Spain’s big two clubs dominated European football for the best part of a decade. Indeed, Barcelona and Real Madrid won the Champions League a combined six times between 2011 and 2018 with European football’s most prestigious club prize exclusively shared between the two rivals for five straight seasons.
Now, though, there is a new order at the top of the European game. Spain’s big two both find themselves in the midst of a generational transition and this has opened the door for an all-English ‘Big Three’ to be established. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are the ones setting the precedent.
It’s not just at the top of the Premier League that this trio are dominant. Liverpool have won all five matches they have played in the Champions League so far this season with Chelsea’s only defeat coming away to Juventus and City’s only defeat coming away to Paris Saint-Germain.
In fact, England’s best three teams have won all nine of the home matches they have played in the Champions League in the 2021/22 season. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City all qualified for the competition’s last 16 with at least one group game to spare and will expect to make the latter rounds.
Bayern Munich could argue with some justification that their inclusion in European football’s elite group should make a ‘Big Four’ with Julian Nagelsmann’s side boasting a 100% record in this season’s Champions League. The Bavarians have scored 19 times in just five games with Robert Lewandowski possibly the best player in the world at this moment in time.
However, Bayern Munich’s domestic form has exposed some vulnerabilities. They have suffered surprise defeats to Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt this season while the Bavarians don’t have the resources to spend in the transfer market like their Premier League rivals can.
Paris Saint-Germain have those resources, but Mauricio Pochettino is struggling to get the most out of his outrageously talented squad. The French giants can’t be discounted due to the individual brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, but they lack a unified approach. Pochettino’s methods aren’t taking root.
There are no such issues among the ‘Big Three’. Liverpool revolve around Jurgen Klopp after six years under his stewardship while City are a reflection of Pep Guardiola. They play the way he sees the game with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea a similarly well-coached outfit who have quickly absorbed the German’s ideas since his appointment in January.
This might be the biggest differentiator between the ‘Big Three’ and the rest of the chasing pack – they have the best managers. Guardiola and Klopp are arguably the greatest coaches of their generation while Tuchel is currently operating at their level. It’s not just about assembling the strongest squad, but about finding the best manager to lead them.
Of course, the financial advantage enjoyed by the Premier League’s biggest clubs can’t be ignored. English football has become a product exported around the world with newly-agreed broadcast deals in Australia and the United States worth billions set to widen the gap between the country’s richest and the rest.
Two of the last three Champions League finals were all-English encounters and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if another all-English encounter was witnessed in St Petersburg next May. There’s a reason so many in European football still believe a breakaway Super League is their only hope of achieving parity at the top of the sport.
It’s not just that the ‘Big Three’ have the most money, though, it’s that they are using it wisely too – see how Manchester United are nowhere near their level. European football works in cycles, but Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are setting a standard that could take others years to reach.