Football can described as a game of cycles, an ever-evolving beast that throws up varying styles and adaptations. The Premier League rose to the top of the pile in the last decade, but in recent years English sides have appeared mightily inferior to continental rivals, and particularly the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Only Chelsea emerged from the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 ties with a positive result, while Liverpool and Tottenham were dumped out of the Europa League last week, leaving Everton as the only Premier League representative in the competition at the last 16 stage.
Indeed it is Chelsea who are the only side to have won a European title in this decade, lifting Europe’s biggest prize in 2012 and winning the Europa League the following year. Manchester United reached the Champions League final three times in four years between 2008 and 2011, but were only victorious once, in the first of that trio.
In 2008, all four English representatives made the quarter-finals, where Arsenal were beaten by Liverpool, before Chelsea eliminated the Anfield side to reach Moscow’s final, meaning that no English side was knocked out by a club from another country. The Premier League was a fearsome proposition, boasting world stars at the top of their game, in comparison to even when Chelsea won the competition when they were considered huge underdogs against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern.
Today’s situation does not bode well for English sides, with just one Premier League club likely to reach the quarters, although there is a chance none will make it should Paris Saint-Germain turn it on at Stamford Bridge. Manchester City were completely outclassed by Barcelona for a second year running, and were lucky to escape with only a 2-1 deficit, while Arsenal were abysmal against Monaco.
European football is not just a question of money, as City and an unshackled Arsenal are proving. Tactically our clubs seem incapable of mixing it with the best teams around, while there is a lack of identity in the national game. In 2008, English sides were full of power, pace and running from front to back, exemplified by the first Jose Mourinho team at Chelsea that contained John Terry, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
The Premier League now seems to be jostling for whatever it can get in terms of big names, grateful for whoever it can pick up while acting as a dumping ground for unwanted yet expensive La Liga stars such as Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and even Cesc Fabregas, none of whom would be plying their trade in England had they been wanted for the Real Madrid or Barcelona starting XI.A rediscovery of identity must be made, the Premier League cannot attempt to replicate the style of others as it has tried to do. It is only Chelsea at the moment that seem to have a real sense of identity under Mourinho that is working.
The colossal new TV deal agreed with Sky and BT will certainly bring more wealth to these shores, and added to the increasing likelihood that Spanish teams will begin negotiating a collective agreement as opposed to the disparity enjoyed by Real and Barca, will propel the Premier League upwards when it comes to financial muscle.
Yet it is doubtful that there will be much of an impact at the highest level. It may well be the case that English clubs can pay huge transfer fees and massive wages, but if the league is not the most attractive proposition going then this will be futile.
The levelling up of the Spanish playing field ought to increase competition in La Liga, which is a further worry to the Premier League, which prides itself on the entertainment factor heavily influenced by top teams being challenged and beaten by lesser teams more frequently than in Spain, and also Germany when it comes to Bayern.
The Premier League has fallen a long way behind in European competition in recent years. It remains to be seen whether its clubs plummet further before being able to catch up.
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