Football at its finest

This season, the English Premier League is living up to its often touted tag of being the best in the world. English clubs have created European football history by taking all four final spots in the continent’s two major competitions. Liverpool pulled off a stunning second leg comeback against Barcelona at Anfield to guarantee their spot in the Champions League final. A day later, Tottenham miraculously overcame Ajax. As if those exploits weren’t enough, Arsenal won in Valencia and Chelsea beat Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday to reach the Europa League final. It is the first time all four finalists in Europe’s top two competitions have come from one nation.

Ridiculous comeback after ridiculous comeback. Who has been writing the script for the Champions League this season? 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 currently the best league in the world.

It wasn’t always like this. 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.

While English teams struggled through much of this decade, those from Spain, Italy and Germany comprehensively dominated Europe.

In the 1990s English football was emerging from perhaps its darkest days of hooliganism, crumbling stadiums and falling attendance. But with its uncanny mix of money, broadcasting and global ambition, the Premier League today dominates the world game.

European success and huge amounts of money have been the ideal formula to draw in star players. Star power is without doubt the Premier League’s best attraction. The Premier League is a showcase for some of the world’s best foreign players. At the same time, it remains home to the most effective English players.

Criticism of the Premier League’s lack of competitiveness was due almost entirely to Manchester United’s domination of the league, winning 12 of 20 championships since its inception. But that has a lot to do simply with the Premier League’s early years happening to coincide with one of the great eras of a particular club. In fact, the Premier League is relatively competitive. Five champions in 20 years is just about the perfect balance; it means the competition is not an embarrassing monopoly. The best team in England this season has been Manchester City, which didn’t even reach the Champions League’s final four. 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.

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).

The Premier League has become more cosmopolitan, and more open to embracing new technology like VAR, 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.

The Premier League has the talent, power and pace that makes it a cut above the rest. It’s the richest league in the world. It’s the most watched globally. With historic teams, rabid 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 become an endlessly entertaining spectacle.

The bottom line is that the Premier League has all that good soccer must offer: ability, strength, drama and whistle-to-whistle action.

Two consecutive nights produced what few fans have ever seen before, teams fighting back from several goals down to defy all odds. Fans will probably never see anything like this again.