Originally posted on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 3/8/13
Jack Wilshere’s all like, “We got this.”With Arsenal officially the last English team left in the UEFA Champions League, and already a couple aggregate goals down going into an away match against probably the best team in the tournament (Bayern Munich), it’s looking pretty likely this tournament will roll on without any EPL challengers in the quarterfinals. Assuming the Gunners don’t pull a miracle out their Arsene Wenger’s, that’s definitely a departure from the norm. Over the past 8 seasons of UCL play, 7 finals included a Premier League team in the final pairing… and of those 7 finals, 3 EPL teams ended up winning it all. One of those finals even featured an all-English clash, pitting Manchester United against Chelsea (and, unfortunately for Chelsea, John Terry against a loose piece of turf too). To give you an idea of just how ever-present the Prem has been in the final game of this tournament compared to others (in the most recent years at least), over those same 8 years La Liga has reached the final 3 times, Serie A the same amount, and the Bundesliga just twice. That’s it. That includes all clubs that have made it since 2005, and it leaves us with a final score of Prem 7, all the other leagues no more than 3.  So there’s that… and then there’s this year, where as early as next week we could be looking at a Champions League season that included zero wins by an English team in a knockout tie. A season where the reigning EPL champions crashed out in the group stage, and where the reigning Champions League Champions did the same. Maybe this is the UCL Gods’ way of evening the score after conjuring up one of the most fantastic and inexplicable Champs League wins (for an EPL team) in recent memory last year, or maybe this is just a tell-tale sign of league-wide decay. I say no… this doesn’t strike me as an indicator that the EPL is in dire straits. What it likely does mean though, is that the majority of the EPL’s top half is in significant transition. Tottenham narrowly missed out on a UCL birth last year, and had they achieved that, they probably could have made some noise this year. Liverpool spent a lot of money a couple years ago, and unfortunately for them, they invested in mostly doomed/failing ventures… it’s full throttle rebuild-mode at Anfield. Everton is Everton, and while they did finally put some early in the season wins together this year, they have since cooled and are now dealing with the anxiety of a possible Marouane Fellaini escape. Those are the teams on the cusp, and while they could eventually have UCL-related impact, they remain a year or so off. They still set/match the “transitional” tone of this year’s Prem though. In the top four we see a different kind of transition, but adversity nevertheless. Manchester City has a weird striker addiction (there’s honestly still about 30 of them on their roster), but their bigger problem has become a manager that struggles to deal with his personnel and how to implement them effectively. That troubling notion became all too clear when his insistence on playing three in the back during Champions League got in the way of winning… I think Zabaleta is still having flashbacks to the blistering runs Ronaldo was able to constantly make at him at the Bernabeu. This has led many to question Mancini, and probably lays the final groundwork for his eventual exit. More importantly, it’s turned a “defending champion” campaign into a “how do we fix our team” campaign. You can’t go on to win the UCL with those kinds of problems hanging over your head (unless you are Roberto Di Matteo of course). Arsenal was largely put together from players with potential and newly arrived transfers to replace departed talismans (surprise!). They were always going to take a bit to hit their stride, but this time it looks like it may not come in time to garner further UCL qualification (and future money, which their owner loves). As always though, they look like they have a good deal of high-possession/skillful players who could “grow” into title contenders. Concerns over their lack of physicality and overall size are still very legitimate issues however, so hopefully they grow in more ways than one. Still perpetually a year away. Chelsea shelled out the necessary funds this off-season, and they really do have a tremendous/youthful midfield, but they decided to fire a UCL winning coach and plug in a man that literally everyone in West London despises. Roman Abramovich can only play the musical chairs of managers game so long before his world comes crashing down on him, and it looks like this year could come pretty close to being that year (again). Someone needs to let Roman turn the revolving door one more time, then tie his hands behind his back so that who ever is appointed “coach” can actually go about their business with some semblance of club-endorsed confidence. Self-created misery for the Blues. The there’s Manchester United. They have been handled in such a different manner than the rest, and you really only have to look at games where Ryan Giggs nets a goal in the first half, and Shinji Kagawa nets one in the second to see that. It’s continuity, transfer talent and homegrown youth all mixing happily in one hard-driving machine. They are the exception to the “everyone in the EPL is transitioning” rule we’ve seen from the pack, and that’s probably why they currently hold a commanding lead in the domestic title race. This is easily the strongest United has looked since 2008, and that’s saying something. So, no need to panic EPL fans. This year’s UCL failure doesn’t mean the league is crumbling (just as last year’s Chelsea UCL win didn’t mean the league was dramatically heading in the other direction), it simply means most English teams need/needed to go sit in the corner and think about what they’d done, think about the mistakes they’d made in a tournament that is extremely unforgiving. Next year will tell a very different story, there’s no doubt in my mind. - Follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook
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