Champions League not kind to Premier League so far
November 12, 2014
Many fans of the Premier League wear their fandom as a badge of honor; they consider their league the most prestigious in European soccer. It’s a point of pride to root for a team in the EPL — the most exciting, most storied league in the sporting universe.
But the recent performance of some of the top English clubs in Europe’s biggest tournament, the Champions League, may be a crack in the EPL facade.
Four matches into the UCL Group stage, the road has been full of potholes for England’s four participants — Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Thus far, the performance of Man City has been the bleakest. They began with a loss to Bayern Munich and drew with AS Roma (not terrible results). Where things have gone south on City is its recent results against Russian club CSKA Moscow. City was, by all accounts, unimpressive in a draw on the road in Russia. This was followed up last week by a befuddling home loss to CSKA. For a club with the talent and the expectations of City, such a result is unacceptable.
Liverpool, back in the UCL after five seasons, hasn’t fared much better. Sure, the team lost twice against Real Madrid, but Liverpool was pretty inept against Swiss club Basel and struggled in a victory over Bulgarian club Ludogorets. While it is true that Liverpool is in semi-rebuilding mode post-Luis Suarez, there is still no excuse for the team’s relatively listless play.
Arsenal has clearly played better than the two clubs above, but its recent result is also a cause for concern. The Gunners held a commanding 3-0 lead on the road over Belgian club Anderlecht, only to go on to give up three unanswered goals for a shocking draw. That cannot happen. While Arsenal will still move on to the knockout stage, the lack of mental toughness displayed last week will be a major obstacle that could result in a quick exit from the UCL.
Chelsea has played the best of the four English clubs in the UCL, which is not surprising, given that they are the best team in the EPL this season. Chelsea did have a poor result of their own last week, with a draw against Slovenian club NK Maribor — a team Chelsea beat earlier by six goals. If anything, that result is an aberration, as Chelsea is the only English team with a legitimate chance to make a deep run.
A simple comparison between the UCL participants from England and the participants from La Liga and the Bundesliga reveals stark contrasts.
Seven of the eight clubs from Spain and Germany are in first or second place in their respective UCL groups. Only two clubs from England can stake such a claim.
So, why haven’t the English clubs played better?
The easy answer for defenders of the EPL is that such poor performances were simply mental lapses or the product of having to travel into continental Europe for a midweek match.
Having to travel to countries such as Switzerland, Slovenia or Bulgaria for midweek matches is certainly not an easy task, but it is something teams from Spain and Germany must contend with as well. Going on the road in a hostile environment is just another obstacle UCL participants have to deal with.
Then again, English teams have to travel further than their Spanish and German counterparts, so EPL fans may have a legitimate argument.
The lack of English dominance in the UCL may also be a product of the EPL’s own prestige. It could just be that English clubs place a greater value on winning the league than they do on winning in Europe.
That could very well explain this year’s struggles and why, in the last 10 seasons, English clubs have only won the UCL three times.
Whatever the reason for the lack of English success in the UCL, the development is definitely not a good omen for the league overall. The EPL has recently developed a reputation of falling behind La Liga and Bundesliga.
It’s imperative that the EPL doesn’t further cement its reputation as a league where its clubs fail to perform in Europe. Nothing positive can come from that reputation.
With the EPL’s performance so far in the Champions League, it may be ample time to put to bed the argument that the Premier League is the best league in European soccer. At least for the time being, that is.
Then again, a European championship for Chelsea can flip the script.