After Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on the weekend most pundits handed the Premier League crown to Jose Mourinho’s men. The transition of domestic power taking just six months from Eastlands to Stamford Bridge. Gary Lineker took to Twitter to congratulate Chelsea on a league and cup double as Chelsea beat Spurs at Wembley on the same day to lift the League Cup.
Whilst the news is all good for Chelsea and their fans on the domestic front, their superiority and dominance in the league won’t help them in Europe’s elite competition. Since nowadays you do not even have to be champions of your country to qualify for the Champions League the intensity and workload in the race to become Europe’s top dog has increased markedly. The top leagues in Europe are afforded four places and the Champions League in most people’s eyes is seen as setting the bar for the highest standards of football. An obvious example of a winner who didn’t win their domestic league is last year’s European champions Real Madrid who were seconds away from losing the final to La Liga Champs and city neighbours Atletico Madrid.
All of this is bad news for any side dominating their domestic league at any time and history backs this up. One of the few criticisms of Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United sides is that they won too few Champions League trophies. It is no coincidence then that their two triumphs under the Scot came in seasons where they were pushed all the way on the domestic front. In 99 United had to beat Spurs on the final day of the season to ensure victory over second place Arsenal and in 2008 they narrowly beat fellow Champions League finalists Chelsea to the Premier League crown.
The theory is then that when pushed hard domestically it is easier to transfer that intensity and form into European football. On the flip side to that, coasting to victory in the league means having to step up performances in the Champions League and this has rarely been possible. The theory is not nailed down to just English clubs. The same can be said of various sides across Europe and it must be pointed out that no side has ever retained the trophy up to this point.
It wasn’t so long ago that the footballing world was lauding all things German. Bayern Munich were champions in 2013 admittedly after a procession in the second half of the Bundesliga season. In the first half they were pushed hard by Dortmund who seemed to conserve energy in the latter parts of the season for their European exploits; A tactic that nearly paid off losing 2-1 to Bayern in that tight Wembley final. The next season and Pep Guardiola came in and brought his brand of football to what was an already impressive side. The results were mixed though and whilst they continued to exert their huge dominance on the Bundesliga their European challenge faltered. They were soundly beaten by Real over two legs in the semi –final of the competition a result that is bound to have hurt former Barca man Guardiola.
It would seem that in order to win the Champions League a side must reach the peak of its powers in May a challenge that is made all the more difficult when strolling to league victory. Maintaining that peak is an even greater test but if anyone can become the first side to retain the trophy it’s European royalty Real Madrid.
Chelsea’s Champions League campaign is far from doomed but they will need to be pushed a little harder in what remains of the English season if they are to take Real’s crown in May.