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Sunday, November 24, 2013

English Teams in Europe – Slim Pickings and Fat Chance

by Sam at Foreverfearless.co.uk for World Football Commentaries


All images in this article are courtesy of and copyrighted by AndhikaMPPP.

Once upon a time, Britannia ruled the waves. Not so long ago, her football clubs ruled the Champions League. As recently as 2012, Chelsea took the biggest prize in club football.

But Chelsea's, let's be honest, more than fortunate defeat of Bayern Munich papered over the cracks of English dominance in Europe.

Most years of the early 21st century contained Champions League semi-finals involving at least one English team. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and even Leeds United were at the party and many of them more than once. Often times they played each other. For example in 2008, Chelsea and Manchester United played each other in the Champions League final.

The Glory Years Seem Far Away

But those glory glory years are gone.

In 2013, no English team made it past the Round of 16 as Spain and Germany flexed their Euro-muscles for all to see.

Will this year's competition mark the start of an English revival?

The bookies have Chelsea and Manchester United as the most likely English winners in 2014, with City and Arsenal not so far behind.

Tellingly however, United and Chelsea are only fifth favourites.

Faith in David Moyes at Manchester United

MU 2013/14 photo MU2014.jpg

It's true that you don't see many impoverished bookies, but giving United and Chelsea the same odds is a remarkable show of faith in David Moyes.

The new United manager, as many already disgruntled Red Devils' fans will tell you, has won nothing as a football boss. And the nearest he came to the Champions League prior to this year was an exit in the Preliminary Stages way back when – his Everton side losing to eventual semi-finalists that year Villareal.

United have started the group stages well enough and it would be a major shock if they don't progress to the knock-out phase, but an ageing defence, a lack of creativity in midfield and Moyes' lack of experience in the Champions League does not point to an extended run in the competition through the winter and into spring.

The Blues

UEFA Super Cup

Chelsea, on the other hand, look the best equipped of all the English teams to go deep.

The manager and half the squad have been there, seen it and got Roman Abramovich to buy them all a t-shirt.

Jose Mourinho has won the thing twice and come very close on a number of other occasions.

Their group, despite that shock opening day defeat at the hands of Basel, should be easy enough to get out of safely. The depth of their squad means Mourinho can pick dogged, destructive teams, or more stylish and attack-minded ones to suit pretty much any European scenario.

The one fly in the ointment for Chelsea stems from that loss to Basel. If they don't win their group, then they could face a nasty little shock in the Round of 16 draw. Barcelona anyone? Or Bayern?

If they can avoid the biggest of the big guns for at least one round, Chelsea look the best placed and best equipped to be flying the flag for England.

Manchester City

City Vs MU

Manchester City seem to be going out of their way to prove that money can't buy you everything – in Europe at least.

Their home humbling at the hands of holders Bayern harked uncomfortably back to the disasters of last year when they failed to get out of their group.

New boss Manuel Pellegrini's brief is to make City a dominant force in Europe. His has not been an auspicious start.

Pellegrini is yet to find the right balance when it comes to squad rotation. He has a large and expensive squad to pick from but doesn't seem to know which players are best suited to the more technical and tactical demands of the Champions League.

He's got four games left to work it out...

Despite all this, City should still make the knock-out stages.

But they're going to have to find their mojo – especially away from home – pretty quickly or they're likely to be joining neighbours United in the 'out sooner rather than later' category of this year's competition.

The Arsenal

Arsenal 201314

Which just leaves Arsenal.

Manager Arsene Wenger recently admitted that winning the Champions League has become an obsession.

The closest he's ever come is losing to Barcelona in the 2006 final and even that is a feat which looks well beyond the current crop of North London Euro-wannabes.

Arsenal's excellent start to the season should not fool anyone. They might be top of the Premier League and pitch perfect in one of the toughest Champions League groups of 2013-14, but this Arsenal squad simply does not look strong enough to mount a serious challenge – either domestically or on the continent.

If front man Olivier Giroud were to be injured, there is precious little cover, Arsene Wenger's defenders are either too immobile or too inexperienced and only the midfield, boosted by the arrival and cracking early form of Mesut Ozil, looks strong and savvy enough to punch at the weight required in the Champions League.

Getting out of a group including Marseille, Napoli and Borussia Dortmund would be an achievement in itself for Arsenal.

But such achievements do not an obsession quell. Only one thing will satisfy Monsieur Wenger and he'll have to wait at least another year for that.

About the Author 

Sam is a rookie blogger from Bradford in the UK. He’s a long time football fanatic and Doncaster Rovers supporter. He writes over at foreverfearless.co.uk. 

This was a sponsored article.

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