Premier League ushers in the start of a European era
A scientist would say there is not enough evidence to confirm a trend change, would point to four finalists from the same league not signalling the start of a new cycle when one finished second in their group (Tottenham), two have as many shortcomings as strengths (Chelsea and Arsenal) and the fourth (Liverpool)… Okay, perhaps they are already acquainted with the elite after three European finals in four years. The same scientist would pinpoint the era-defining 22 trophies Spanish sides have won out of a possible 30, or that, similar to this season, it was ten years ago now that four English teams reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League - you could have said then that their time was coming.
In fact, the reading of this whole situation could easily be flipped around. Tottenham navigated their way out of a group that included Inter and Barcelona, swatted aside an in-form Borussia Dortmund, beat a record-breaking Manchester City and pipped a vibrant Ajax side. Arsenal put seven past Valencia and Chelsea remain unbeaten in the Europa League. And we all witnessed Liverpool whizz and roar past Barcelona.
Premier League more demanding than rivals
To some degree, speed is the word here. The pace of the Premier League is faster than the other leagues and decisions occur at full throttle when those making them are high-calibre players (the greater financial clout evidenced by six of the ten wealthiest sides hailing from the Premier League) who are used to cleaning up mistakes and moving around the pitch in a well-informed, purposeful way (better coaches supported in long-term projects) and who are under pressure to give everything in every game because their domestic rivals do not let up (more than simply competitive, the Premier League is the most demanding). When they step under the floodlights of the European stage you get the feeling they are taller, stronger and faster.
Guardiola feels this has been the most difficult league campaign of his career, while Maurizio Sarri is convinced the Premier League is the “best championship in Europe”. On top of that, the four finalists do not include a City side smashing records and, of course, the richest of the lot. The four finalists’ goalkeepers are from other countries, so are the coaches, and their squads are an indication of the problem facing Gareth Southgate – only 30% of Premier League players are English. But, in footballing terms, now they have opened out to the world progress starts to become palpable, so much so that, despite insufficient evidence, everything points to the start of a new era.