings may not be as hotly contested as the FIFA rankings are on a regular basis but there is still some debate. Spain and England have been the only countries top the rankings since they began in 2003, with Spain coming first eight times to England’s five.
Going by the country of each league Spain leads the way, followed by England, Germany, Italy and Portugal actually ahead of France. Those results are switched even further when this season’s results alone are calculated in each round. Spain is still front with Italy, Germany, England and then France.
While the Champions League and Europa League tournaments provide an example of the strength of various leagues, it is the knockout rounds, especially in the Europa League, where the real business begins.
The Champions League is still in the midst of its first knockout round but the Europa League has already completed its Round of 32. The first thing that will jump out at many, which is a prime example of the perceived importance of the leagues, is the fact that only one of four British clubs remain after that round. Two out of three Premier League teams, Tottenham and Liverpool, were dumped out while the less fancied side, Everton, marches on. *Tottenham has a valid excuse with the Capital One Cup final coming just two days after their tie, though a better display may have led to a positive result. The fourth British club Celtic, from Scotland, went out against Inter Milan.
There’s been lots of talk in recent years about whether the “best” league in the world is pulling its weight in European football. Judging by those results, and UEFA’s coefficient rankings, it isn’t the best league. The first legs of the UEFA Champions League doesn’t help the case either as two of the remaining three clubs, Manchester City and, quite embarrassingly for them to be honest, Arsenal, are almost out of their respective ties while Chelsea is walking on thin ice. All of that has happened despite the signing of a new £5.1 billion TV deal that’s indicative of the riches available to those in England.
In step two well-respected managers from those losing sides to offer reasons, read excuses, for the Premier League clubs. Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger’s press conference comments reported by the Guardian’s Paul Doyle show just a hint of arrogance about the English league.
“It may be due to how very hard the English league is. The teams expend too much energy in matches and there is no protection in terms of preparing for matches and they pay for that in European competition against teams who are better protected in their domestic leagues and can prepare with less demands in their matches. For us, there is no difference physically between a European match and a domestic one.”
Manuel Pellegrini followed suit in his own press conference with similar commentary about the leagues difficulty while also adding a somewhat valid point about the Premier League’s participation in games during Christmas.
But we’re not here to do an all Premier League inquest.
The UEFA rankings show Spain first in both the overall and this season’s rankings and it’s not hard to see why. Two of their three Europa League knockout teams have progressed and, at the very least, they are on track for the same result in the Champions League.
Germany, third in both rankings currently, has one remaining Europa League participant from a possible two and are uncertain of how their three Champions League teams will fare. Italy, fourth overall and second in the seasonal rankings, has seen the progression of all five of its Europa League sides and has a good chance in the Champions League with Juventus. France, sixth overall and fifth in the seasonal rankings, has no one left in the Europa League and may have the same occur in the Champions League.
So what does all this mean?
The first thing, again, that comes to mind concerns the Premier League. These clubs are generally considered overrated despite all the money in their coffers, and this season is proving that theory again. There still isn’t a consensus as to why it’s happening whether it’s tactical, a difference in attitude or approach, or simply a matter of skill but it’s happening all the same. What’s even more surprising is the success of the Serie A.
Italy may well see a boost in their coefficient at the beginning of next season should the positive results continue. The Serie was once considered the dominant league in Europe but various issues of mismanagement and corruption has seen a dramatic fall in the perception of the league. Still, only Italy has the honor of having all of their clubs progressing, and all six still in the knockout stages. So, maybe the Serie A isn’t dead after all.
And what about other leagues or, rather, countries? Portugal was ranked fifth, ahead of France, in the overall rankings and are now eighth in the seasonal ranking with only Porto, in the Champions League, representing the Iberian nation. The Champions League still also has representatives from Switzerland and Ukraine in the form of Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk. The Europa League still has representatives from the Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine(again), Turkey and Belgium.
All of those nations are in the top 15 of the overall coefficient rankings so UEFA isn’t too far off the mark there either.
What it does show is that these top leagues are still the leading lights but not, as they once were, all-powerful. That is to say that “smaller” teams are still finding a way to compete despite the growing disparity in income between them and the European elite. Some, like Ajax, and Shakhtar Donetsk have formulated different ways of doing this while others, like Torino, pop up and surprise pretty much everyone.
A look at the Europa League Round of 16 ties and the possibilities in the second leg of the Champions League present some interesting thoughts. It is very likely that there won’t be any Premier League clubs when the Round of 16 concludes for both tournaments. *Everton, the leagues only remaining Europa League representative, face a tough tie in a Dynamo Kiev side boasting a good mixture of experienced players like Miguel Veloso and talents like Andriy Yarmolenko. All of the other “big five” leagues will have, at the very least, one participant in either competition along with possible representatives from Portugal, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Belgium, Switzerland or the Netherlands.
This isn’t particularly enlightening news.
Clubs in the top five leagues have had varying success in the competitions in recent years. Spain and Germany have arguably been the most consistent in getting clubs into the latter stages of the competitions while Italy have had decent success in the Europa League since the 2011/12 season. English clubs have been particularly poor in the latter stages of these competitions, especially in the Europa League, while France has lagged behind all. And, of course, there are always others.
None of this is meant to assert that the top five leagues are worse than rankings or perception suggest. It does go to show, though, that it isn’t all about reputation, or money, in football.
Pretty much spot on here.
All the clubs who are out, or on their way out, of their European ties made some baffling decisions. As the author stated, Tottenham has a valid excuse given the Capital One Cup final tomorrow but even if Liverpool’s game with Manchester City is huge, they really shouldn’t have allowed a one goal lead to slip like they did.
Everton has a tough tie in the Europa League so there’s a strong possibility that there will be only one English team in a European quarterfinal. That’s if Chelsea progress past Paris Saint-Germain.
I’m actually pretty intrigued by that idea. Turning the Europa League back into the old UEFA Cup.
I guess, as the author states, the added incentive of entry into the Champions League next season will make this seasons knockout rounds even more interesting.(Now I know why Tottenham and Everton are so underwhelming in the Premier League. Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martinez have their eyes set on the Champions League through winning the Europa League. Hmmm.)
I think the FA Cup style would be great for the Europa League. I know I’d probably watch it more during the entire season than just during what is considered the knockout stages now.