Following an excruciating summer hiatus, top-level football is back. A month into the season, the various narratives of England’s elite clubs are beginning to unfold, with Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham fighting on four fronts.
These teams look to claim domestic and continental supremacy in the Premier League and Champions League respectively, as well as the pleasant but ultimately less relevant FA and League Cups.
In the modern era, one of meticulous planning and sports science, coaches and clubs are prone to prioritise one competition over another. As a quadruple is, as of now, unachieved, the question must be asked: would one rather win the Premier League or the Champions League?
Of course, it is possible to win both in the same season. Manchester United did it twice, in 1999 and 2008, but they stand alone among English clubs in the Champions League era.
The difficulty of a double is clear: Manchester City won five of the six English trophies available over the last two seasons, even completing a domestic treble in 2018-19, but the seemingly elite Cityzens have never advanced beyond Europe’s last eight.English clubs have been in somewhat of a European wilderness over the past decade, but can take encouragement from the recent decline of the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid: winning both trophies is now a realistic prospect.
There are clearly key differences between the two competitions, one national and the other continental.
The Champions League requires a team to overcome a threatening collection of the continent’s best, arguably the world’s best, whereas the Premier League includes relative minnows like Norwich City and Burnley. Logic appears to determine that the Champions League crown is more prestigious.
However, another key difference is that of stamina, durability and consistency. Both competitions require endurance, as both extend across the whole domestic season, but it cannot be denied that the Premier League asks for this quality in greater abundance.
A club must maintain an almost unblemished record across a 38-game season to win the league, and Liverpool’s second-placed finish last season despite a mammoth 97-point haul and only one loss is testament to the difficulty in this task.
The Champions League too requires great resilience and commitment. Midweek trips to the hostile edges of the continent, as far as Turkey and Russia in some cases, balanced with a punishing Premier League schedule, possibly explain Manchester City’s struggles in Europe’s elite competition.
However, it is impossible to escape the fact that a team needs to win as few as thirteen games in order to be crowned European champions.The triumphs of Porto in 2004 and Chelsea in 2012, the latter in a season when the Blues struggled to a sixth-place domestic finish, prove that momentum, luck and sheer belief can carry a team to victory in Europe, whereas any creases will be ironed out by the Premier League’s rigorous timetable.Nevertheless, one would surely rather win the Champions League than the Premier League. There is a reason that great players are judged on the European rather than domestic medals in their trophy cabinets: the competition has the highest standards in the world and remains the greatest club honour a player can achieve.
For players and fans alike, the Champions League provides the more iconic moments and lasting memories, possibly with the exception of that Aguero goal in 2012.Ask Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool fans and they will tell you that they prize Solskjaer and Sheringham, Drogba and Torres, or that night in Istanbul above any domestic football memories.
Image: Антон Зайцев via Wikimedia Commons