The first leg of every game in the Round of 16 stage of the 2014 Champions League has been completed, and it is the English teams who have been struggling the most to find form.
Chelsea were the only English side to score a goal, the only ones to avoid defeat, and now appear to be the only Premier League side likely to progress any further in the competition, although even that is far from a certainty with a strong Galatasaray side preparing to visit Stamford Bridge.
There has been a definite shift in power in European football in recent times, with the English teams struggling to impose themselves against their German and Spanish counterparts, Chelsea’s miraculous win in 2012 aside.
The ever-presence of English sides in the latter stages of the competition witnessed in the ‘noughties’ now seems a distant memory. Indeed there was once a time where the semi-finals of the Champions League typically included at least one, often two and once even three English representatives. This year it is far from inconceivable that not a single English team will even reach the quarter-finals.
That two of the four English sides were given opening home ties made little difference to their fortunes, as Arsenal were clinically dispatched at home to defending champions Bayern Munich, and Manchester City stuttered to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona. Manchester United did nothing to restore English pride with a stunning defeat away to Greek side Olympiakos, something that would surely have been unthinkable in the previous decade, under previous management.
Chelsea’s 1-1 draw provided some respite for fans of the game in England, but make no mistake, that is not enough to paper over the cracks; the decline quality in the English league – or, at least, the failure to keep up with the progress of the continental teams – has been evident for some time now.
Facing second and third in the Premier League was once a mightily feared away tie, and while I’m sure Bayern Munich and Barcelona did their homework, both Arsenal and Manchester City respectively meekly surrendered their home advantage in a manner neither side will be proud of. Both now look likely to drop out of the tournament altogether with trips to Germany and Spain looming large. Even Chelsea, top of the table in England, found the going tough away to a team currently second in the Turkish league.
The cause for this decline may be hard to pinpoint. It is certainly possible that this is merely an inevitable blip after many years of such consistently high quality football, but the Premier League (and it’s broadcasting partners) prides itself on being “The best league in the world”, and while it may still be competitive and tightly contested internally, it is certainly no longer the standard bearer it once was internationally.
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