IT WASN’T so long ago that the Premier League had two or three teams in the last four of the Champions League. This season, for the second year in succession, only two have reached the last 16.
We can’t ignore that fact that English teams aren’t the dominant force they were just a few years ago. None of the top teams have consistently played well this season – a phenomenon by no means restricted to European games.
Chelsea and Manchester City, the two to fall at the first hurdle, appear to be suffering a hangover from last season’s success, like winning the Champions League and Premier League has robbed them of some determination.
The Blues have also dreadfully missed Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard – experienced individuals who know they can win at the highest level and understand what it takes to pull it off.
City have been a shadow of the swashbuckling attacking force of last season. David Silva has not been as influential, while their only width is provided by full-backs, after Adam Johnson’s premature departure.
Arsenal thankfully did enough in the early group games to ensure their progress but have been less than convincing all season, veering from great highs to awful lows. Like the others, they seem to have lost belief in themselves.
That elusive ingredient has been Manchester United’s saving grace. They haven’t played well week after week and have been far from their best in Europe, but they’ve rescued games because they know they can.
Teams like Everton and, until a fortnight ago, West Brom looked the most consistent in the top flight, which makes me think English clubs’ failure in Europe is more to do with their own decline than the competition getting better.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships.