Which league is the most competitive or strongest in Europe?
This is a debate that has been on the lips of football fans across the world for a long time, and while remaining a heated debate till the ‘end of days’.
European governing body, UEFA, uses statistics called UEFA Coefficients to rank countries or associations according to the collective performances of clubs in UEFA competition which includes UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, and it’s current ranking put Spanish association as number 1 as shown below.
The Spanish La Liga had consistently produced 3 teams in the quarterfinals of the Europe elite competition, UCL, for the past 6 seasons, a feat dated back to 2012-13 season, with Real Madrid and Barcelona even ever present for a longer period, Spanish association surely deserve their status as the number 1 ranked association. The last time another association rather than the Spanish La Liga produced 3 teams in the UCL quarterfinals was in 2010-11 season, when the English Premier League produced Chelsea FC, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs, a campaign where Manchester United went all the way to the final, losing 1-3 to, guess who? Barcelona FC of the Spanish La Liga.
It seemed the tide is turning towards the English Premier League, as Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool are bringing back the glory days back to England, all advancing into the quarterfinals.
Leading the EPL charge was Tottenham Hotspur, the North London club became the 1st English side to advance into the last 8 after a 4-0 aggregate win over German side, Borussia Dortmund. Spurs put themselves into the driving seat with a 1st leg 3 nil win at White Hart Lane, goals from Son Heung-Min, Jan Vortonghen and Fernando Llorente settled the 1st leg, and they did it without their injured talisman, Harry Kane. Spurs knew they would have to weather the storm in the return league at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, and they had their French goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris to thank for not losing the 3-goal advantage early in the 1st half. A Moussa Sissoko through pass found Harry Kane, who held his nerves and coolly slotted past Roman Burki in Dortmund goal to make it 1 nil on the night, and 4 nil over the 2 legs, Spurs 1st quarterfinal place since 2011.
Manchester United joined Spurs in the last 8 with a historic 3-3 aggregate comeback victory on away goal rule over PSG, having won 3-1 on the night at the Parc Des Prince, Paris. All odds were stacked up against United who lost the 1st leg 2-0 on home turf, Old Trafford, goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kilian Mbappe condemned United to their worst home defeat in European competitions. However, United Manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is no stranger to great comebacks, having helped United as a player staged a comeback 2-1 final win over Bayern Munich 20 years ago, pulled another masterpiece away at PSG. A seemingly mission impossible is now one of the greatest come back of all time (1st team in the UCL and European cup history to overcome a 2-goal margin home 1st-leg deficit). United achieved the feat without the services of 10 1st-team players, having lost Paul Pogba, Anthony Marshall, Juan Mata and others to either suspension or injuries.
United ‘noisy’ neighbours, Manchester City joined their EPL counterparts in the last 8 with a 10-2 aggregate whitewash of Schalke 04 of Germany. The 1st leg had ended 3-2 away win for the Citizen, a double spot-kick from former Spurs ace, Nabil Bentaleb had put City in the back foot, but former Schalke o4 ace, Leroy Same scored a delightful free-kick to stage a comeback, then, Raheem Sterling finished off with a late goal.
City come into the return leg at the Etihad Stadium with the 3-away goals, a goalless draw could have been it for City, but City sure put up a ruthless display, once again, it was former Schalke 04 lad, Leroy Sane that orchestrated Schalke 04’s downfall, 7 nil it ended in favour of City, their biggest ever European win. Only Bayern Munich’s 12-1 aggregate win over Sporting CP in 2008-09 UCL round of 16 ties, was a bigger win than City’s 10-2 win over Schalke 04.
Liverpool tie against Bayern Munich was seen as many as the tie of the round, and so it proves to be. The German heavyweight faced an inform Liverpool at Anfield for the 1st leg, and after an evenly contested 90 minutes, nothing could separate the 2 clubs as the tie ended in a 0-0 scoreline, making the return leg at the Allianz Arena even more gingerly poised.
Liverpool showed character in Germany, took an early 26-minute lead through Sadio Mane, Bayern equalized through a Joel Matip own-goal, but Liverpool would not be denied victory, as they regained the lead through defender Van Dijk header. Sadio Mane put the final nail to Bayern’s coffin, to make the scoreline 3-1 on the night, and on aggregate.
English Premier League is producing 4 teams in the quarterfinals for the 1st time since they did it back-to-back in 2007-08 and 2008-09, when Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United reached the last 8. It is an outstanding feat that will surely fuel the old argument of the strongest league in Europe once again. Is this another year for the English Premier League teams? time will tell at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
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