Not so long ago English teams were scared of our European rivals. Too long watching on the sidelines post-Heysel left us unprepared for the more tactical game we found on our return. English teams were frequently naive and unprepared, and they trembled when faced with fancy sounding opposition, like when Aston Villa surrendered a 2-0 first leg lead to Inter Milan in the 1990 UEFA Cup, losing the second leg 3-0. The lean years to follow made it difficult to support the league’s (read: Sky’s) constant attempts to tell everyone that the Premiership was the strongest football league in Europe.
But then Manchester United won the big one, Liverpool followed a few years later and Arsenal were in the final last season. Today Premiership teams make up exactly one quarter of the European Cupâ€™s last 16, with all four teams through to the second round. Not too shabby. Spain could only manage three, as could Italy. We even have five if you count Celtic as basically a second rate English team (kidding! kidding!).
And the fear is gone. Liverpool overturned a bigger deficit against Milan in 2005 in one half than Villa threw away in a whole game in 1990. Chelsea have already faced Barcelona twice this year, getting results both times. Arsenal were anything but naive, playing five across midfield to get the draw they needed against Porto and win the group. Thatâ€™s what crafty Italian teams used to do while English clubs were charging around the pitch trying to thump the everyone 9-0 regardless of the tactical consequences.
Even better, all four teams topped their group so theyâ€™ll avoid each other in the next round. Theoretically, English teams could make up half of the quarter finalists. Add to that the success of Tottenham, Newcastle and Blackburn in the UEFA cup and 7 out of 8 Premiership European representatives have made it to the latter stages of their competition (no hard feelings, West Ham).
So maybe now, finally, we can claim that English teams are back where we liked to tell everyone we belonged. The best in Europe.