Premier League giants need to stop the rot...right now
A key couple of nights beckon for the Premier League’s elite as they look to protect their status as genuine contenders to lift the Champions League crown.
After being the dominant force in the Champions League not so long ago, England’s big-hitters are becoming the high-profile cannon fodder for Europe’s lesser lights to pick off with alarming consistency.
Dinamo Zagreb’s win against Arsenal and Man United humbling at the hands of PSV Eindhoven were fresh examples of English clubs fluffing their lines on the European stage and the punishment for their incompetence is about to be confirmed.
Slipping UEFA award four prized places in the Champions League to the three domestic leagues that perform most effectively in their two competitions. After being top of UEFA’s coefficient ranking chart not so long ago, English clubs are now in danger of slipping down to fourth place.
Juventus’s run to last season’s Champions League final helped ensure that Italy are closing in on third spot in the rankings and if they claim an extra place in UEFA’s marquee competition, it would shatter the Premier League’s claim to be the best domestic competition in the world.
The EPL may soon be presented with a scenario that sees only two English teams guaranteed a place in the group stages of the Champions League and one granted access to a play-off. The financial cost of such a slide would be devastating, with so much money now on offer to top English teams in European competition.
A new TV deal with BT Sport to screen Champions League football in the UK over the next three years means a Premier League club could claim a mind blowing £100m in revenue if they were to go all the way and win this season’s final in Berlin.
Throw in the commercial revenue a run in the competition provides, along with the huge sponsorship opportunities, and it shows that this is a mega-money age for England’s big four.
Yet unless they find a way to reach the latter stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League very quickly, Premier League clubs could be confirmed as second rate by European football chiefs.
The Champions League quarter-finals have been played out without the presence of a Premier League side in two of the last three seasons and with both Manchester clubs joining Arsenal in suffering defeats on Matchday 1 of this season’s competition, the alarm bells should be ringing.
“You ask why English clubs struggle in Europe and I can give you many reasons, but it does not seem that anyone pays any attention or makes any moves to help to resolve the situation,” states Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
“Other leagues have a winter break and come back refreshed for the second half of the Champions League. “Other leagues arrange their matches differently to help clubs with big Champions League matches. Other leagues, but not the Premier League.
“We need to give the players a little bit of a break because there are no miracles. Players are not machines. They play more in England than anywhere.
“It is not a problem with the quality of the English teams, clearly we have quality in the Premier League.
“The problem is the intensity of the Premier League is so much and that is not the same in Spain or in Germany. Possible
“Here you play the team that is 17th and it is a tough game. When I was at Real Madrid, if I played the team that was 17th a week before a big Champions League game, I rest half of my team and I still win 5-0. That is not possible in England.
“If it were not for the results of Chelsea in recent years, the ranking of the English clubs would be even worse than it is now, but we are not helping ourselves.
“After European games, we have the biggest Premier League teams playing each other, at 12.45 on a Saturday. I ask why?
“This is an old argument for me, but why does every other country help their clubs when they have big European games, but the Premier League has a different agenda.
“I understand that TV pays a lot of money for the games in England, but why do Arsenal and Chelsea play in the Champions League in the midweek and then we play the first match at 12.45 last weekend? Why can we not play on Sunday?”
With UEFA’s league table of countries comprised of points collected in the two European competitions, the reluctance of Premier League clubs to embrace the Europa League is also hitting English hopes of retaining their top-three status. Tottenham and Liverpool are among the teams who have treated the Europa League as something of an annoyance in recent years.
In the opinion of Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew – who led Newcastle to the quarter-finals of the competition in 2013 – the current set-up of the competition is not suited to Premier League sides.
“I would not want to be in the Europa League in the current format, that’s for sure,” stated Pardew, in an interview with ESPN.
“Thursday night games are difficult to contend with given the level of physicality we deal with in the Premier League.
“We struggled with it at Newcastle and we were not alone in that. “The non-Champions League sides have smaller squads and they can’t deal with European matches on top of what they already have.
“At this moment in time, no Premier League team wants to be in the Europa League. That’s the reality, even if some don’t want to admit it.
“Teams playing in the Europa League should be allowed to move matches to Monday nights and until that happens, I don’t think English clubs will be able to compete, which is a shame.
“When you look at the strength in depth of the Premier League, we should be dominating that competition.”
Man United’s appearance in the 2011 Champions League final and Chelsea’s win in 2012 will soon slip off a rankings list that is compiled over a five-year period.
So, the stakes are about to get very big for the English clubs in Europe. They need to stop their slide and stop it now.