Can English teams still compete with Europe’s big guns in the Champions League? We discuss the situation…
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The heady days of the last decade are over.
English teams are now struggling in football’s premier club competition – that’s a fact. The Premier League have not had a quarter-finalist in the competition in two of the last three seasons.
We managed two quarter-finalists and a semi-finalist in 2013/14 – when Chelsea were ousted by Atletico Madrid in the last four – but the recent trend is a huge worry and this season’s start has done little to convince us that the Premier League elite are on the march again.
Arsenal were beaten by Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester United lost to PSV, Juventus condemned Man City to a home defeat and it was left to Chelsea to fly the flag with a win over minnows Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Can the Premier League’s elite still compete with Europe’s big guns in the Champions League?
No – the trend looks irreversible at the current time. Matt Briggs (@mattpbriggs)
You only have to look at the best players in the world at the current time and which leagues they play their domestic football in to see that England cannot attract the very best talent.
Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale all ply their trade in Spain’s La Liga, while Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer play their football in Germany.
True world-class talents playing their football on these shores are few and far between. Eden Hazard at Chelsea can be considered in that bracket, dare I say Diego Costa too? Meanwhile, David de Gea at Manchester United is also highly regarded – and he almost left for Real Madrid in the summer.
Just how long United can keep hold of De Gea for is open to debate, but that pretty much sums up the problem in the Premier League, despite the billions pumped in from television money.
Only Real Madrid and Barcelona are the only two non-selling clubs in the world. If either one of that pair come knocking, De Gea aside for the time being, they usually get what they want.
Ronaldo, Bale and Suarez have all been successful exports to Spain, leaving England scrambling around for the best of the rest. And if you then consider the lack of depth in the England-born talent pool, the problems English teams have faced in Europe is not a surprise.
Only nine of 352 starters in the first round of Champions League games were qualified to play for England, and only three completed the 90 minutes.
So if we’re struggling to attract the best and we’re not producing our own players it makes sense that our ability to compete with the best will wane.
Yes – it’s just a temporary blip. James Marshment (@marshyleeds)
All sides go through periods of domination and spells where they’re not as good as they once were – and that’s exactly what we’re seeing from English sides in the Champions League right now.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that Europe’s crème de la crème are plying their trade in Spain these days, but that’s not to say it’ll definitely be Spanish sides ruling the roost in Europe this season. Lionel Messi’s two-month lay-off and the fading force that is Cristiano Ronaldo certainly make it a slightly more-even playing field.
After all, it was only a couple of years ago that the football world was mourning the so-called end of Spanish dominance after Bayern destroyed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the 2013 Champions League semi-finals and a Robert Lewandowski-inspired Dortmund edged past Real Madrid. But a year later the Spanish league answered their critics in the best possible fashion with an all-Madrid final, while the most recent showpiece saw Barcelona sweep to glory.
The point is, teams are capable of bouncing back and the tide can turn in an instant.
Take Manchester United, who probably for me, represent our best hopes of Champions League success this season. The know-how of Louis van Gaal, mixed with the proven European pedigree in that side, mixed with the flare and pace of Memphis and Anthony Martial, certainly gives them a genuine crack.
Granted, they clumsily let the lead slip at PSV Eindhoven in their opening game, but they’ll be a different proposition at Old Trafford and few will come away from there with any joy. And if you win your home games, then you’ll always have a chance…
Chelsea – despite their Premier League struggles – cannot be ruled out either and it could be that their lack of involvement in the title race this season ensures a more progressive bid for Champions League glory. And if anyone has the pedigree, then it’s certainly two-times winner and seven times semi-finalist Jose Mourinho – the only one of five coaches to have won the European Cup with two different teams active in this season’s competition.
Arsenal certainly have the ability to beat any side in Europe with their strongest XI. But, as is always the case with Arsenal, they need to find ways to avoid shooting themselves in the foot, while the defeat at Dinamo Zagreb showed why they can’t afford to rest players. Too often Arsene Wenger’s side have been the nearly-men in the Champions League, and despite a few defensive concerns, could surprise a few with the pace in their attack. Whether they’ll win it might be a stretch, but go on a run and prove they can compete with the best is certainly not beyond them…
Manchester City, however, do remain the biggest enigma of the English entrants having not yet fulfilled their potential in the competition. The lack of big European game management – as illustrated by the defeat to Juventus – will remain a concern to Manuel Pellegrini. Let’s just hope Vincent Kompany’s pledge proves more than just hollow words, because on paper at least, City’s XI should be making the latter stages and competing with the elite.
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