TOUCHLINEUI: PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REPORT CARD

It’s been another disappointing campaign for Premier League sides in Europe’s top tier club competition as none of the 4 representatives made it to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. The “unfortunate” feat makes it the second time in three years that the “richest league” in the World will not have a team in the last eight. Chelsea and Arsenal were dumped by French nouveau-riche sides, Paris Saint Germain and AS Monaco; League Champions Manchester City ousted by Catalan Giants, Barcelona; while the most successful English side in Europe, Liverpool failed to make it out of a relatively easy Group after a five year hiatus.

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Just like every “decent” educational institution will provide its students with a grade scorecard after the session, TouchlineUI rates the four eliminated English Premier League sides and give them a grade afterwards.

  • ARSENAL (Lost 3-3 on aggregate to AS Monaco on the away goal rule)

SEASON EXPECTATION

Arsenal finished fourth in the league and had to navigate their way to the group via playoff against Turkish giants, Besiktas. Arsenal will see off Bilic’s side and advance to the Group Stage for the 17th year running. The Gunners were certainly not favorites for the “Big Ears” but most people felt with a bit of luck, a decent group and the additions of Sanchez, Welbeck, Debuchy and later Paulista coupled with the likes of Ozil, Giroud and co, Wenger’s could at least make it to the latter stages of the competition.

Arsenal was drawn in Group D which with only 2013 Finalists, Borussia Dortmund, expected to pose any threat. Galatasaray and Belgian side, Anderlecht will complete the Group. As expected the Gunners advanced albeit as runners-up.  This scenario left most Arsenal fans scratching their heads ahead of the knockout draw in Nyon with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munchen all potential opponents. Porto and Monaco were the teams every Arsenal fan hoped for. Arsenal was eventually paired up against the Principality side, Monaco, and it seemed the knockout stage hoodoo would eventually be overcome. A return to the Stade Louis II was on the cards for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners started to dream; a first quarter final appearance in five years beckoned.

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Unfortunately for the Gunners, Leonardo Jardim’s men had other ideas, came to London and put on what I would describe as a “perfect counter-attacking” display at the Emirates. Arsenal were poor defensively and profligate up front and the meanest defence in the Champions League capitalized and got their goals from Kondogbia, Berbatov and Yannick with Oxlade’s goal a mere consolation. Advantage Monaco, nightmare for the Gunners. Arsenal will restore some pride and win the second leg 2-0 in France. The Gunners in a friend’s words “played with strength and character”.

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Although Giroud and Ramsey’s goals set up a grandstand finish, they however would prove not to be enough, as usual, as Monaco resisted Arsenal’s attempt at a spirited comeback. For a fifth year running, the Gunners were knocked out at the last 16. This elimination has a semblance to the one against A.C. Milan where they lost 4-0 at San Siro and won the return leg 3-0 and also against Bayern Munchen in the 12/13 season, lost 3-1 at home only to win at the Allianz Arena 2-0. Looks like Arsenal saves their best for the last. Unfortunately for the Gunners, knockouts in the Champions League are decided over two legs and not one (the second leg in Arsenal’s case) .The exits in the hands of Barcelona, A.C. Milan and Bayern Munchen though disappointing, it is doubtful if any will leave a more bitter taste in Wenger’s side as this one. A huge chance missed!

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High Point of the Champions League Campaign: Winning 2-0 at home to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday Five was impressive as Wenger’s men proved they could mix with the big boys that night.

LOW POINT(s): Blowing a 3 goal lead against Anderlecht to eventually draw 3-3 and suffering elimination in the hands of a Monaco side making her appearance at this stage for the first time in a decade has to be the low point.

GRADE: E

  • CHELSEA (LOST 3-3 ON AGGREGATE TO PARIS SAINT GERMAIN)

SEASON EXPECTATION

If there was any English side you would have fancied to make it to the latter stages of this year’s competition, it would have most likely been Chelsea. The Blues reached the last four in the previous season and prior to this year’s elimination had failed to reach the last eight three times in the last ten years.  Also, in Jose Mourinho, the London side has one of best Managers around. With the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, it looked like the missing pieces of the jigsaw had been found and Abramovich’s army could embark on another fairytale European campaign. There was nothing in the Group performance to suggest otherwise. Chelsea won Group G quite comfortably, finishing as tournament’s top scorers in the Group with 17. The 2012 winners were drawn against French Ligue 1 Champions, PSG, though most anticipated a tough clash, a couple still expected Mourinho’s tactical prowess to power Chelsea to the next round.

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The first leg at the Parc des Princes will leave the tie delicately poised ahead of the second leg with Chelsea seen as marginal favorites to go through. Everything appeared to be going according to the script until the “blue babies” lost it; Zlatan Ibrahimovic got sent off and Chelsea appeared rattled all of a sudden. Maybe it was a problem making the numerical advantage count or simply trying to hang on. The Blues will eventually lose the lead twice, very much unlike Mourinho’s side and to make matters worse, conceded the two goals from set pieces. Fair credit to the Parisiens for not throwing in the towel after the sending off, but it has to be said that Chelsea was poor: the defence ragged, the midfield far from creative and Diego Costa  is more remembered for his running battle with Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marquinhos than for any meaningful contribution with the ball.  Why Chelsea with a man up blew the lead is not totally a surprise as the Blues have failed to hold on to the lead 11 times this season. Against PSG, over the two legs, Chelsea blew the lead three times.

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HIGH POINT: Winning at the Veltins Arena 5-0 is certainly a high point in a short European adventure

LOW POINT: Suffering elimination in the hands of Paris Saint Germain. What else should it be?

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GRADE: F

  • LIVERPOOL (GROUP STAGE)

SEASON EXPECTATION

After a five year absence, it may seem a little unfair to have expected Liverpool to take Europe by storm. This season was supposed to be a learning curve. However, when you are paired with the likes of tricky but beatable Basel and an unknown Ludogorets, a team with the European pedigree as the Reds is expected to qualify. Real Madrid was expected to top the pile with the Brendan Rodger’s side expected to follow suit. Well, they did qualify, albeit for Europe’s second tier competition after finishing third and winning just one of their group games; a last gasp win home win over Bulgarian side Ludogorets. In the Europa League, they crashed out in the hands of Turkish side Besiktas.

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HIGH POINT(s): It’s a tough one picking a high point in campaign that had just one victory and three defeats. If we are to pick then it must be the fact Anfield finally got to host the likes of Real Madrid in European Games. Fair enough.

LOW POINT(s): Failing to get that home win over Basel which would have ensured qualification to the next round despite Steven Gerrard’s “Olympiakos” like heroics.

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GRADE: E

MANCHESTER CITY (LOST 1-3 TO BARCELONA ON AGGREGATE)

After breaking the group-stage curse and advancing to the knockout stage last term, this year was seen as the year where the Citizens will start to mix with the big boys and establish a foothold in Europe. To test if Pellegrini’s side was ready, they had German Champions, Bayern Munchen; Serie A side, A.S. Roma and Russian Giants, CSKA Moscow as Group E Opponents. Four games into the group and the Eastland side was bottom of the log with just two points. A big performance was needed in their last two games against Bayern and A.S Roma to stand any chance of progressing out of the group.  They’ll do just and come out of a difficult group with two big wins; a 3-2 home against 10 men Bayern Munchen and an impressive away win to A.S Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. City was through and now it looked like Pellegrini’s men could finally rub shoulders with Europe’s top guns.

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Manchester City was paired against Barcelona and with the Catalan giants not in top form at the time of the draw, most pundits and football fans fancied a potential upset. Fast-Forward and two months later, ahead of the first leg, it was the Blaugrana who was in a much better form compared to the Sky Blues. The first leg at the Etihad ended 2-1 in favor of Barcelona, which should have been 3 had Lionel Messi converted his penalty late on in the game.  City Boss Pellegrini committed a tactical blunder by sticking to his preferred 4-4-2 formation. Why go with a formation that leaves gaps in the midfield against a side that dominates almost all of her matches through the middle. Also the failure of David Silva and Samir Nasri to track back and curtail marauding fullbacks in Alves and Jordi Alba also raised questions as to why the Chilean stuck to his guns. Does he even read the opponent’s style of play?

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Despite Pellegrini insistence that City had a chance of going through, the second leg followed the same pattern and a superb goal from Rakitic was enough to eliminate the last side from the Queens Country. Despite Aguero missing his spot kick, which could have set up a grandstand finish, it’s fair to say the 1-0 second leg defeat flattered the Citizens. If not for the heroics of Joe Hart, Barcelona would and should have been out of sight. Should Manchester City fail to retain the Premier League, they could as well find themselves in Pot 3 for next season’s Champions League Draw should they qualify. One step forward and two step backwards for Manchester City.

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HIGH POINT(s): Two successive wins over Bayern Munchen and A.S Roma on Matchday five and six definitely rank up there in Manchester City’s campaign.

LOW POINT(s): Blowing a 2 goal lead in Russia to draw 2-2 and crashing out to Barcelona last night.

GRADE: D

TABLE SHOWING THE ENGLISH CLUBS THAT REACHED THE QUARTER-FINALS SINCE 2004

YEAR TEAM(S)
2004 CHELSEA AND ARSENAL
2005 CHELSEA AND LIVERPOOL
2006 ARSENAL
2007 CHELSEA, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2008 CHELSEA, ARSENAL, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2009 CHELSEA, ARSENAL, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2010 ARSENAL AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2011 CHELSEA, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2012 CHELSEA
2013 NONE
2014 CHELSEA AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2015 NONE

 

ANY HOPE FOR ENGLISH CLUBS?

CURRENT UEFA COEFFICIENT RANKING (CLUBS)

  • REAL MADRID
  • BARCELONA
  • BAYERN MUNCHEN
  • CHELSEA
  • ATLETICO MADRID
  • BENFICA
  • SCHALKE 04
  • ARSENAL
  • PORTO
  • MANCHESTER UNITED
  • PARIS SAINT GERMAIN
  • BORUSSIA DORTMUND
  • VALENCIA
  • ZENIT ST PETERSBURG
  • BAYER LEVERKUSEN
  • MANCHESTER CITY

While it’s not too late to correct what has happened, the immediate future does not offer much hope. UEFA has changed their seeding policy for next season. The new policy is that domestic champions of England, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Russia will automatically be top seeds alongside the winners of the Competition. This means that should the season end today Chelsea, Barcelona, Lyon, Benfica, Juventus, Bayern Munchen, Zenit St Petersburg and Real Madrid(as champions league winners) will be in Pot 1 while Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Porto, Manchester United, Paris Saint Germain, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester City will be second seeds.

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With City eliminated and hopes of retaining the Premier League looking unlikely, the Abu Dhabi-owned side is vulnerable to being dropped into Pot 3. Should Schalke 04, currently fifth in Germany’s top flight, finish in the top four; Manchester City will drop into the third Pot except they retain the Premier League. Should that happen, City runs the risk of ending up in quite a tough group. With City still showing stage fright in Europe, you wouldn’t fancy them progressing.

As for Arsenal, they are currently ranked 10th and except they win the Premier League, then the Gunners can hope for the likes of Lyon, Zenit or Benfica (assuming the season ends today).

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Manchester United’s absence this year means they drop into Pot 2 and they can expect the likes of Barca, Real or Bayern Munchen. With United still looking like a vehicle with so many missing parts, getting out of the group will represent an achievement in its own right.

As for Liverpool, should they finish in the top four, they can be assured of one thing- A TOUGH DRAW. That is because the Reds are currently 40th in the Coefficient Ranking.

CONCLUSION

Despite the recent 5.1 Billion T.V deal, success in Europe is still very much far from certain. Maybe a winter break will help but something had better be done quickly before the English top flight loses a slot.  The thought of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool and Spurs fighting for four spots is tough enough let alone three.

Over to the Top Four!

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