Liverpool and Manchester City, despite their respective malaise in the Premier League, carry the torch for English football in Europe.
As things stand, the Reds and the Citizens are in good positions in their respective ties against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain. The French and German squads are the favorites but will be disappointed after the first leg. Both sides gave up crucial away goals at home, with PSG in a particularly worrisome position having let in two goals. If neither side is able to turn things around then the Premier League will have semifinalists in both the Europa League and the Champions League.
Despite the strong position of both clubs, questions could be raised over whether this resurgence is a sign that English football is on the rise again, or that Premier League clubs will continue to struggle on the continent again next campaign.
The Premier League’s European performances in previous seasons means Liverpool’s and City’s European runs are somewhat surprising.
The fact that it’s these teams in particular makes it even more of a shock. Liverpool and City are enduring poor domestic campaigns, with the Reds unlikely to get a Champions League spot and City, expected to fight for the title when the season began, fighting to stay in the Champions League positions.
One could say that both clubs are in transition, though Manchester City’s is certainly self-inflicted. Liverpool benefited from a managerial change midway through the season actually and it’s unlikely they would be here without Jurgen Klopp. City announced the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola and that has left his predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, trying to keep the ship afloat until the summer. Still, both teams are on the verge of making it to European semifinals.
Liverpool made their way to this stage by topping their group undefeated, two wins and four draws did little to excite, before narrowly edging German side Augsburg in the round of 32. Their Round of 16 game tie against Manchester United suggested they may yet make a mark on the tournament. Tournament favorites, Borussia Dortmund, would have been forgiven for being a bit nonchalant upon facing their second English side after brushing aside Tottenham. Even with Klopp, their former manager, in charge Dortmund would expect to progress.
Manchester City continue to wobble domestically but finally found some luck in Europe this season. The Citizens topped their group that included Juventus and got one of the easier Round of 16 draws in Dynamo Kyiv. A tie against fellow nouveau riche side, PSG, was not ideal given the French Champions defeat of Chelsea in the previous round. Two goals in Paris means City just need some level of defensive fortitude to progress. Good luck with that.
Should they both progress, the bonus for the Premier League is that there will be more distance between themselves and the Serie A in UEFA’s coefficient rankings. The Premier League’s hallowed fourth spot in the competition was already safe as these sides have gone further than any Italian team. A trip to the semifinals would make it a very good year for the Premier League. It may just be the beginning. Or not.
The Premier League’s presence in Europe next season will be different.
Current league leaders, Leicester City, will almost certainly join the Champions League party with Tottenham likely to join them. Arsenal look set to continue their under-performance on Europe’s grandest stage as well but there’s no telling which Manchester club, or West Ham, will be fourth. Should Liverpool pull off a shocker and win the Europa League then they too will be in the Champions League. Manchester City won the Capital One Cup but if they get a Champions League spot then their place in the Europa League could go to any one of West Ham, Stoke City, Southampton, Liverpool or, quite incredibly, Chelsea depending on how those sides finish in the league. There’s also the small matter of the FA Cup winner entering the Europa League as well, with Crystal Palace, Everton and Watford joining either Manchester United or West Ham in the battle to entertain in Europe next season.
Such a wide array of options means the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Claudio Ranieri, Mauricio Pochettino, Slaven Bilic, Arsene Wenger, Alan Pardew, Roberto Martinez, Quique Sanchez Flores or, least likely, Antonio Conte could be leading out Premier League teams next season.
Ranieri, Pochettino and Wenger seem assured places but the remaining pool of candidates for either European competition is intriguing. One would think that the Premier League has a chance of replicating, or surpassing, this season’s current European performances.
Manchester City and Liverpool finish their European ties on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A trip to the semifinals for either Premier League side might be strange now but it could become a regular occurrence starting next season. One thing is for certain. The Premier League will continue to entertain in Europe.
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