Comment: Why the Premier League will turn to their 'big two' to banish their status as Champions League no-hopers
If England’s Premier League is to have any hope of repairing it's battered reputation in the Champions League this season, they will need their two most successful clubs to reverse half a decade of despair.
Not since Chelsea’s fortunate triumph in the 2012 Champions League final has an English side made it through to the finale of Europe’s elite competition and in truth, few have come close to troubling a firmly established world order at the top of the game.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich have dominated the Champions League landscape over a five-year stretch that has highlighted the flaws in an entertaining if technically deficient English top division.
With falling television viewing figures for Champions League matches on England television and a perception that the competition had become stale with the same names appearing in the latter stages year after year, UEFA may well be hoping for a response from the Premier League’s big hitters and the group stage draw for the group stages have paved the way for that revival.
While Tottenham may be threatened with another early exit after being drawn against reigning champions Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Group H and Premier League champions Chelsea face a daunting task in Group C games against Atletico Madrid and Roma, it is the return of Manchester United and Liverpool to the competition that should fuel hope of an English revival.
While winning the final in Kiev next May is a long shot for Jose Mourinho’s United and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, the group stage draw has given the clubs that have collectively won Europe’s top competition on eight occasions a glorious chance to gather momentum in the first phase of the competition.
United were fortunate to avoid a host of big-hitters in a group featuring Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moscow, with Liverpool blessed with even more luck as they emerged from Pot 3 of the draw and managed to side-step all the favourites to be drawn against Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor.
Liverpool’s brand of high-octane, adventurous football encouraged by the attack-minded Klopp may well be suited to cup football, while two-time Champions League winner Mourinho has a proven record of navigating a route through this competition using very different tactics.
Interest in the Champions League would be greatly enhanced if England’s ‘big two’ shine this season, yet former United defender Rio Ferdinand is among those questioning whether the Premier League’s big hitters can close the gap on the Spanish sides and Bayern Munich.
"Does anyone really believe England’s top clubs will be in a position to make a few steps up next season to compete for the Champions League trophy?" questions Ferdinand.
"I just don’t see it, but you would hope United and Liverpool can make an impact given their history in the competition.
"I just look at what we saw from Real Madrid last season, from Juventus, from Monaco. They were miles ahead of English teams. It will be tough to close that gap."
Former Liverpool winger Steve McManaman is even more scathing of England’s competitors in the Champions League, as he suggests the chasm between Premier League football and the cream of the European game has never been wider.
“English clubs are miles behind the top two or three teams in Europe right now and I don’t see that changing,” BT Sport pundit McManaman told Independent.ie.
“When I looked at the Premier League teams this season, the word I would use to describe most of them is average and many of them are worse than that.
“They are no-where near Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich and that belief is confirmed when you look at their record in the Champions League in recent years.
“Chelsea may look like they are perfectly set up to do well in Europe as they hit teams on the counter attack and have had a lot of success doing it, but I don’t think their defence would be up to it. Real Madrid, Juventus and a few more are better teams, it’s as simple as that.
“The Premier League might still be the most exciting to watch, but it’s a long way from being the best at this moment.”
They are scathing comments from two former Champions League winners, but the pessimism of Ferdinand and McManaman is backed up by a succession of failures from English clubs when they have locked horns with Europe’s true superpowers in recent years.
Maybe the magic dust sprinkled by Klopp and the tactical mastery of Mourinho can change the negative script this season.