Last season, Real Madrid became the first team to retain the Champions League since its rebranding, which speaks volumes as to how difficult it is to win the tournament. The Spanish champions have dominated the competition in the past few years in a way rarely enjoyed by other teams; since 2013, only their compatriots Barcelona have been champions in their place. It is extremely unlikely, however, that an English side will be able to repeat this level of performance in the near future.
English clubs are not built for the Champions League
At first glance, Premier League teams have not necessarily been unsuccessful in the Champions League. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all lifted the prestigious trophy in the last century, with Arsenal also appearing in the final in 2006. Since the turn of the decade, however, English clubs have struggled to make their mark on the competition.
Since 2010, Manchester United and Chelsea have made one final each, whilst Manchester City made a solitary semi-final appearance in 2016. If the Premier League is supposedly the best league in the world, why do the nation’s elite struggle against the best from the continent?
The Premier League is the only elite European league which does not have a winter break. The standard Christmas break in most leagues will vary from about 15 to 20 days, whilst the Bundesliga provides its teams with 30 days off each season. This break was put into place to allow foreign players the opportunity to return home and spend the Christmas period with their families, as well as to give everyone time to prepare for the business end of the season.
While the rest of Europe is at ease, English clubs are doing quite the opposite. The holiday period, while terrific for fans, is the most grueling time of year in England. Leicester City were last year’s reigning Premier League champions, as well as England’s final hope in the Champions League. From December 17th to January 2nd, they had to play four league matches and undergo rigorous training throughout Christmas. Already the underdogs in Europe, were fatigued by March and could not play their trademark high-energy football, falling out of Europe in the quarter-final.
As far as title races go, Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga provide few suprises. Bayern Munich have been named champions five years running, while Juventus have just lifted their sixth straight Scudetto. In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have won the league all but three times since the turn of the millennium. In England, on the other hand, there have been at least three or four and as many as five or six teams challenging for the league without fail in the last decade,
The Premier League also shows little drop off after the top teams. Southampton, who finished last season in eighth, accumulated 46 points last season – just six ahead of 17th placed Watford. In comparison, the same positions in La Liga were 21 points apart. The Serie A provided the largest gap, with 8th and 17th being separated by an astounding 26 points.
The high level of competition in the Premier League ultimately forces teams to field their best possible line-up every week. Despite most of the top six having incredible squad depth, they are unable to give their top stars much rest over the league season, and this causes results to suffer in Europe. In other countries, on the other hand, teams in European competitions are given more time to rest between fixtures by their Football Associations so that they can perform to the best of their ability on the continent.
A National Problem
English clubs are not built for the Champions League because of the way football in the country is structured. Regardless of the players and money at their disposal, they cannot reasonably be expected to compete with the “super clubs” of other nations when they are at such a disadvantage in terms of keeping their players fresh.