It’s been three years since the last English triumph in the UEFA Champions League. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City will try to end the drought which goes beyond just the failure to lift the trophy, but also reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Since Chelsea won the title in 2012 by parking the bus all the way through, beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich along the way, it hasn’t been a very pleasant ride for English clubs in the most prestigious club competition in the world. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona have picked up the titles, while no English club has returned to the final.
In fact, last season there were no English clubs in the quarterfinals as well, with Chelsea (knocked out by PSG), Manchester City (by Barcelona) and even Arsenal (by Monaco) not making it past the round of 16, while Liverpool failed to make it out of the group stage. In 2014 Chelsea made the semifinals but were embarrassing in a classic Mourinho ‘park the bus’ seminar which failed miserably, while Manchester United got the boot in the quarterfinal and both Arsenal and Manchester City a round earlier.
In 2013 it was another failure from a national perspective, as no club made it past the round of 16. Manchester City and Chelsea didn’t make it out of the group stage, while Manchester United and Arsenal got brushed aside by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The names keep repeating themselves, showing a gulf being created between the top English clubs and the best teams in Europe.
When looking across the board of the top 4 in England who’ll play in the Champions League, it doesn’t look too optimistic. Chelsea were busy adding depth instead of making a big move, at least until now. Jose Mourinho is suddenly acting as if spending big money on players is wrong. The only noteworthy moves his team made were signing Asmir Begovic to backup Thibaut Courtois and bringing Radamel Falcao on loan after his disastrous spell at Old Trafford.
Enough to repeat as champions? When we take a look at what the other big clubs did, it just might, especially when you consider Mourinho giving the defending champions some sort of advantage. But in Europe? We haven’t seen any of the “giants” making massive changes, but Chelsea don’t look like a team that’s improved over the summer.
Manchester City weren’t really close to challenging Chelsea for the title, dropping off quite early in the race. In the Champions League they once again fell short very early as it was shown that despite the money and the relative continuity in the club, they’re far away from competing on a similar level with a club like Barcelona, outclassing every step of the way.
They’ve only added Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph. Joking aside, these are the kind of moves that might help them improve in the league, not in Europe, which remains an almost weird and hostile frontier for a club that has gone a very long way in the last four or five years, but can’t seem to find out how to make the extra step and join Europe’s elite.
Manchester United, just like last season, are spending big money. Memphis Depay, Matthias Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sergio Romero, maybe or maybe not coming in for the maybe or maybe not departing David de Gea. The defense is still rocky, and the strike force might be relying too heavily on one player. The midfield looks a lot stronger, but it might not be enough to win the league, let alone the Champions League.
And Arsenal? On paper, they didn’t have to do much. They’re not done, but did bring in Petr Cech, maybe the exact player they’ve been missing all these years. A veteran, leader and proven winner. While Arsenal have been stuck in the round of 16 phase for a very long time in Europe, their main goal is to break an 11-year drought of missing out on the title in the Premier League.
Overall, it feels as if it’s been mostly quiet for the big clubs in England, except for Manchester United. Despite the bigger money rolling in thanks to the new TV deal, the top English clubs seem to be a small step or two behind the best clubs in Europe, as once again Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich seem to present the best challenge to the Champions League trophy, with perhaps Juventus emerging as a new-old force to be reckoned with, hoping last year wasn’t a one time thing.