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Why European glory is key for Premier League

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The Premier League has been lauded as the greatest on the planet for many years.

European glory over the past three days has confirmed it is indeed the best.

Lingering doubts about the PL’s elite not being able to get near the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona have been blown out of the water.

‘Your teams are good, England, but can they conquer Europe? Hmmm…’ None of that chat from continental Europe anymore. For the brand and/or the image of the league, being the best of the best is important. EuroLeague basketball is good, but we know the NBA is the best.

[ MORE: Liverpool stun Barca | Spurs shock Ajax ]

The Premier League is now the undisputed top dog in the soccer world, with La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga knowing it has a heck of a job to try and catch up.

For the first time in history all four finalists in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League finals are from the same country, England, with Tottenham v. Liverpool and Chelsea v. Arsenal the lineup for the respective finals over the next few weeks.

Managers from across the league have applauded Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri in their press conferences on Friday, as there is a shared happiness and pride at seeing their colleagues, and rivals, dominate Europe. Because it wasn’t just the semifinal success. PL clubs were rampant in the group stages and battered some of Europe’s elite teams on their way to the finals with swashbuckling, gritty and tactically flexible displays.

This is a monumental moment for the Premier League.

Giants have finally delivered with huge player wages, massive investment in youth development and the ability to hire the best coaches all now bearing fruit.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

The success of this season underlines the greatness of the PL, and puts recent European struggles firmly in the rearview mirror. The importance of usurping the rest of European soccer cannot be underestimated when it comes to the growing positive image of the Premier League in the global game, as a timely ego-boost has arrived for this juggernaut of a league. Alongside a historic title race between Man City and Liverpool, this European success story adds further fuel to the fire that the PL is head and shoulders above the rest.

For so long the best paid players and coaches have flocked to the PL, but cycles of European success have swung from Italy to Spain to Germany and then back to Spain. The gruelling PL season and no winter break was given as one reason why English teams struggled in Europe, but we all know that was a weak excuse.

Now it is the turn of England, and the Premier League, to shine.

Dramatic comebacks from Liverpool and Tottenham against Barcelona and Ajax kicked things off in dramatic fashion this week, then Arsenal and Chelsea finished things off nicely against Valencia and Frankfurt to complete the clean sweep.

In Madrid on June 1 and Baku on May 29, two finals will showcase the brilliance of the PL as fierce rivals will lock horns and the drama and power of England’s top-flight will be rammed down the throats of everyone on the global stage.

But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that certain circumstances have played into the hands of Premier League clubs this season.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Real Madrid have been a mess. Lionel Messi aside, this is not a vintage Barcelona side. Bayern Munich is in transition. Juventus relied on Cristiano Ronaldo too heavily. Atletico Madrid have been off. And PSG are, well, just PSG, as they crumbled in the knockout stages once again. In the Europa League, only Napoli and Valencia were real dangers to Arsenal and Chelsea. If there was going to be any year for the PL to dominate, this was it.

The Premier League has made the most of its chance to surge to the top of the tree in Europe and now comes the hard bit.

Only once in history has there been an all-English Champions League final: 2008 as Man United beat Chelsea in Moscow. In the 10 finals since then, only three Premier League teams have been among the 20 UCL finalists. An era of Spanish and German domination followed, as English clubs took their eye off the ball and the Premier League has had a mark next to its name over the last decade, with Chelsea the only winner since 2008.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

European success during the 2018-19 campaign is a ringing endorsement of everything the Premier League now stands for, and it should now provide a platform for continued success.

Just as the rest of Europe is looking towards the UK from a political standpoint as Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, the rest of Europe is now looking at the Premier League with envy as clubs have found the perfect formula to succeed in Europe.

That is: Big spending, the best coaches and putting sustainable structures in place for future success with youth academies as the English national team has proved in various international tournaments over the past few years.

Continuing that success is key for the PL’s global status as the best league on the planet. Spending money to attract the best coaches to nurture star players in order to create a wonderful domestic league is one thing.

Beating all of your European competitors to prove you are the best is the cherry on top the Premier League needed, and now has.

Late goalkeeper strike seals knockout spot in UEFA Youth League

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Club Brugge goalkeeper Senne Lammens may just be 17 years old, but he just lived every goalkeeper’s dream: to score a dramatic equalizer in the dying seconds of a game to send the club through to a European competition’s knockout stage.

The young goalkeeper came forward on a corner in the 94th minute of a game against Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League Wednesday morning in Belgium. With the visitors leading 2-1 and added time just about expired, Brugge needed to score an equalizer to secure passage to the knockout stage, lest they be left at the mercy of Galatasaray’s match against PSG.

Lammens delivered. The corner swung in to the top of the six-yard box and the youngster was on hand to head home a pinpoint effort inside the far post.

The header was quite literally the last act of the game, with stoppage time already creeping more than 60 seconds past the minimum three added minutes.

Lammens has shuttled back and forth between the youth squad and the senior squad this season serving occasionally as an emergency third goalkeeper behind Simon Mignolet and Ethan Horvath. Mostly, though, he’s been with the youth squad appearing in five of their six UEFA Youth League games, with three wins and a draw.

Report: Arsenal not interested in Ancelotti “profile”

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According to The Athletic reporter David Ornstein, Arsenal is not interested in a manager of Carlo Ancelotti’s “profile.”

The Italian was recently let go by Napoli after a disappointing first half of the season despite qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage.

Ancelotti has won a Premier League title, three Champions League titles, and a Scudetto during his career but apparently a manager with his resume does not interest the Gunners, who may be looking for a more youthful boss with a longer-term strategy and potentially stronger club or domestic ties.

At 60 years old, Ancelotti has been fired from posts at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and now Napoli over the last four years. Over those four seasons, he has just one league title, the 2016/17 Bundesliga crown he won with Bayern in runaway fashion, and has exceeded expectations in very limited capacities, instead seeing things turn sour at each job relatively quickly. This season at Napoli, the club sits seventh in the Serie A table, mired in a horrible seven-match winless run that has seen them tumble further from the Champions League places.

Ornstein’s report also touched on the timeline of a potential hire, with the club apparently still deciding on whether to see out the season with interim manager Freddie Ljungberg or make a mid-season appointment. He states that the club “want situation settled asap” but also prefer “right man over quick decision.” He does not identify who the number one target is, but suggests that if that person is available at this point in time, they will make the hire mid-season, otherwise there will be a waiting game.

Jorge Sampaoli resigns as Santos boss

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Brazilian club Santos confirmed Tuesday evening that manager Jorge Sampaoli has resigned as boss.

Sampaoli, who won the 2015 Copa America in charge of Chile but could not recreate that success with the Argentinian national team, signed on with Santos a year ago and guided them to a second-place finish in the Brazilian top flight, 16 points behind runaway champions Flamengo. His contract had another year, expiring in the winter of 2020, but with reports of offers from multiple clubs, he has stepped down.

The most widely reported destination is fellow Brazilian club Palmeiras, whom many believe Sampaoli has already entered talks with. He has also been linked with Argentinian club Racing, and his name has cropped up on occasion with the Arsenal vacancy, although that seems like a longshot. It was said in late October that Sampaoli had an offer from an unnamed La Liga club, but those rumors have cooled.

His reason for leaving Santos after just one successful season in charge is unconfirmed, but rumors are circulating that Sampaoli had incredibly ambitious transfer plans for the offseason, and when club president Jose Carlos Peres could not guarantee his support, the relationship became strained.

The 2019 season was mostly successful for Sampaoli at Santos, finishing second in the league table, but the secondary competitions were somewhat disappointing. They received a tough first-round draw in the Copa Sudamericana, falling to River Plate on away goals. They were also ousted from the Copa do Brasil in the Round of 16, falling 2-1 to an Atletico Minero side that finished 13th in the league table.

Tierney out months as Arsenal injuries pile up

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According to multiple reports, including Mark Mann-Bryans of PA Sport and Charles Watts of Goal.com, Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney could be out up to three months after dislocating his shoulder in the 3-1 win over West Ham on Monday.

Tierney was withdrawn in the 29th minute after an awkward fall, using the bottom of his shirt as a makeshift sling. The club is still deciding on whether he will require surgery, according to Mann-Bryans, and that decision will ultimately determine the length of time he will miss. Still, even without surgery, it could leave him sidelined for a month or more.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries since joining the Gunners this past summer, missing the first seven games of the year with a hip injury. He has seen action in just five Premier League games thus far, and again could be sidelined for a significant spell. He could also end up missing Scotland’s critical playoff match against Israel in late March depending on his recovery timeline and fitness level.

Tierney’s injury is not the only one Arsenal is currently sweating. Granit Xhaka will miss the Europa League group stage finale against Standard Liege with a concussion, while Hector Bellerin is struggling with a hamstring problem. “Hector had a feeling in his hamstring during the warm-up [before West Ham] and we took the decision,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg after the win over the Hammers. “Not going to force anyone to play if they don’t feel 100%.”

Dani Ceballos is still sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered against Vitoria in October Europa League play and won’t return to training until later this month, while Rob Holding is a question mark this week after missing the West Ham game thanks to a bruised knee.

Arsenal, currently sitting ninth in the Premier League table and is scheduled to host Manchester City this coming Sunday following the trip to Belgium. They have upcoming games against Everton, Bournemouth, Chelsea, and Manchester United through the festive period.