This week proved to be the start of another disappointing season for English clubs, as two title contenders, Arsenal and Manchester City bid farewell to their hopes of Champions League glory. With Manchester United also down on a 2-0 aggregate to Olympiakos, and Chelsea’s performances looking rather unconvincing, recent debates amongst football pundits have questioned whether or not the EPL ‘deserves’ a fourth Champions League spot. So what seems to have prompted such a hasty proposition? Certainly, it seems the underwhelming performances of the English teams have not gone unnoticed.
Many ardent EPL supporters generally assert the above as false, basing their entire claims on Chelsea winning the Europa League last year, and the Champions League the year before. However, this article refers to English football in general. A period such as from 2005-08 can be seen as one replete with instances of English dominance, the apogee of the EPL era coming in 2008, where 3 out of the 4 Champions League semi-finalists were English. Not only have the English teams not managed to replicate such magnificent grandeur, but the chances of guaranteed quarter-final positions have also started to appear dim nowadays. (All English teams were ousted of the Champions league by the last 16 knock-out ties last year, while this year only Chelsea looks likely to make it to the quarter finals).
Many footballing circles now believe that the English teams are giving way for Spanish and German domination from now on. It is no lie that the English Premier League has gotten a lot more competitive than the years of the ‘Big 4’. However, no matter how competitive the English league gets, a case of German and Spanish giants easily overpowering their English counterparts gives way to a valid and rather valuable argument here. The most recent reflection of this can be seen in the clash between two of the top-dogs in European football, Manchester City and Barcelona, which resulted in a 4-1 aggregate in favour of Barcelona.
Though it is true that Arsenal and Manchester City have both been a part of the ‘Group of Death’ in recent years, and moreover Arsenal have had a streak of bad luck in successive seasons as they have faced Barcelona and Bayern Munich in arguably their strongest years, it still cannot be counted as ‘Bad Luck’ as it eventually boils down to their ability to beat all the sides in the league. Sloppiness on Arsenal’s part got them second on the group table this year, which need not have necessarily resulted in a draw against a top team like Bayern Munich.
An important and usually overlooked aspect of the under-performing English teams is the lack of a winter break in the EPL, which in the German Bundesliga and La Liga are crucial as the rested players are able to maintain top levels of football week-in and week-out. German and Spanish leagues are also relatively less competitive, therefore, the question of struggling to cope up with the variety of competitions hardly occur in these leagues. Apart from that, a lot of contingent factors also add up to the under-par English football. The English teams are internally going through a lot of transition. New managers with new footballing philosophies, under-performing and inconsistent players, injuries to key players etc. also inhibit the clubs from reaching the desired levels of performance.
However, this slump in English football seems to be temporary on the whole. While the same would have probably been said about the teams last year around, the probability of the English clubs to ultimately find their mojo seems to be the more likely scenario. This will probably be a gradual process which may also take some years. A look at the top sides of the EPL highlights how the teams are built and structured for future disbursements rather than immediate dividends. (The examples of Arsenal, Man C and Liverpool should suffice).Thus, this may be the emergence of a new phase of English dominance.The truth however at this point stands against them, and the English teams will have to push hard to show their mettle.