There’s nothing more exciting for a club and its fans than European competition. For the major clubs, it is a statement of a good campaign the previous year and a necessity for managers to achieve. For other clubs looking to get into the Europa League, it is even more exciting, getting to play teams they don’t usually face and obtaining the chance to compete for a historic trophy. However, is it possible to have a strong domestic campaign and still succeed in Europe, and vice versa?
Aside from general analysis and opinion as to who is going to win the UEFA Champions League, over the last few years the Premier League clubs who qualify for the competition have come under scrutiny as their performances have been underwhelming. This has often been cited to the fact that the Barclays Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe, especially now with the new TV rights deal that has allowed the so called smaller clubs to have more money and are attract higher calibre players. For example, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri at Stoke City would previously have been unheard of, and Dimitri Payet has torn up trees at West Ham United.
This does it make it more challenging for English clubs compared to the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain who generally have comparatively simpler league campaigns, but can you possibly conquer both your domestic competition and the European stage?
Pep Guardiola’s three year reign at FC Bayern Munich acts as a great case study. The former Barcelona player and manager took over from Jupp Heynckes in 2013 after the German giants defeated their rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley, courtesy of a dramatically late Arjen Robben goal.
Since then, there have been a few personnel changes, chiefly the capture of Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and Brazilian wide-man Douglas Costa, but largely the backbone of the team has remained the same. Since Pep took charge, the team have remained top dogs in the German Bundesliga scooping up the trophy all three years he has been at the helm.
However, the furthest Guardiola has managed to steer the Bavarian giants in the Champions League is the semi-finals, just this week being eliminated by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. It’s not as if Guardiola doesn’t have what it takes in Europe as he took Barcelona to Champions League glory in 2011, but for some reason, it just hasn’t happened at Bayern Munich. However, it is worth pointing out that in the 2012/13 season where Munich won the Champions Leauge, they also won the Bundesliga by 25 points.
Should we move further west in Europe to France, the picture looks slightly different. Paris Saint Germain are now the undisputed power houses of French football. After their financial takeover they have signed world class players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva and Angel Di Maria, which has led to them dominating the Ligue 1 the past four seasons.
Despite being in such a rich vein of form nigh on all the time, the Parisians have failed to make a big impact in Europe, having never made it past the quarter-finals. This season despite being favourites they lost out to Manchester City, and this was after they had already wrapped up their domestic title meaning the Champions League was their sole focus.
Potential reasons for PSG’s struggles in Europe are two-fold – they don’t have a great deal of experience in Europe and with all due respect to their Ligue 1 rivals, they are a class above which means they don’t face a big challenge week in week out. So is European progress and results really down to domestic performance, or just down to how great the team is and other external factors?
For European giants like Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain, it is more down to who they come up against and how well they play in the European, although it is something of a different story across the channel in England.
The last British team to win the UEFA Champions League was Chelsea back in 2012, with Manchester United in 2008 and Liverpool emphatically in 2005 being the only other two to do it this century. Compared to performances in the past, there has been a massive slump in results for the English teams in Europe, with the possible exception of this season with both Manchester City and Liverpool reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League and Europa League respectively.
Nevertheless, that has come on the back of relatively disappointing league campaigns. The Sky Blues are currently fourth in the Premier League, over ten points behind champions Leicester City and potentially only one point inside the Champions League qualification zone for next season. In seasons where they have performed much better domestically, they have either failed to make it out the group stages or past the round of 16 in the Champions League.
It is a similar story for Liverpool. The Reds have had a change of manager with Brendan Rodgers exiting and Jurgen Klopp entering this term which won’t help their league position, but their commitment to the UEFA Europa League is evident. Following their 1-0 defeat in the semi-final at Villarreal, Jurgen Klopp fielded a young team for their Premier League clash with Swansea in which the out of form side ultimately made Liverpool look like amateurs, cruising to a 3-1 victory.
Nevertheless, it paid off, as his side took a 3-0 victory at Anfield ensuring them of a place in the Europa League final in Switzerland.
It basically comes down to a choice for the clubs: do they want to succeed in the Premier League or set the European stage alight? Ideally, both are desirable, but especially for clubs such as Manchester City and Liverpool in 2015/16 and Chelsea in 2011/12 who endured disappointing league campaigns, European competition allows them to salvage something from their season.
So to answer the question: yes it is possible to succeed both domestically and in Europe, but in recent years only Bayern Munich in 2012/13, Barcelona in 2010/11 and Inter Milan in 2009/10 have managed to pull it off. Due to the strength of the Barclays Premier League, it is much harder for the top English clubs to go on and achieve the same.
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