The Premier League has marked its return to prominence on the European stage in a week punctuated by spellbinding drama with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur set to meet in just the second all-English Champions League final next month.
Chelsea and Arsenal then ensured the success of English teams won’t just be limited to the continent’s top club competition, both reaching the Europa League showpiece to give the Premier League an unprecedented four European finalists, the first time there has been such a sweep.
Only twice before in European football — the 1972 UEFA Cup and 2008 Champions League — had two English teams contested a final, but two improbable comebacks guaranteed another such clash on June 1 in Madrid.
Liverpool, last year’s runners-up to Real Madrid, ended Spain’s five-year grip on the continent’s top club prize as they shocked Lionel Messi and Barcelona — their stunning 4-0 win at Anfield inspiring Tottenham to a fightback every bit as inconceivable 24 hours later.
“We saw Liverpool last night. It just goes to show it’s not over until it’s over,” Spurs defender Danny Rose said after his side rallied from a 3-0 aggregate deficit at half-time to break Ajax hearts thanks to a second-half hat-trick from Lucas Moura.
“We enjoyed a lot watching the tie against Barcelona. They are heroes too and, of course, it is going to be an amazing final between two English teams that for sure we are going to enjoy,” added Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Despite record broadcast deals bringing in billions from around the globe, English clubs have been out-thought and out-played at Champions League level over the past decade.
Yet while Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich have dominated at home in recent years, no club has retained the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2009, in Cristiano Ronaldo’s final season at Old Trafford.
The constant grind of England’s top six vying every season for just four Champions League places allows nobody to rest on their laurels, on the pitch or off it in the recruitment process.
Crucially, the Premier League now also boasts not only money, but world-class coaching that has been given time to build.
Chelsea needed a penalty shoot-out to beat Eintracht Frankfurt in their Europa League semi-final while a Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang hat-trick took the Gunners to a 4-2 win over Valencia for a 7-3 aggregate.
The final will be Arsenal’s first in Europe since they lost the 2006 Champions League to Barcelona.
The English sweep on the football field comes, ironically, as the United Kingdom wrestles with Brexit, the painful and protracted withdrawal from the European Union.