Match fit

15 March 2009 12:47
With all four English clubs safely through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, and a second consecutive all-English final a real possibility, Rob Draper told The Sunday Supplement he believes fitness is the decisive factor in the Premier League's prominent presence in Europe.

The Mail on Sunday reporter suspects a change in coaching mentality over the past ten years, combined with the intensity of the Premier League has transformed the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool into dominant European forces, once again.

"Money is the obvious answer as to why English clubs are doing so well, but I think it is more than that," he said.

"If you look at the Italian sides that came up against the English sides in the Champions League this week, particularly Inter Milan and Juventus, I think English sides are fitter.

Intensity"I don't know whether that's because they have better fitness trainers at the English clubs or just because week-in, week-out, they have to play at such an intense level in the Premier League, but it looks to me that when the Italians, and Real Madrid, come up against them they are a little bit: 'oh we don't play at this pace'.

"You would have said 10-15 years ago the English sides were lagging behind in fitness, but I think that's a key element of it at the moment.

"Fifteen years ago when AC Milan were dominating they would have had a great training ground, great infrastructure and all the physical coordinators, and we would have had, I exaggerate a bit, a guy putting the cones down and doing a few doggy runs.

"That's all changed. In the last 15 years the infrastructure around these clubs, the training grounds and the amount of scientific research into gaining benefits has all improved."

MentalityThis renaissance of English clubs has also changed the mentality of former European giants, believes Draper. "At Juventus on Tuesday, at the end of the game, the Juventus fans were applauding their team off the pitch. It was like 'we've done really well to get this close against Chelsea'.

"I know that Juventus have been relegated and it is their first year back, but that's a sea change - the idea that against Chelsea Juventus would be going: 'ah we almost did it' - English clubs used to be terrified of taking on those sides.

"In 1999 United had that great game knocking Juventus out, we all thought 'well they've got Juventus in the semi-final, that's probably curtains', but that wouldn't be the case now at all."

Draper is also convinced it will be an English club lifting the Champions League trophy in Rome at the end of the season, and, if pushed, would pick United as the strongest of the four.

United too strong"I think all four of those English sides could win it. I don't think Villarreal will win it. You wouldn't expect Porto to win it, although they have in recent history. I'd be surprised if Bayern Munich win it and Barcelona are having a sticky period at the moment, although, in the first half against Lyon, they were sensational. They are very ropey at the back, though - they let in some very simple goals.

"I believe that there will be three English sides in the semis, if they stay apart in the next draw.

"United are the best team. If I had to back anyone I would back United. (Wayne) Rooney, (Carlos) Tevez, (Dimitar) Berbatov; you've got so many options. Liverpool's record in the Champions League is outstanding, but if you are just judging it on the best players I would go for United."

Source: SKY_Sports