Before Liverpool came back from 3-0 down earlier this week to shock Lionel Messi and Barcelona and advance to a second straight Champions League final, before Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a miracle of its own the next day against Ajax to join the Reds in the title match, even before Arsenal and Chelsea won their respective Europa League semis on Thursday to ensure that the continent’s two major club tournament deciders would all-English affairs, this had been a banner season for the Premier League in European competition.
The Prem is often referred to as “The Best League in the World” — and not just by the natives. It’s easy to understand why. It’s the richest league in the world. It’s the most-watched globally. With historic teams, raucous supporters seated so close to the action that they seem almost part of it and a climate that encourages breathless, end-to-end-attacking play, the Premier League has since its inception in 1992 been an endlessly entertaining spectacle. It just hasn’t always been the best.
Until this year, more than a decade had passed since two English clubs faced off in the Champions League final. Four years ago, every Premier League entry had been eliminated before the quarterfinals of the planet’s top club tourney. Just one—Leicester City, believe it or not—did as recently as two years ago. That sort of futility can’t be pinned on the fact that the English season doesn’t stop for a mid-winter break.
While English teams struggled through much of this decade, those from Spain comprehensively dominated Europe. Barcelona and Real Madrid took the last five Champions League titles, with Atletico Madrid runner-up twice. Atleti has three Europa League crowns since 2010; so does Sevilla.
Based on that evidence, it’s hard not to conclude that La Liga has been vastly superior to the Premier League recently. Germany’s top flight is no slouch, either; the Bundesliga has produced four Champions League finalists over the last 10 seasons, as many as the Prem.
But while Liverpool and Tottenham rode some degree on luck to eke past Barca and Ajax, respectively, this week, few would argue that they’re not worthy finalists. That goes for the Gunners and Blues in the Europa League. Hell, the best team in England this season has been Manchester City, which didn’t even reach the Champions League’s final four after being upset by Spurs.
All of this suggests that this season at least, the Premier League is actually living up to that “best” tag. These things go in cycles. Italy’s Serie A was Europe’s undisputed top league for much of the 1990’s; these days it’s considered fourth. Sometimes change happens more quickly.
The Prem has evolved in all sorts of areas compared to just a few years ago. The money has always been there, but increasingly those cash reserves have been used to attract elite, proven managers from Germany (Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp) and Spain (City’s Pep Guardiola), or to develop its own (Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who coached Southampton before graduating to Spurs).
It’s become more cosmopolitan, and more open to embracing new technology and training methods. Instead of just buying high-priced talent it’s producing it; England’s under-17 and U-20 national teams are defending world champs while the senior side captured the country’s imagination last summer by reaching the semis at Russia 2018.
There are more good teams than ever, too, as evidenced by the fact that perennial top-four finishers Arsenal and Chelsea have been pushed outside the Champions League places more than once in recent seasons by former also-rans.
Any way you slice it, this season is a golden moment for the English game. What happened this week merely serves to drive the point home. The Premier League is once again the best league in the world, and it’s never been better. Enjoy it while it lasts.