Man United and Arsenal exits have damaged Premier League’s image
Arsenal they were left ruing earlier performances, just like England’s other fallen clubs in this season’s Champions League
Wednesday night heralded a damaging evening for the Premier League. As Arsenal valiantly won in Munich, they were left ruing earlier performances, just like England’s other fallen clubs in this season’s Champions League.
Not since 1996 has an English club failed to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League. That season our only representative, Blackburn, fell in the group stage.
Since then, English clubs have flourished in the upper echelons of European football, with Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool winning the title and Arsenal losing in the 2006 final.
Once again this season, cash-rich Manchester City suffered a dismal early exit, bottom of their group, although they were up against the likes of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
Their attacking flair is less apparent this season – and they’re 12 points behind their neighbours in the Premier League title race. Players such as Yaya Toure and David Silva have been far less destructive this campaign and on many occasions this season their football has lacked fluidity, while at the back Joe Hart has been prone to a series of gaffs in goal.
Chelsea have managed to embarrass themselves on and off the pitch ever since lifting the prestigious Champions League crown last May, becoming the first defending champions to fall in their relatively simple group. The loss of Didier Drogba has been huge for the Blues, who regularly guided Chelsea through tough European nights. John Terry’s slump in form and fitness has left the Chelsea backline vulnerable and patchy. The signing of Demba Ba was too late for Chelsea, who have had to rely upon the woeful Fernando Torres up top. The contrast with Drogba is staggering but as a collective they have not utilised the vast quality of talent at their disposal.
Arsene Wenger is right, English clubs must learn and return with power in Europe, using this season’s Champions League as a wake-up call – but the Frenchman needs to take a long hard look at his squad too. The Gunners have been remarkably inconsistent again, clinging onto hopes of another top-four finish and being thrown out of cup competitions by lower league opposition. Obviously, the loss of Robin van Persie to Manchester United has stunted their attacking prowess but the unorganised, shambolic defending this season has cost the Gunners, which was perfectly symbolised in the 3-1 home defeat by Bayern.
The only English team who can hold their head high are Manchester United. Sir Alex’s men are cruising to the Premier League title and were handicapped against Real Madrid by one of the most baffling red cards in recent history.
The major difference for our clubs in Europe this season has been the defence. The Premier League is littered with goals and defensive errors. It makes it a captivating division but has the neglect of defending enabled European rivals to catch up and overtake our best?
All great sides are built on a solid backline. In 1999, United has Jaap Stam and Peter Schmeichel. In 2005, Liverpool had an inspired Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia.
The abundance of forward magic at the likes of Barcelona, Bayern and Madrid is complemented by steady backlines and comprehensive tactics.
Whether this season is a blip for English sides or not, they must seriously consider their defensive strategies heading into the Champions League in September.