The Premier League in Europe
It’s fair to say that the dominance the elite league in England once held over the European game, in which between 2004 and 2011, there were 11 English clubs to reach the Champions League final, has diminished.
This has culminated in no English side reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season, and just one side making it the season before in Chelsea, who despite going on to win the trophy, are not representative of English success. They managed to beat far superior sides by defending and riding their luck, hardly a reliable or consistent tactic if you want to win trophies.
As for last season, there can be no doubting that the Europa League is a weaker competition, and that Rafael Benitez’s success was as much for his CV as it was Chelsea. I’m not knocking their trophy record of course, and as an Arsenal fan I’d give an arm to win Europe’s elite tournament, but it would be naive to believe that Chelsea’s success means England are still a dominant force in Europe.
The way Barcelona outclassed Manchester United in the 2011 final epitomized the changing tides of European football for me, with the Spaniards winning by 3 goals to 1 as I’m sure you remember.
We have long passed the age of route one football and a big number 9, with technical ability being favoured over strength and power. Even strikers like Mario Mandžuki and Robert Lewandowski, who have size and strength on their side, are superb in possession. The beautiful game has even gotten to the stage where central defenders and goalkeepers need to be comfortable on the ball, or else risk costing their team.
This is at the heart of the national team’s failure, with England playing “in the dark ages” as one Gary put it. That’s not to say that English clubs play with this outdated system, rather they seem to have an inability to beat major European teams. Last season provided plenty of examples, with Arsenal losing to Bayern Munich over two legs, Manchester United to Real Madrid in similar fashion (albeit with plenty of controversy) and Manchester City and Chelsea failing in the group stage at the hands of the likes of Juventus and Borussia Dortmund.
So what can we expect in the coming seasons from the English teams? Well Manchester City will struggle to do worse than they did in the season just gone, and Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment could well see them go deeper into the tournament, as his Malaga side did last season. The summer acquisitions for City will also help, with Fernandinho and Navas providing much needed depth, and in the case of Navas, an alternative method of attack with the width he’d offer.
As for the red side of Manchester, the quality and experience in their squad means they cannot be ruled out especially if they were to sign Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara, but the inexperience of Moyes could be their downfall. Sides like Bayern Munich will tear any team apart if they’re tactics aren’t spot on to deal with the attacking quality the German’s posses.
Keeping with the managerial experience, and Jose Mourinho will surely be looking to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three separate clubs. He may well have the chance to as well, what with the experience of players like Cech, Cole and Lampard combined with the flair of Mata, Hazard, Oscar and new signing Andre Schurrle being at his disposal.
The final team with a chance, although a somewhat slim one, of lifting the most sought-after trophy in European football and bringing glory to England is Arsenal. Having never won the trophy before and being far from their strongest under Arsene Wenger, it would be a shock to see the Champions League in their hands, but stranger things have happened. Wenger’s experience could prove crucial, but more so could be his spending habits this summer. Should the Gunners sign players such as Higuain, Bender, Cesar and others they’re linked to, it could see them mount a push for at least one trophy next season, although in terms of the Champions League we must remember that they have to qualify for it first.
Despite the potential of the English sides however, I can’t see past Bayern Munich being the first team to retain the Champions League in it’s current form. The quality they posses, which has been enhanced with the signing of Mario Goetze, along with the appointment of arguably the best manager in Europe in Pep Guardiola, means they could improve on their sensational season just gone. It’s quite remarkable that a team who won the treble have added one of the best young players in football to their squad and one of the best managers. They have the makings of a legendary side, with the potential to surpass the most recent of legendary sides in Barcelona when it comes to success. Either way, it is an exciting season ahead, hopefully with English sides having slightly more success than they have recently.