Are you ready for all-England Champions and Europa League finals?
Background photo: Jbmg40, CC BY-SA 3.0
The stage is set for the final four in both the Champions and Europa League. Four of the Premier League's top six reached this level. The two Manchester sides fell in the Champions League quarterfinal. Among Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, none were pitted against each other in the semifinal rounds. There is the distinct possibility four English teams could be playing in the finals in Madrid and Baku. It's unprecedented for a single country to dominate the two competitions that thoroughly. If you're a non-Mancunian Premier League fan, you should be running around your living room or the office like Pep Guardiola before the VAR sign flashed on the Etihad Stadium's big screen.
There is, of course, the distinct possibility that no English team will make the final. Tottenham must beat Ajax after the Dutch side dispatched both Real Madrid and Juventus. Liverpool must handle the Barcelona XI who made short work of Manchester United. Chelsea face Eintracht Frankfurt's dangerous attack after barely surviving against Slavia Praha. Arsenal must deal with Valencia in a competition that La Liga sides have owned for more than a decade. The Premier League stands an equal chance to be embarrassed when the next round is completed. If you feel like slumping to the floor and putting your head in hands like Pep, I understand.
In truth, only Gunners and Blues' supporters have a fully vested interest in the Europa League outcome. UEFA recently boosted the EL's significance by granting its winner direct entry to the next season's Champions League group stage. That only confirms the superior status of the latter tournament, however. The Champions League remains the Holy Grail for most fans. Whoever wins the Europa League will celebrate and happily consider themselves European Champions but when the initial euphoria wears off, they'll be happy to be back among the big boys.
Arsenal seems the more likely possibility to win out. Manager Unai Emery has bossed the EL three times with Sevilla. Chelsea head man Maurizio Sarri is yet to win his first trophy. If Arsenal and/or Chelsea come out on the losing end, the focus will immediately switch to the struggle to finish in the top four and earning their ticket into the continent's ultimate competition through the traditional method.
The Champions League is where it gets dicey.
Liverpool play a desperate Barcelona side. The Catalans haven't been past the quarterfinal round, let alone hoisted the trophy, since winning in 2015. Lionel Messi took the microphone before the season's home-opener to promise the Nou Camp the Blaugrana would return to the podium in 2019. Jurgen Klopp's squad face a steep uphill climb to overcome the pending La Liga champions. That said, it isn't an impossible task. To date, Liverpool are the most compact, balanced XI remaining in the competition. If they can maintain their shape and confidence, their wide play and midfield strength can cause problems for Barca.
Tottenham aren't so complete, especially with Harry Kane lost for the season. Ajax is a wholly unexpected opponent. Erik ten Hag's team is built around two young players who aren't expected to be in Amsterdam in 2019/20. Frenkie de Jong is already promised to Barcelona. Matthijs de Ligt has one foot out the door. There is further quality in the squad, though, including some old soldiers that have been through the wars. Daley Blind and Klass Jan-Huntelaar will impress their younger teammates about the urgency in seizing the moment. Another opportunity isn't coming. To reach their first Champions League final, Spurs cannot underestimate their supremely confident opponents.
The possibility exists for all or none and any number between to reach the two finals. If the entire group progresses, Nigel Farage will be nothing compared to the talk about English superiority that arises from that success. On the other hand, if they all falter, the belief in the Premier League's quality won't change. It just won't be as loud.