Under the spotlight: How Premier League clubs secured European domination this season
Tottenham’s dramatic win over Ajax last night and Liverpool’s historic comeback against Barcelona has set up an all-English Champions League final this season.
It will be the first Premier League-only contested final in the competition since Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008.
The Europa League final could also be a heavyweight clash between two Premier League giants in Arsenal and Chelsea, depending on their second-leg results against Valencia and Frankfurt.
So how have English teams conquered Europe’s elite to dominate the continental competition this season?
Premier League behemoth
After a few seasons where the quality of the Premier League had been called into question, this has been a vintage campaign, with Manchester City and Liverpool setting a remarkable pace. The success of Chelsea and Arsenal in the Europa League demonstrates the overall strength of the top six and the Premier League can also boast the top managerial talent in the world. Tottenham's heroics will no doubt increase interest in Mauricio Pochettino, who did not make a single signing last summer.
Never give up
British influence in both teams may be limited but both sides and their managers embrace a characteristically British spirit of fighting to the death. Liverpool's players have credited Jurgen Klopp for his inspirational team talk ahead of the match, telling them they could achieve what seemed impossible, and they took the game to Barcelona in a manner few teams have attempted. Tottenham's position looked even more hopeless but they, too, did not panic and kept searching for a way back. That both teams were missing star players only seemed to add to their resolve.
Rain in Spain
Barcelona may have cantered to the LaLiga title but this has certainly not been a campaign to remember for the Spanish sides. Barca are an ageing team, while Madrid will hope the return of Zinedine Zidane as manager can bring some much-needed stability. The trophy has headed to Spain for the past five years, with Real Madrid twice beating city rivals Atletico in that period, but this time only one Spanish team reached the quarter-finals. This could also be only the second time in the past six seasons that the Europa League final does not feature a Spanish team.
Keeping clean sheets
What a contrast between the Champions League fortunes of Loris Karius last season and Alisson Becker this campaign. Virgil Van Dijk may have won most of the plaudits for Liverpool's defensive improvement but there is no question Alisson has been a huge factor in their passage through to the final. Keeping a clean sheet against Barcelona is no mean feat, particularly when one goal for the Catalans could have finished the tie, and Alisson made a number of crucial saves.
Ten percent luck
Both teams may have earned their luck but they certainly had it. Just making it out of the group stage was not straightforward, particularly for Spurs, who would have been heading for the Europa League had Inter Milan defeated PSV Eindhoven in their last game. Two borderline VAR decisions against Manchester City both went Tottenham's way and their hopes of a comeback against Ajax would have been over had Hakim Ziyech's shot gone inside the post instead of striking the woodwork prior to Lucas Moura's winner. Liverpool, meanwhile, would have bee left trying to overturn a 4-0 deficit had Ousmane Dembele not fluffed a glorious late chance in Barcelona.
Words: Jake Evans