Following Matchday 2 in the Champions League, the group tables paint a rather familiar picture as far as the British clubs are concerned. Three of the four English clubs are sitting on maximum points, with only Liverpool uncharacteristically slipping up – losing away to Fiorentina on Tuesday night – and Scotland’s sole representatives are finding the going tough despite an impressive performance from Rangers for around two thirds of their match against Sevilla. Everything appears rosy on the surface but if we delve deeper and look beyond simply the points column then we must ponder whether there are some cracks appearing in the armour of England’s top clubs.
It certainly was not a week filled with impressive performances or plentiful goals. Britain’s best performance came at the Emirates Stadium where Arsenal never really looked too troubled by Olympiakos. However even here, it took some 78 minutes of prying before the Gunners finally broke down the Greek defence. Chelsea continued their steady start, recording their second 1-0 victory in Group D, however nothing less than three points would have been acceptable against the Cypriot minnows Apoel Nicosia and most people would have expected to see more goals. Manchester United also maintained their 100% start but had to come from behind against Wolfsburg and certainly benefited from the rub of the green with their equaliser coming from a massive deflection.
Notwithstanding some uninspiring performances these three sides are well on track for the next phase as has come to be expected. That said, Liverpool certainly still have some work to do after being punished for a similarly lacklustre performance in Florence. Rafael Benitez’s side simply never got going and were made to pay by an energetic and bright Viola. The Reds perhaps believe they have some divine right to win such group stage games and this attitude seems to be infecting all four English participants. Their successes in this competition in recent years have been well documented, with all four clubs featuring prominently in the latter stages and perhaps the group stage is now viewed more as a straight-forward qualifying exercise which is becoming increasingly tiresome.
Whatever the reasoning behind this season’s apparent apathy towards the tournament, there will need to be a marked improvement if England’s finest are to compete with the best that Spain has to offer in the latter stages. Reigning champions Barcelona had a comfortable 2-0 win and big-name summer signing – in more ways than one – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is beginning to settle in and gel with his teammates, in what looks to be an even more potent attack than last year. Similarly, Real Madrid are looking like the “Real Deal” this season with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging another two goals and remaining the tournament’s leading scorer.
Interestingly, the aggregated score of Spain’s top two from this round of fixtures was 5-0 while all four English clubs could only manage an aggregate of 5-3. Although it is early in the tournament and it’s the points that really matter, this author is just beginning to consider whether the balance of power in Europe could be shifting back to Spain – mirroring the route taken by Messrs Ronaldo and Alonso in summer. Needless to say, fans of the big four – and the Premier League in general – will hope England’s representatives sort out their attitudes, improve their performances and prove this is nothing more than an off-week.