Manchester United clinging on in Europe exposes English mediocrity

Real Madrid Champions League

While some punters may talk about Premier League clubs losing their hold over Europe, any such decline is just a return back to the natural order of things.

Manchester United should speak to their friends at the other Old Trafford for their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, with the Germans still looking likely to dump them out of Europe by a cricket score in the return leg.

The Germans have already hit other teams for six this season, and United's hard-fought 1-1 home draw is probably only delaying the inevitable, but let's be honest, if football justice were to be done, a Bayern win would be the right result due to the contrasting strengths of the two nations involved.

David Moyes is one of only two managers in charge of English clubs that are still clinging onto the competition at the quarter final stage, but that number could soon dwindle down to nothing in the semis.

Chelsea must face up to the task of taking down Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Paris Saint-Germain, who are to all intents and purposes a better version of Roman Abramovich's project, with more money and better players. The Blues currently struggle to field one world-class striker, while the Parisians can boast Edinson Cavani as well as their talismanic Swede

Neither Bayern or PSG are anything like the teams that either Chelsea or United are used to facing in the Premier League, and just like Manchester City and Arsenal, their teams must overcome the shock of facing opponents of such quality before they can worry about winning games.

The English top flight may enjoy all the hype, but it remains technically inferior to the best divisions in Europe. David Silva, a player heralded as one of the most pure footballers to ever grace the British Isles, was a good but not great attacking midfielder plying his trade outside of the La Liga title race.

His City teammate Yaya Toure is perhaps the most feared player in the Premier League due to his mix of power and skill, yet for Barcelona he was a back-up defensive midfielder. It says it all that England view the hand-me-downs and second-choice squad players of Spain as football gods, at the same time lamenting the failure of Andy Carroll at Anfield.

There's a reason Gareth Bale decided to head to Madrid to complete his development rather than remain in England, and considering the progress made by the current World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo since his switch to Real in 1999, it's not the warmer climate that pulled him away from Tottenham Hotspur.

The fact that England has been able to boast a Champions League finalist in seven of the last nine finals means nothing. That run isn't a testament to the quality of the Premier League, but a warning over the dip in quality suffered by other leagues and clubs such as Serie A and AC Milan.

Who were the teams in the final before England's dominance? Monaco and Porto—hardly European greats. United faced Chelsea in the 2008 final having overcome a transitional Barcelona team. Their run to the 2009 final saw them beat lightweights Porto and Arsenal while they faced Chelsea and Schalke in 2011. By contrast, their conquerors Barcelona took down European juggernauts such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Olympique Lyon and an exceptional Shakhtar Donetsk team.

English clubs were merely quick enough to cash-in on this historically weak era of dross thanks to their higher budgets and easier draws, rather than superior players, smarter tactics and better football. In fact, the Premier League still lags behind Spain, Germany, Italy and now France in all of those categories.

Even the country's last European champions, Chelsea, won it through chance, luck and stubbornness. Just like United in 1999 and Liverpool's similarly unthinkable victory in 2005, it was a memorable and enjoyable fluke. It's stories such as these that perpetuate the myth of English dominance in order to ensure that the Premier League money printing machine keeps ticking over.

Back in the 1970s, English clubs truly were the best around thanks to talented managers such as Don Revie, Brian Clough and Bob Paisley, who used brilliant players in teams set up to play cutting-edge football. Today's crop are a pale imitation of these greats, whose glory moments come through feeding on the weaknesses of Europe's true modern giants.

It's telling that as soon as the likes of Barcelona and Bayern shook away their complacency they began to dominant all-comers once more. English football should take a moment to cease the rabble rousing and remember their place in Europe isn't guaranteed.

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