Chelsea remain in contention to progress in the Champions League by the skin of their teeth, but last night’s 3-1 defeat to Napoli leaves English football staring down the barrel of not having a single representative in the quarter-finals.
With Arsenal needing to climb a mountain against AC Milan, and Manchester United and Manchester City both going out at the group stage, is this the end of a period of Champions League dominance for the Premier League giants?
While the trophy has been shared around a bit between Spain, Italy and England, the competition as a whole definitely belonged to English sides for the latter half of the noughties.
Since 2005 the Premier League has had two Champions League winners – Liverpool and Manchester United – but, perhaps more impressively, seven finalists. That’s half of all the finalists in that period hailing from the Prem.
When you look at the history books, these spells of dominance tend to happen in cycles. The turn of the century was undoubtedly a purple patch for La Liga, while Serie A ruled in the early 1990s. It’s probably no coincidence that these domestic leagues were also the most trendy viewing for global TV audiences during those periods.
Richard Scudamore and co. could be forgiven for getting a bit twitchy that a downturn in the prospects of the Premier League’s European qualifiers might impact on the league as a whole. Remember, Sunday’s used to mean Football Italia in the early 1990s but Serie A could barely get a UK TV deal once it drifted out of fashion.
So, is this a turning of the tide or just a blip for English teams in the Champions League? It’s difficult to say without a crystal ball, but it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if this was the end of the road.
Manchester United are not usually more than two or three signings away from building another great team. But with question marks over their keeper, a major rebuilding of their defence on the horizon, a lack of quality in midfield and the prospect of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson in the not-too-distant future, they are set for a period of major upheaval.
Chelsea are in line for similar upheaval. Over-reliant on their ageing stars, unable to blood youngsters successfully and with managerial change usually looming, the Blues too will have to regroup of the coming years. They’re not even certain of qualifying for the Champions League.
Arsenal… where do you start? Large numbers of their support are no longer sure that Arsene Wenger can challenge for the title, let alone win the Champions League. He’s still never fully rebuilt since the Invincibles disbanded and, for all the faith he puts in his current crop, it’s hard to see them worrying Europe’s elite.
Tottenham too could be looking for a new manager very soon. They’re relatively unproven in the Champions League, despite their good run last season. If they keep their team together and find a good replacement for ‘Arry they could be in a position to push on, but there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Liverpool would need a lot of stars to align to even make it into next year’s Champions League and Kenny Dalglish’s side are very much a work in progress. They certainly don’t look ready to mount a serious campaign in Europe.
Manchester City are the only team whose star – or Blue Moon as they like to put it – is currently rising. Like Tottenham, they don’t have the Champions League pedigree and it would be a big ask for them to dominate it from their current starting position.
We’ll still see English teams doing well in and perhaps even winning the Champions League over the next five or six seasons, but it’s difficult to see our clubs maintaining their stranglehold on the competition during that time.