Gary Lineker believes Premier League clubs have significantly closed the gap on the La Liga clubs in Europe – and will close it even further as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi near the ends of their careers.
Real Madrid have won the Champions League in three of the last four seasons, with Barcelona winning it in the other year, and Atletico Madrid have been twice runners-up to their city rivals.
Sevilla, meanwhile, won the Europa League three times in a row before Manchester United ended that run last year, while Atletico have also won it twice since 2010. In total, nine of the last 13 winners of the two major European trophies have been Spanish.
Lineker, however, believes the situation could change over the next couple of years.
“I think the Premier League clubs were miles behind, but we are creeping closer and we see that by having five teams in the knock-out stages,” he says.
“I would save we have halved the gap that was there a couple of years back, and with the money in the English game we should get even closer in the next couple of years.
“You have to remember that Real Madrid and Barcelona have a magical appeal to players all over the world and can generally sign who they want, but they have had Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at their peak for the last few years, which has been a deciding factor in so many big games.
“The two of them are now getting towards the back end of their careers, and when they go, which sadly for all of us they will, it is going to be impossible to replace them.
“The exits of Ronaldo and Messi will level things quite significantly because those two players have been so far above everyone else in the world game for an extended period of time.”
Lineker also believes a winter break in the Premier League, which could be introduced for the 2019-20 season, would help level the playing field for English clubs in Europe.
He does, however, acknowledge the slower, more possession-based game favoured by most teams in Spain, regardless of where they are in the La Liga table, provides its clubs with an advantage.
“The way all the teams play in the Spanish league is not as physically combative as the English league, and that helps them at the back end of a long season when they also have a winter break to recharge the batteries.
“We are seeing that when the knock-out stages of the Champions League come around, teams from other countries look fresher than us.
“English teams have injuries and jaded players by the middle of February, which is one of the reasons why we have struggled in the Champions League in recent years.
“That is due in part to the fact that we have had the Christmas period that is so demanding, while other countries have a nice break at that time of the year.”
Lineker, meanwhile, does not agree with Arsene Wenger’s claim from earlier in the season that the Champions League has “lost some attraction power” for supporters.
“People say interest is waning in the Champions league and I hear the same arguments raised about the England national team as well, but I disagree,” the BT Sport host says.
“When the World Cup comes around, everyone is gripped by international football and I would say the same is true for genuine football fans when we have the big games in the Champions League.
“Arsene Wenger might have said that interest is waning in the Champions League for some fans, but why might he have said that? Might it be that this is the first year in two decades that his Arsenal team are not in the competition?
“This is the biggest club competition and all football fans want to see it.
“Maybe Arsene was talking about Arsenal fans when he made that comment and I fully agree that they may well have lost interest in the Champions League this season for a very good reason.”
BT Sport has live and exclusive coverage of the Premier League, Emirates FA Cup and UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League this season. For more information, visit sport.bt.com
By Kevin Palmer
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