How strong is this year's European Cup?

European Pedigree

With the return leg of the Quarter-Finals to come, there has been considerable hype over the Man Utd win in Rome. Before the Quarter-Finals began Liverpool had won more European Cups than the rest of the teams combined, so why did so many people get excited by Man Utd’s win in Rome against a lacklustre Roma performance?

So how much pedigree do the Quarter-Finalists have? Even domestically Roma don’t have the greatest record in terms of league titles. This is a comparison of the respective records in all European competitions and in the league.

Liverpool (England)

European Cups : 5 (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005)
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 3 (1973, 1976, 2001)

League Titles : 18

Barcelona (Spain)

European Cups : 2 (1992, 2006)
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 4 (1979, 1982, 1989, 1997)

League Titles : 18

Man Utd (England)

European Cups : 2 (1968, 1999)
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 1 (1991)

League Titles : 16

Chelsea (England)

European Cups : 0
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 2 (1971, 1998)

League Titles : 3

Arsenal (England)

European Cups : 0
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 1 (1994)

League Titles : 13

FC Schalke (Germany)

European Cups : 0
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 1 (1997)

League Titles : 7

Fenerbahce (Turkey)

European Cups : 0
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 0

League Titles : 17

AS Roma (Italy)

European Cups : 0
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 0

League Titles : 3

*Ordered by European Cups, other European competition wins and then domestic league titles.

Roma would in fact only be off the bottom if you count European finals, which they have reached twice – losing to Liverpool in the European Cup in 1984 and to Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup in 1991. Their scalp may seem big on face value, quite how they got considered a major force is a mystery. To stretch a point, you could add Inter Milan’s record to compare with that of Roma and ask why so much was made of Man Utd’s win in Rome and less of Liverpool’s in Milan.

Inter Milan (Italy)

European Cups : 2 (1964, 1965)
UEFA Cups/Cup Winners Cups : 3 (1991, 1994, 1998)

League Titles : 15

Inter’s record is right up there with that of Liverpool, Barcelona and Man Utd, Roma’s is right down there with Fenerbahce, Schalke and Chelsea, the first two of whom few would give a prayer of winning the Champions League. But, this isn’t simply about that Roma result, it shows a severe lack of quality within the Quarter-Finals of the European Cup. Only three teams still in it have won it and combined they only have as many wins between them as Real Madrid. By comparison last season’s Quarter-Finals were very strong :-

European Cups totals of last season’s Quarter-Finalists :

AC Milan (Italy) : 7 (1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007)
Liverpool (England : 5 (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005)
Bayern Munich (Germany) : 4 (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001)
Man Utd : 2 (1968, 1999)
PSV Eindhoven (Holland) : 1 (1988)
Chelsea : 0
Valencia (Spain) : 0
AS Roma (Italy) : 0

So compared to this season’s three teams with nine European Cups between them, there were five teams with EIGHTEEN European Cups between them last season at the Quarter-Final stage (it would only be nineteen after the final had been won). So the Quarter-Finalists had twice as many European Cups between them at the same stage last year.

How many European Cups won by each Quarter-Finalist (at that time/stage)

2008 : 9

2007 : 18

2006 : 13

2005 : 19

2004 : 16*

2003 : 25

2002 : 17

2001 : 16

2000 : 14

1999 : 15

*FC Porto won in 2004, the Semi-Finalists had one European Cup between them (won by FC Porto), and all but that one of the sixteen European Cups were won by AC Milan (6) or Real Madrid (9).

Obviously the more competitions played, the more competitions have been won by the Quarter-Finalists, which makes the very low 2008 total even more surprising. Real Madrid who added at least seven European Cups to most of the totals, haven’t reached the Quarter-Finals since 2004 having reached at least that stage seven consecutive seasons including their three most recent wins in 1998, 2000 and 2002. Only AC Milan and Real Madrid have won more than five European Cups, their absence from the Quarter-Finals has weakened the European Cup this season.

The claims of Man Utd fans that their win in 1999 was in some way ‘glorious’ compared to Liverpool’s win in 2005 is not validated by those figures. Even if you compare the Quarter-Finalists on European Cups currently won it works out about the same strength, slightly finding in favour of Liverpool :-

2005 (21) : Liverpool (5), AC Milan (7), PSV Eindhoven (1), Chelsea (0), Lyon (0), Bayern Munich (4), Inter Milan (2) and Juventus (2)

1999 (19) : Man Utd (2), Bayern Munich (4), Juventus (2), Dynamo Kiev (0), Kaiserslautern (0), Olympiakos (0), Real Madrid (9) and Inter Milan (2)

The argument that one team or other had a much harder run of games is weak and very subjective, if someone with no titles beat Real Madrid then that meant they were stronger at the time over two legs. The finalists in 1999 had won only four previous European Cups between them, the finalists in 2005 had won ten. Teams would rather face opponents that had one or three European Cups to their name than an opponent who had four or six.

All arguments will be tailored to what each person wants to show, the comparison of European Cups gives an indication of the relative strengths of the past ten European Cup competitions at the Quarter-Final stage. Having four English teams in the Quarter-Finals may be pleasing to the English public and fans of those teams or the Premiership in general, however the competition is much weaker and no thanks to their presence with neither Arsenal nor Chelsea having won the European Cup. It enhances their chances of winning it, the results of the 1st legs suggest perhaps the three teams with the most wins are a class above. That isn't to say the ties can't be turned around.

Will 2008 be Rafa’s second win, Arsenal or Chelsea’s first, or Barcelona or Man Utd’s third ? Or will Roma, Schalke or Fenerbahce gatecrash the party with their first win………………………….

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