English teams have dominated in Europe in previous seasons.
Although Middlesbrough’s solitary UEFA Cup final spot provided little of note in the lesser of the two European stages, the Champions League is now firmly under the control of English based outfits.
It hasn’t always been like this. In the first five years of the new millennium not a single appearance was made by an English team. Spain led the way with four final appearances, Germany and Italy had two a piece and Portugal and France made up the final two spots.
Yet in the final five years of the noughties, English teams filled six of the possible ten positions with Spain and Italy only managing two a piece.
So it is hopeful for the English neutral, or for anyone invested in home grown glory that further appearances will be achieved this year.
Evidently possible as well is the chance for two completely English finals that could be a consequence if the four remaining English teams in European competition can edge through.
Final appearances are now available for Fulham and Liverpool in the Europa League, with Manchester United and Arsenal hopeful for similar feats in the Champions League.
The biggest match of them all that would be likely to determine if at least one final could be an English affair will be Arsenal’s quarter final challenge against favourites Barcelona.
It is not an unwinnable match, yet Barcelona will look to brush aside Arsenal with a greater ease than they did in their 2006 final against the Gunners. Arsenal will however be seeking revenge for their previous encounter and will not go down lightly.
Victory against the Spanish giants could spearhead a greater challenge if they were to come out the other end triumphant. After all if you beat the tournament favourites then surely you would be able to handle a clash against the likes of Inter Milan or CSKA Moscow in the semis.
Manchester United have found themselves in exactly the opposite position. They go in as overall second favourites for the trophy against a team still licking their wounds from the late defeat against the Red Devils in 1999.
It was a heartbreaking result that year, which saw Bayern lose glory with two goals from United that came in the last five minutes. They did win the tournament two seasons later, yet the prospect of destroying Manchester United’s chances this season will be a mouth watering one indeed.
In the Europa League the odds are less appealing but not a lost cause. The remaining eight teams look closer in ability than those left in the Champions League. This is reflected in the current odds that have Liverpool as favourites at a cautious 7-1, with Standard Liege, the perceived least able team at only 16-1.
After their defeat of Juventus it does seem somewhat odd that Fulham are only seventh favourites. You do have to wonder though if they would have progressed without the sending off of one opposing player, which was accompanied with the helping hand and resultant penalty that levelled the aggregate score before the win was sealed.
Yet by boasting one of the strongest defensive records in England and Europe, Fulham will hope to gift themselves a greater chance of progression.
Their passionate display of goal scoring ability at home to Juventus though will stand them in good stead against German outfit Wolfsburg. This is a winnable match that could afford them a semi final appearance against Liege or second favourites Hamburg.
Fulham can also benefit from the fact that their half of the draw looks a great deal easier than Liverpool’s half. They have less to lose after their famous win in the last round.
Liverpool actually appear the more vulnerable of the two teams , as their inconsistency throughout this season means that you do not expect them to just ease through to the final.
The obstacle of reaching the final may be too much to overcome.
If they can subvert and reverse their previous misfortunes against Benfica then Benitez may be facing his former team in Valencia. Victory would put them through against an arguably easier match in the final.
If Liverpool and Fulham can both achieve beautiful triumphs in the quarters and semis then they will further back up the claim to England’s stranglehold on the European scene.
Liverpool are still considered as one of the big four, so it would have been nicer to see a team such as Tottenham, Villa or Man City be in their position.
A Liverpool vs Fulham final would allow though a continuation of the dominance portrayed by Premier League teams.
With the gap closing on Liverpool’s fourth spot this can only get better if other teams could increase their credibility in the Europa League.
This is something that is currently lacking with English teams, and something that allows countries such as Spain, Germany and Italy an opportunity to at least control one aspect of the European game.
Such an occurrence can and does undermine the proclamations that the Premier League is the best league in the world, as only four teams are currently accomplished against international opposition.
One half of an all English season in Europe could be fulfilled if Arsenal and Manchester United force themselves into May’s final. Such an event would echo United’s tie against Chelsea in the final of 2008. Yet they would both need to overthrow teams intent on their exit.
The other half of the all England season is in the hands of two teams that will need to overcome individual team concerns. Liverpool’s lack of form and Fulham’s inexperience in European competition may hinder both teams. Yet with comfortable second leg wins in the last week they should be on a charge and subsequently on a run to the final in May.
The Betting Odds:
Champions League (Bet 365)
Man Utd: 3-1
Inter Milan: 7-2
Bayern Munich: 12-1
CSKA Moscow: 40-1
Atletico Madrid: 8-1
Standard Liege: 16-1