Liverpool and Manchester City have reached quarter-finals this year, but overall English clubs continue to disappoint in Europe despite riches and vast squads
Champions League wins for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla underscore Spanish football's dominance in Europe
As Camp Nou emptied on Wednesday evening, three former England internationals Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard purred over the magnificence of Lionel Messi from their glass commentary box high on the third tier.
Messi’s brilliance is as predictable as that of Spanish teams in European competition.
Sevilla’s victory over Manchester United on Tuesday followed by Barcelona’s 3-0 triumph over Chelsea 24 hours later underlined the continued dominance not only of Europe’s seventh most populous country not over English sides, but of Spanish teams on the continent.
In December, Lineker suggested that the tide was turning after five English sides reached the Uefa Champions League last-16 stage compared to three Spanish sides, but all three Spanish teams won and three of the five English teams did not.
For the sixth year in a row, three Spanish clubs are at the quarter-final stage and the front pages of Spain’s sports newspapers reflected their delight: ‘Gulf between La Liga and The Premier’ stated AS. Marca went for ‘Eurotunnel’, which would have made little sense has it not been accompanied by a photo of Lionel Messi putting the ball through the legs of Thibaut Courtois.
The run continues. Spanish clubs have won the last four European Cups, having surpassed the English and Italian sides for providing the most winners overall.
No wonder Andres Iniesta stated that he wants to avoid the Spanish sides in Friday’s quarter-final draw.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have both won the Champions League four times so far this century. Only two other clubs, Bayern Munich and AC Milan, has won it more than once with two wins each.
Barca are going for a fifth Champions League in 12 years, while Madrid, who hold a record 12 European Cups, are aiming for a third straight title having become the first club in the Champions League era to retain the big cup last season.
In the Europa League, Sevilla’s magnificent three straight wins (and five since 2006) was only broken when they entered the Champions League in 2016. Counting the European Super Cup, Spanish clubs have won 19 of the 27 European trophies since 2009 – far more than all of the rest of the countries combined.
They are not only winners.
Eighteen Spanish sides have featured in the Champions League quarter-finals since 2012/13. Germany is next with 10, England and France have six, Italy five – showing the decline of Serie A teams in European competition and the underperformance of the English.
Spanish sides are superb when the pressure is on against English clubs, too, winning 21 of the last 25 knockout games against them. Similar levels of ascendancy are found against other countries.
Save for the odd hiccup against Chelsea, Barcelona consistently beat English teams and reached 11 consecutive quarter-finals, more than any club in history. Bayern Munich also reached a seventh consecutive quarter-final, the same teams reaching the same stage of the competition season after season.
The sneering that the Primera Liga is a two-team league usually quietens when a team not Barcelona or Madrid eliminate an English side. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao have both knocked Manchester United out of Europe this decade, clubs working on budgets less than a quarter of their illustrious opponents who have won only one of their last six home games against Spanish sides in European competition, losing three.
Despite their riches and vast squads, English clubs continue to disappoint in Europe. Liverpool and Manchester City have reached the quarter-finals this year, one more English team than in each of the two previous seasons. No English teams reached the last eight in 2015.
The days of United and Chelsea being the best two teams in Europe – as they were in 2008 when they became the first two English clubs to contest the final – seem long gone.