The Best League In The World? My Arse.
Defeats for Chelsea and Arsenal in the Champions League last night made it five losses in six games for English clubs in the competition’s group stage this season.
Chelsea’s victory a fortnight ago over Maccabi Tel Aviv does little to dispel the notion that there’s something seriously gone wrong with the Premier League’s representatives in Europe’s flagship competition.
Clubs have consistently demanded a winter break, citing it as one of the reasons for English sides’ relatively poor performances in Europe in recent years. However, they’d no time off for Christmas between 2005 and 2012 when the Premier League could boast eight out of the sixteen Champions League finalists.
Furthermore, physical data from last season reveal no discernible slump amongst Premier League players contesting in Europe. Indeed, when Chelsea lost to PSG in last year’s second round, the French side had already played one more game than their English rivals across the season.
Irrespective of this, domestic leagues have only recently started across most of Europe, with rival clubs on a level playing field. Fatigue in the Champions League group stages can be no excuse.
The Premier League’s glory era in the Champions League undoubtedly spans from Liverpool’s win in Instanbul in 2005 to Chelsea’s improbable victory in Munich seven years later.
During this heyday the Premier League could boast the likes of Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Ryan Giggs. Players such as Johny Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney were arguably at their peak.
Compare the PFA Team of the Year from 2006/07 with that from last season, below. Which team do you think would win?
It is clear that, despite the vast riches spent by top English clubs in recent years, the quality of its stars has dropped considerably. Between 2005 and 2009, the Premier League could boast six Ballon d’Or finalists. Since then? Not one.
Premier League clubs have spent a record £1 billion this year, but it’s clear that they are not getting bang for their megabucks. And when they do sign marquee players like Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil they are merely unwanted cast-offs from Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The Rise of Barca, Real Madrid & Bayern
When Liverpool clinched their famous Champions League victory in 2005, Lionel Messi had only made nine appearances for Barcelona. The dominance of the likes of Barca, Bayern Munich and, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid has made Europe’s premiere competition much more competitive in recent seasons.
From 2005 to 2009, Spain only contributed four Champions League semi-finalists, three times less than England. Germany provided none.
In the last four years, however, Spain have accounted for half of the teams reaching the last four with Germany providing five. This compares to two in the same period for England.
It may transpire that four English clubs will no longer flatter to deceive in Europe. The Premier League’ s fourth Champions League place is at risk from 2017-18 if Italian clubs continue to outperform their English counterparts in Europe, and this is exactly what will happen should English and Italian clubs repeat their performances from last season.
And judging on recent form, it could take quite a while to win it back.