6 of the last 7 Champions League finals have involved English sides but this year it seems unreachable. Both Manchester clubs failed to advance through the group stages and now play their European football on a Thursday night while England’s two remaining competitors, Arsenal and Chelsea, both lost their first leg ties to Italian opposition and have it all to do in the return leg. Arsenal were simply brushed aside by AC Milan, while Chelsea paid the price for not respecting Napoli enough, putting big players on the bench and ultimately regretting it.
Manchester United couldn’t get through a group that contained Portugal’s Benfica, Swiss outfit FC Basel and Romanian side Otelul Galati, by far the easiest group of the competition but last years runners up suffered shock exits. Manchester City in comparison had the hardest group of the year with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal their competitors. However, for a club aiming for Premier League glory and European domination, with a bank budget that seems to have no limit, their performances were extremely poor.
The simple fact is English clubs have not been good enough in Europe this season, across the board. Tottenham and Birmingham City were eliminated in the Europa League group stages while Stoke were understandably knocked out by Valencia. I did not expect Birmingham to progress and Stoke played well but will never be a match for Valencia. However, Tottenham were expected to progress, especially as they played Champions League football last year and now claim to be the biggest club in London.
The origins of this trouble can be traced back to domestic football. The top teams have dismantled each other in the League, 8-2, 6-1, 5-2, 5-3. High scoring games when previously it would have been a hard fought one goal victory. It’s great for entertainment but as for analysis of the game it’s not so good. Blackburn beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, Arsenal lost to Swansea. Liverpool have been drawing games against low level opposition all season. Each club has it’s embarrassments. In fact, the title race will not come down to who was the best tam in the league, it’s ultimately who can avoid the most slip ups. The race for the top 4 is no different, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have all been poor this year had have smaller clubs breathing down their back.
You can argue that the smaller teams have all improved. I agree, they have. However, there is no denying that the top teams have been poor. Spurs fans would argue that they have had a great season, which they have. However, they also have had their moments. Beaten 5-1 at home by Manchester City, throwing away a 2 goal lead at the Emirates. Lose to Manchester United this weekend and the race for 4th could become the race for 3rd.
The Serie A is on the rise from the ashes of the match fixing scandal, the Bundesliga has dramatically improved. Ligue 1 has some top sides and La Liga has the top players, along with the worlds 2 biggest clubs. You may still think we have the best league but the gap is closing, fast.
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