The English European Resurgence

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Image: SpursWeb

You could see it coming. Five teams managed by most of the sport’s best skippers—banking on yet another lucrative TV deal—fighting each other for domestic dominance—sooner or later, it had to start paying off in the biggest club competition of all.

Well, it happened sooner and truth be known Spurs may be the most important reason. As of this writing, four Premiership sides have the inside track for advancement to the knockout stage of the Champions League, and the fifth—Liverpool—are but a successful home and home result v Maribor to join them. Now to be sure there are major hurdles to overcome next in the double header phase of Group Stage: Chelsea must face Roma, City play Napoli, and Spurs have the unenviable assignment of facing the two-time defending champions. But all three seem capable of avoiding a major toe-stubbing and heading into Match Days 5 and 6 in good shape.

By contrast, other than the two Spanish giants and newly-minted PSG (though the Galacticos are struggling a bit in La Liga), the other recent European powers seem to have lost a step. Juve and Bayern are far from optimal, Atletico and Dortmund lost important games to Spurs and Chelsea, and Monaco simply lost too much talent to continue their winning ways. Some of it is the cyclical nature of the sport, no doubt, but a big chunk comes back to leadership. All of the other European leagues combined cannot produce five managers as capable as Pep, Jose, Conte, Klopp and Pochettino—all but our gaffer have won in multiple venues, and one certainly would expect Poch to join them soon. Three of the five have budgets unmatched by all European sides other than Madrid, Barca and PSG; Liverpool and Spurs trail only Bayern of the rest.

The talent on the pitch deserves substantial credit as well. Aside from the Dynamic Duo plus Neymar, the combination of Degea/Courtois/Lloris/Ederson in goal, central defenders as capable as Alderweireld, Otamendi and Kompany, wingers like Walker, Alonso, Rose and Valencia, and the potent attacking combinations featuring Mane, Salah and Coutinho; Kane, Eriksen and Dele; Lukaku, Rashford and Mikhitaryan; Morata, Hazard and Pedro; and either Aguero or Jesus with Silva and DeBruyne are the envy of most every team on the continent. These teams are legit. Any of them save Liverpool—and that is simply because Klopp hasn’t yet figured out how to properly defend with his squad—could reach the semi-finals this year. Two or three of them could win the title. 

And Spurs are no doubt the biggest reason. English teams haven’t sniffed a final since Chelsea’s improbable victory in 2012 while finishing 6th in the Premier League. Prior to that year, Man City hadn’t won a league title and didn’t ever go deep in Europe (they have done the former since, but not the latter). Liverpool were sliding into relative irrelevance after their improbable UCL win in Istanbul in 2005. The English banner was basically lifted by two teams—Manchester United and Chelsea, as Arsenal had already begun its long winter of discontent and disappointment, foreign and domestic.

The difference now is that Man City under Guardiola finally appear ready to match their homegrown success with a deep run on the continent. And Spurs seem ready to crack through their glass ceiling and perhaps do the same. Two contenders which became none for five years have suddenly morphed into four. It is entirely possible that Spurs will gain no points v Real Madrid—but I for one would be shocked if they are not very competitive in one if not both of the games. Their advancement may come down to needing a draw or a close defeat with at least one away goal at Dortmund. But would any of us be shocked if they stole a point or even three vs the holders?

Whatever the outcome in group or knockout stage, it feels as if Spurs—along with their three principal English rivals—are here to stay at this supreme level. Or at least through next year’s new stadium opening season and, after that, the futures of Poch and stars such as Kane and Dele are in the hands of the gods. Let’s enjoy this newfound glory while it lasts. We’ve become one of the Big Boys, and it feels good.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.

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