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Rule Britannia?

Rule Britannia?

As the UEFA Champions League reaches the semi-final stage on BT Sport, two writers debate whether an English side can win the title

Two of the final four clubs fighting for the Champions League play in the Premier League, but will the fabled trophy be heading back to Blighty?

UEFA Champions League semi-finals, from 7pm, Tuesday 30 April, BT Sport

Prior to Liverpool’s storming run into last season’s Champions League final, no English club had made it to the last stage since 2012 (when Chelsea clinched the title) – a stat made all the more mind-boggling when you consider the fact that an English side featured in six of the seven finals played between 2005 and 2011.

 

That being said, this season presents as good a chance as any for the seven-year drought to be brought to an end, with two of the four semi-finalists hailing from the country that has gifted the world fish and chips, Danny Dyer, and, of course, football.

But will the trophy be heading back towards Liverpool or Manchester come June, or will English fans (of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, anyway) once again be left pondering what might have been?

 

Read on below as two of our writers debate both sides of the argument…

 

Will an English club win the Champions League this season?

 

Joe McGuire: NO! There’s simply too much talent overseas
 

Frenkie De Jong of Ajax playing against Juventus


Ajax are back in the big time

Strange (and, to be honest, harsh) as it seems to refer to four-time European champions Ajax as a “small club”, in comparison to this season’s biggest hitters in the Champions League, Ajax’s youthful and relatively inexpensive squad pales in comparison. And yet, despite everyone writing them off – including this writer, who had to hastily rewrite this paragraph as a result of their shock win over Juventus in the quarter-finals – the Amsterdam club have pulled through with aplomb, systematically dismantling two of the tournament’s strongest teams and proving they definitely have what it takes to potentially go all the way. Such was the magnitude of their previous two wins, it’s now impossible to disregard Ajax as genuine contenders.

 

Barcelona are back to their very, very best

Much like Juventus, Barcelona fans have had a relatively relaxing season watching their boys destroy teams the length and breadth of Spain and Europe. Following last season’s shock capitulation against Roma, both coach Ernesto Valverde and star man Lionel Messi promised that the mistakes that saw them bomb out the competition would not be repeated. So far, their statements have rung true; their ridiculously skilful squad ripping teams to shreds and replicating the form that saw them crowned champions of Europe in 2015. With all-time greats Messi and Suárez banging in goals for fun, and a midfield playing some of the most “Barca-esque” football ever seen at the Camp Nou stadium – it’s difficult to picture any club beating the Blaugrana.

 

Solid as a slick, bus-like rock

Though Ajax and Barcelona are known for their slick and attacking “total football”, both also have two of the strongest defensive records in this season’s competition. Despite facing some of the continent’s strongest sides (including the reigning European champions) Ajax have only shipped eleven goals since their initial qualifying match back in August. Barcelona have conceded even fewer with five, meaning that while both teams have the firepower to do some serious damage when they’re on the front foot, they also posess some seriously beaver-esque defensive capabilities.

 

Simon Ward: YES! My magic eight ball says an English club is going to win it
 

Sergio Agüero of Manchester City playing against FC Schalke 04


Spurs have momentum (and nothing to lose)

What. A. Match. Has there been a Champions League tie more dramatic than Tottenham’s second-leg quarter-final against Manchester City, something that sent deep tremors across Europe, the likes of which have not been felt since that furore about the straight bananas? Seven goals. Two massive VAR decisions, including the biggest of them all in stoppage time. As Spurs gaffer Mauricio Pochettino stated after his side “won” 4-4 on away goals, “This is why we love football.” After dumping the Citizens out of the contest, can you really bet against them making the final, in what is undoubtedly the easier side of the draw against Ajax? And then in a one-leg final… who knows? After a season of disappointment largely centred around stadium building work, the momentum is there for the Lilywhites. And with nothing to play for in the league, their eyes will all be fixed firmly on this tournament. Spurs might just have a dream finale to go with their dreamy new stadium.

 

Liverpool have been here before

Of all the clubs left in contention, it’s five-time winners Liverpool who have the most recent memories of the final. They weren’t great memories of course – particularly for Mo Salah, who limped off like a winded schoolboy in the first half – but experience at this level still counts. Looking at their line-up when they lost 3-1 to Madrid, all of the key men are still there, but they’ve reinforced the areas that let them down that night in Kiev, most notably between the sticks. That shrewd side-strengthening has led to a Premier League charge that may still conclude with their first league title in 19 years over a team they end up facing in the final. Liverpool a stronger side? Undeniably! A better chance of winning this term? Only one side stands in their way of a likely all-English final. Speaking of which…

 

Whisper it – Barcelona are beatable

It’s the city your most annoying mate describes as batttth-el-oyna because they once ate tapas (or taaap-thas, as they call it). But Barcelona is also a football club that historically has a habit of taking home the Champions League in the same dead-eyed manner a dog-catcher collects stray pooches from the side of the road and places them in their van. Yet that’s the key word – “historically”. The trophy hasn’t visited the Catalans in four years – a lifetime for the Spanish giants. In fact, this semi-final appearance is the first time they’ve got past the quarters since that win in 2015. This is uncharted territory for much of its team. Plus, while their English opponents are battling tooth and nail for the Premier League, Barcelona have (practically) wrapped up La Liga. That might seem like a positive, but can they remain mentally and physically sharp with their foot off the pedal and their eyes on the yacht they’re planning to charter for the summer?


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