Firm followers of UEFA competitions and most especially the Champions League, can attest to the reality that there have been EPL sides in the semi-final of the champions league for the previous six seasons i.e. 2003-2009.
In the past six seasons, EPL sides regular in the champions league (Liverpool FC, Manchester United FC, Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC) have all some way featured in the semi-final of the champions league in the past six seasons, which made English and even foreigners marvel at their absence this season, in the semi-final of Europe’s elite club competition.
In 2005, Liverpool (the all red) and Chelsea (the true blues) locked horns in an entertaining semi-final with both sides led by managers who have managed his team for barely two seasons, Liverpool went on to win the encounter, after a closely contested semi-final match. Liverpool eventually emerged triumphant in that year’s Champions league, after defeating Ac-Milan in an epic final which saw one of the greatest comebacks in football history, 3-0 to 3-3 and then victory.
The proceeding year, Arsenal featured in both the Semi-final and final of the Champions league, to mark a turn-around in their footballing history, but were not so lucky to win the trophy after only qualifying for their first final match in the champions league. They battled with Barcelona in that year’s final, i.e. 2006 final, but got beaten by 2 goals to 1, with Jens Lehmann sent off in that match.
In 2007, Liverpool and Chelsea once again were drawn to do battle in the semi-final of the 2006/2007 season. With the first leg drawn to be played at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had the opportunity of progressing, and they took full advantage of the home factor by defeating Liverpool by a lone goal after a highly contested fixture. At Anfield, Liverpool played with caution while also surging forward in search for the goal that will put them on level terms with Chelsea, luckily for Liverpool the goal came. A low cross from Steven “general” Gerard found an unmarked Daniel Agger, who sliced the ball through the bodies of Chelsea players and bang into the net early in the first half. Liverpool preserved the one goal lead even after 90 minutes until the extra time was over, then it was time for the ultimate decider; penalty kicks, Pepe Reina was the hero of the day as he saved the deciding spot kick to send Liverpool into the final for the second time in three seasons and a replay of 2005 final with AC-Milan, that dispatched Manchester United in the other semi-final clash by 5 goals to 3 on aggregate.
The final was a highly anticipated one, as two of Europe’s power houses in club football go head-to-head to decide the winner of the 2007 Champions League, eventually two Pippo Inzaghi goals, which made him the highest goal scorer in the Champions league, won Ac Milan the trophy for the seventh time in their footballing history.
The following year saw the best from English teams in the Champions League. All four English representatives made it to the quarter final, with three (Liverpool, after ousting Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United) out of the four progressing onto the semi-final, Liverpool were eventually dumped by fellow English team Chelsea. The progression of Chelsea into the final in 2008 was the first time they were playing in the Champions League’s final; they battled with Manchester United for the coveted trophy, matched United strength for strength, skill for skill, technique for technique, but were just unlucky to miss out in the spot kicks, as United went on to win their third and Sir Alex Ferguson’s second UEFA Champions League trophy, which also aided Cristiano Ronaldo in winning the world player of the year award.
The year 2009, saw a different football style displayed by a team. 2009 Champions League was won by Barcelona of Spain, after showing the footballing world how the game should be played; neat defending, accurate passing, and clinical finishing: characterized the play of Barcelona en-route to winning the trophy for the third time in their history, after triumphs in 1992 and 2006.
2010 came with a lot of promise for the English sides, after bright starts from all the sides in their respective groups; Liverpool won its first game against Debrecen at Anfield, by a lone goal scored by Dirk Kuyt, which made him the club’s third highest goal scorer in Europe with 12 goal to his name. Chelsea also won its first game against FC Porto by a lone goal scored Nicolas Anelka, in a dull encounter due to the water soaked pitch.
Manchester United didn’t do badly in its first game; same was the case for Arsenal, all the English representatives representing well to the delight of English stalwarts. Things started becoming shaky as the competition progressed further to its crucial stage. Liverpool were ousted very early in the competition, as they were ousted in the group phase, even before the last group game. The victory of Fiorentina over Olympique Lyonnais in the game before the last, meant Liverpool were forced to the Europa league were they have solace recently, making an impressive run to the semi-final, having not scored lower than three goals on aggregate in the previous rounds, i.e. round of 32, round of 16 and quarter final, which has earned them a clash with Athletico Madrid away in Spain.
Chelsea were next up for elimination, after a partly successful run in the group onto the round of 16. Chelsea had great scares during a few of their group phase games, Athletico Madrid away in Spain was one those, where they had to settle for a 2 all draw after going through Didier Drogba, only to see a Sergio Diego Aguero brace give Athletico the lead, but Drogba proved to be very clinical in finishing when he slotted his second past Athletico’s goal. The most surprising of Chelsea’s group phase result came on the last day of the group. Apoel Nicosia making only its debut in the Champions League held all conquering Chelsea, with a full first team squad, to a 2 all draw at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal had the most impressive group phase performance where they picked up 16 of the 18 available points in a group which consisted of Olympiakos, Standard Liege, and Az Alkmaar, which are low pedigree teams with frequent Champions League due to inability to make it through the preliminary.
Manchester United, I would say, had an indifferent group campaign. Had a great start, but flattered during the crucial mid games, needed the last game to confirm qualification but put threw any doubts into the thrash after a Michael Owen hat-trick cancelled out Edin Dzeko’s opening goal, for VFL Wolfsburg at Old Trafford.
With the progression of three tops teams from England into the round of 16, hopes and expectation were extremely high. The English teams, however, didn’t get the perfect draws, Chelsea were billed to face Inter-Milan, tutored by Jose Mourinho, Manchester United drawn to do battle with 7 times European champions, Ac-Milan, and Arsenal getting a re-match of the 2009 group game against Porto Fc, 2004 winners.
The first legs saw the English teams face real test of strength, skill and technique.
Manchester United were tested for all the mentioned above against Ac-Milan, first in Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro and then in Old Trafford, but then they emerged victorious on both legs, winning 7-2 on aggregate, with Wayne Rooney scoring four of the seven goals, i.e. 2 goals in each leg.
Arsenal had a similar situation, against Fc Porto, the Portuguese representatives giving them a good run for their money, most especially in Portugal, where the first leg was hosted, which Fc Porto won by 2 goals to 1, in a match which Porto’s second goal by Falcao, was a bit controversial, appearing to be an offside goal.
At Emirates stadium, Arsenal showed no mercy, firing 2 goals past Helton in goal for Porto in quick succession, and at half time, it was Arsenal 2 Porto 1. Porto started brightly in the second half of the game, attacking Arsenal from all angles of the pitch. As the game grew, Arsenal became for more confident, and began playing like the Arsenal we are use to watching in league games. Samri Nasri threw the Emirates into ecstasy, when he dribbled past three Porto defenders and slotted past helpless Helton, who tried to rush out to prevent the goal, but all to no avail. Super sub, Emmanuel Eboue, came on minutes later and sealed the victory, with a clean finish, after he outran the Porto defenders and was set up by Andre Arshavin, with only the keeper to beat, he rounded him neatly before netting Arsenal’s four to cap a fine performance from truly smoking gunners. Nicklas Bendtner, who had earlier netted 2 superb strikes, added a third to mark his first hat trick in his Arsenal career.
It wasn’t a bed of roses for Chelsea neither, as they had to suffer defeats in the hands of Inter-Milan on both legs, which put paid to their Champions League campaign. At the magnificent Giuseppe Meazza, Inter tested Chelsea for wits, work rate and technique, as both teams played out their lives to progress in the competition. Chelsea partly outplayed, but all the “ball possession” could not fetch them the win which they set out to achieve. The ball possession favoured Chelsea in the first leg match, but these were not translated into goals neither were they translated in the goal attempt, shot-on-goal, and so on. Of all the teams which started European campaign in September, Liverpool can be deduced to be the most disappointing of all, due to the fact that it was knocked out in the group phase.
Presently, there are only two English teams in European competition, Liverpool FC and Fulham FC and they both have interesting fixtures in the semi-final, having to face Athletico Madrid and Hamburg, respectively.
There is the possibility of an all English Europa league final, a feat which has not been achieved for over 6 seasons.
The absence of premier league teams In the semi-final of the champions league, in my own estimation, does not connote the fall of the premier league, rather the sole reason is the reality that we have come to face, which is the fact that teams form other countries have sat down and reviewed the methods of English teams, which they have applied, and it has worked magically and very effectively too.
English teams were neither totally outclassed, outpowered nor outplayed, but rather the element of luck was against them, and also the English teams have had a good run in the past, so let other teams enjoy same, so people won’t say the Champions league is an English competition. The English teams will rise up to take what’s rightfully theirs, which is the prestige it has earned over the years, a prestige which in my estimation, is in jeopardy considering the inability of making it to the semi-final of Europe’s elite club competition.
Upon this I settle, the absence of English teams in the semi-final of the champions league is by no means equal to the fall of the premier league, and besides which other league is so unpredictable as the premier league? A league where any team can beat any team, home or away; name the league.