A forgettable year for the English clubs in Europe


Once upon a time, not too many miles down the memory lane; English clubs were easily the strongest contingent in Europe. Even though there have only been two Champions League triumphs for EPL sides since the turn of the millennium – Liverpool (2005) and Manchester United (2008) – but 2004 onwards, they have been the ones making the biggest impact on the tournament – with most final and semifinal finishes coming from England, during this epoch. This run recently culminated in Manchester United’s purple patch between 2007 and 2011, which saw them play three finals in four years, including that triumph in 2008. However, this year has been akin to a Greek tragedy for English football – only with thrice as much melancholy. If anyone had put a wager on APOEL outdoing the two Manchesters in the UEFA Champions League – they would now undoubtedly be able to bail out Greece from its debt crisis single handedly. Trying to fathom the abysmal showing of one of the current top two in England – the miniscule gamut from which the EPL champions would undoubtedly be traced – would have been a Herculean task; but to see both of them giving maladroit buffoons a run for their money in Europe is hard to explain. Not only did Athletic Bilbao’s all-round demolition of current English champions in the Europa league confirm La Liga’s status as the topmost league in Europe, it also exposed United’s frailties when it comes to competing with a different brand of football, with the current crop. Almost invincible at home in Europe not so long ago, this year United have come unstuck against the likes of Basel, Benfica and Bilbao – the three Bs that bamboozled what was not so long ago the best defence in Europe. City would’ve been more conspicuously under the scrutiny gun, had their ‘quiet’ neighbours not done them a favour by outdoing their mediocrity. Whilst, a lot of the City brigade have had UCL experience in the past, the fact that they hadn’t had such an experience collectively can now be flaunted as an inkling of an excuse. Had United not gone down the same lane, the red half of Manchester would never have tired of pointing out their archenemy’s European downfall. What the Manchester duo’s equally wretched run in Europe connotes is that the EPL title race might just end up being one of the most exciting two-horse races ever played out in England. With both sides dumped out of all the other competitions, it’s just the 10 games in the league to go for them; and with the added bonanza of ‘that’ potential title-decider at the Etihad Stadium – things do look quite scrumptious indeed.
Arsenal might have given the Milanese a quasi cardiac arrest in the return leg at the Emirates, but what hindered their progress in Europe was that one-word phantom that should now possibly be encrypted at the end of that cannon on the club’s badge; “inconsistency”. It was almost as if two different clubs played out the games at San Siro and at the Emirates, and barring a serious rethink from the think-tanks at the helm of Arsenal football club, the Gunners would consistently remain their inconsistent selves.
This leaves us with the only club in the quarters of Europe’s premier competition, Chelsea; ironically a team that finds itself outside the top four in England. Chelsea themselves were staring down the barrel against Napoli, but their staggering comeback showcased that drive and desire that has been criminally missing from the team for the entirety of the season. If there was a damning demonstration that it’s the player power that rules Chelsea F.C it was against Napoli at the Stamford Bridge. The players were up for it, and were fighting like enraged warriors, giving their all for the quest. If they had showcased one-hundredth of it for AVB, the Portuguese would still be at the club, and Chelsea might still be in the title race in the league.
Chelsea have a favourable draw in the quarters now. Granted Benfica are no rollovers, but they are no Barcelona either. Chelsea might have to overcome Barcelona in the semis though; and as ridiculous as it sounds to give the London club a chance of creating a convulsion in Catalonian hegemony after a solitary display of mantle, if the same Chelsea side takes to the field against Barca, they have what it takes to outdo them. It’s the only meaningful silverware missing from the trophy cabinet of the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech, and they know that with time running out on their careers, this year might just be their final tilt. The trophy is also at the apex of Roman Abramovich’s wish list, and if Chelsea can conjure up the impossible – it might go down as one of the greatest triumphs for English clubs in Europe. It’s Benfica first though…