Spain’s two major clubs dominated European football for the better part of a decade. Indeed, Barcelona and Real Madrid won the Champions League six times between 2011 and 2018, with European football’s most prestigious club award being shared exclusively between the two rivals for five consecutive seasons.
Now, however, there is a new order at the top of the European game. Spain’s big two are both in the midst of a generational change and this has opened the door for the creation of an all-English ‘Big Three’. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are the ones setting the precedent.
It is not only at the top of the Premier League that this trio is dominant. Liverpool have won all five games they have played in the Champions League so far this season, with Chelsea’s only defeat to Juventus and City’s only defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.
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In fact, England’s top three teams have won all nine home games they played in the Champions League in the 2021/22 season. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City have all qualified for the last 16 of the competition with at least one group stage match to go and are expected to see the final rounds.
Bayern Munich could argue with some justification that their inclusion in European football’s elite group should yield a ‘Big Four’, with Julian Nagelsmann’s side having a 100% Champions League record this season. The Bavarians have scored 19 goals in just five games with Robert Lewandowski arguably the best player in the world right now.
However, Bayern Munich’s domestic form has exposed some vulnerabilities. They have suffered surprising defeats this season against Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, while the Bavarians do not have the resources to spend in the transfer market like their Premier League rivals can.
Paris Saint-Germain has those resources, but Mauricio Pochettino struggles to make the most of his insanely talented roster. The French giants cannot be ruled out due to the individual brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, but they lack a unified approach. Pochettino’s methods are not working.
There are no such problems with the ‘Big Three’. Liverpool revolve around Jurgen Klopp after six years under his leadership, while City are a reflection of Pep Guardiola. They play as he sees the game with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, an equally well-coached side who have quickly absorbed the German’s ideas since his appointment in January.
This is perhaps the biggest differentiator between the ‘Big Three’ and the rest of the chasing pack – they have the best managers. Guardiola and Klopp are arguably the best coaches of their generation, while Tuchel is currently working at their level. It’s not just about building the strongest squad, it’s about finding the best manager to lead them.
Of course, the financial advantage of the Premier League’s biggest clubs cannot be ignored. English football has become a product exported around the world with newly negotiated broadcast deals in Australia and the United States worth billions to widen the gap between the country’s richest and the rest.
Two of the last three Champions League finals have been all-English matches and it would come as no surprise if another all-English match could be seen in St Petersburg next May. There is a reason why so many in European football still believe that a Super League break is their only hope of achieving equality at the top of the sport.
It’s not just that the ‘Big Three’ have the most money, it’s that they use it wisely – see how Manchester United are nowhere near their level. European football works in cycles, but Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City set a standard that could take others years to achieve.
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You can watch a free livestream of the Ballon d’Or 2021 ceremony Monday night at eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app. Join us from 19:30-21:00 GMT as the best male and female players in the world are crowned in Paris (stream only available to users in the UK)
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