Champions League football is not an end-all indication of the strength of a domestic league but it is one of the more universally viable yardsticks, and for that the English Premiership should be worried.
Over sixty years there have only been a few stretches during which the European champion has directly pointed to the best league on that continent as a devout follower I know that Real Madrid, AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich have indeed hoisted high that coveted trophy in seasons that their domestic leagues have struggled, and they as clubs have fared even worse in those leagues.
Nonetheless the Champions League has provided one big platform for tangible measurement of relative might, a platform on which the English who unashamedly lay claim to possessing the best league in the world are slipping up quite embarrassingly at present.
It is early days yet, but unless there is a dramatic upturn in fortunes the Premiership’s interest in Europe’s elite get-together could be halved by the end of the group stages, and halved again after the round of last 16.
The Luis Suarez departure, the arrival of several new players and subsequent transition, as well as Brendan Rodgers’ first taste of this level have combined to have Liverpool look painfully laboured, devoid of defensive solidity, midfield balance and the pace and dynamism that got them here in the first place. That there was a debate about Steven Gerrard’s omission from the starting line-up against Real Madrid, and that an audibly sympathetic commentator who had been literally begging for his introduction should declare that “he has taken control, he is now dictating play” was all evidence of a people stuck in 2005.
What Gerrard was doing in that typically busy spell after his arrival was hit crossfield passes being easily read by Ramos, Varane and Arbeloa, and one of Liverpool’s biggest weaknesses is that the aging icon’s conversion into a quarterback has imbalanced their midfield, leaving as the first line of defence after the defence a man without the legs for it, ensuring that one or two others play out of position as a result, and generally slowing transition forwards and backwards. Why should the English public put Rodgers on trial for rightfully suggesting that a 34-year-old who has run himself into the ground carrying that team for decades shouldn’t play three games a week? In his absence a 4-2-3-1 with Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson as the sitting midfielders, and a three-man line of Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling behind lone frontman Balotelli would have more balance and do the job if trusted enough.With Gerrard involved, it should still be alongside another sitting midfielder to clean up around him, even when Daniel Sturridge returns to pair up with Balotelli and predictably improve Liverpool’s pace, movement and goal return.
They are not down and out yet, for they were in a similar situation in 2005 before miraculously sneaking through the group with the last kick and then going all the way. But the adjustments have to be made immediately.
With a squad and style better suited to Europe than the other English sides, Man City have suffered from both their ill-luck with the draw and an inherent complex borne of their lack of a history in this competition.
Being drawn against the champions of Germany (twice), Spain (earlier), a big club from Italy, and the champions of Russia appears unfair when Chelsea should have a Maribor, Liverpool a Ludogorets and Arsenal both Galatasaray and Anderlecht, and when there is an entire group with Porto, Shaktar, Borisov and Bilbao.
That they could still attack CSKA Moscow with nine men showed their quality, but that they should miss David Silva exemplifies the ill luck they have had, and that they should have two men sent off underscores the discipline issues that have plagued them each year, borne of frustration.
They too can still scrape through, but what chance that a major absentee, an uncharacteristic error or a refereeing decision won’t conspire against them yet again?
Chelsea have the experience, quality, depth and tactical flexibility to go a long way again, but because of their mental fragility Arsenal look set to finish second as they always do, then get eliminated by one of the favourites in the last 16, or have to cause a huge upset to survive.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor