Following Chelsea’s defeat to PSG at Stamford Bridge last week, pressure is now heightened on Manchester City and Arsenal to perform in the Champions League, in an effort to salvage the Premier League’s reputation in Europe’s top competition.
Chelsea crashed out of the competition last week to 10-man PSG at the last 16 stage, which before the draw was made was, for most, unprecedented. Jose Mourinho’s men looked to be the most certain of the English sides to go through but now hopes will firmly rest on the less-than-reliable shoulders of Arsenal and Manchester City.
Both of these sides have been halted at this stage in the past number of years, with the 2009/10 season being the most recent time the Gunners managed to break past this round, going out in the quarter-finals.
Having made their debut in the Champions League three seasons ago, mega-rich Manchester City would have hoped of competing beyond the last 16 much quicker than it has taken them so far.
Being 2-1 down to Barcelona ahead of a second leg trip to the Nou Camp is far from a good sign for Manuel Pellegrini’s men in their hope of reaching the quarter-finals.
Equally, Arsenal find themselves in a perilous situation, having lost 3-1 at home to Monaco in the first leg of their last 16 clash.
Even if miracles are to be performed by City and Arsenal, it is difficult to see these giants of the English game progressing any further.
History also points to the fact that English sides’ appearances in the business end of the competition have steadily decreased over the last number of years.
Between 2005 and 2009 English clubs had a part to play in every Champions League final, with Liverpool and Manchester United recording one success each in that time. However, in the intervening years just two clubs (Manchester United and Chelsea) have made it to the final.
This may not be alarming but it points to a distinct nose-dive in England’s efforts to reach the top table of European competition.
In the last three years only one side from the Premier League has managed to get past the last 16 stage. That club is Manchester United, the second richest football club in the world behind the European Cup record holders (and richest club) Real Madrid.
The dominance of Barcelona in the last few years has had an impact on England’s notoriety in Europe, as has the steady rise of German clubs, with Bayern Munich standing out as a side to be reckoned with once again on the European stage.
But can English clubs blame the improving standards across the continent as a reason they have fallen from their perch?
This writer thinks not, it may just be a fact that in today’s world the talent within the Premier League’s top sides just is not there, to the extent it used to be.
It is one of the most difficult footballing competitions on the planet to win, there is no doubt, so this writer may be overly-critical of the English game at present but the reputation of the Premier League is diminishing year on year.
With each passing season this problem is set to snowball. Less success in Europe equals less financial potency. Yes, your Man Utd’s will always be a bastion of financial muscle but for the clubs who are outside the realms of surreal money, one can see a vicious circle forming where Premier League sides could be left to fight for scraps from their mainland Europe counterparts.
It may be a long way off but if England’s closest European coefficient challengers Italy keep on improving their performances in continental competition it could spell trouble. They’re the closest country to overtaking England as one of Europe’s three best performing leagues, and could potentially take the Premier League’s fourth Champions League spot.
This is not an immediate concern however, as many results must go in Italian clubs’ favour as well as to English sides’ detriment for the tables to turn. It is something which will happen should the Premier League’s performances decline though.
Let’s hope this isn’t the case, and a lot could turn this article on it’s head as soon as Wednesday night but for now at least, English football is on the ropes and it needs to land a punch sooner rather than later.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena