The first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 was brutal for the Premier League teams. Manchester City was dominated by Barcelona, Monaco embarrassed Arsenal 3-1, and Chelsea tied but was outplayed by PSG. The games show an ongoing trend of Premier League clubs struggling in the Champions League.
Since the 2011-2012 season, Chelsea is the only Premier League squad that has reached at least the semi-finals of the Champions League. The only other team to reach the quarterfinals was last year’s Manchester United squad.
For a league that is supposed to be one of the best leagues, if not the best league, in the world, that is a major underachievement. It may be difficult to point to one reason why these clubs have struggled, but there may be a few explanations.
1. Lack of world-class strikers, unprepared defenders
Yes, the Premier League does contain attackers like Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but those players are not quite at the same level as others on the world stage.
BPL defenders do not consistently face attackers of the caliber of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Tomas Muller. In the past three years, Premier League players have only ranked among the top ten scorers in the Champions League three times.
Looking at the 2014 World Cup, only one of the top ten scorers in the tournament (Robin Van Persie) played in the Premier League at the time of the tournament. In comparison, three of the top scorers came from La Liga, and four played in the Bundesliga.
Manchester City has received a red card in each of its past three games against Barcelona. These bookings exhibit the frustration and inability to cover more skilled and speedier defenders than City is used to.
2. Parity of the Premier League
The Premier League is arguably the most competitive league in the world, which causes the English teams to tire more easily in Champions League competition. Teams in La Liga generally have more easily contested games more often, which allow them to take mental and physical breaks throughout the year.
If you look at last year, Barcelona won games by three or more goals in 15 games, while Real Madrid had 14 such games. On the contrary, Manchester City won by that margin 11 times, and Chelsea achieved that margin only seven times.
Domestic play clearly affects Champions League play. Besides Bayern Munich, which is simply dominant in the Bundesliga, the Champions League winner has not won its domestic league since the 2010-2011 season.
Most strikingly, Chelsea finished sixth the Premier League when it won the Champions League in 2011-2012. Premier League teams might need to focus more on either the Champions League or the Premier League.
3. Inability of youth programs to produce stars
The decline of British football on the national stage has been publicized, but it also has had an effect on the club level as well. Without having players that develop in their academy, British clubs have to spend to fill players in those positions. Many of the top teams in the world have players that have progressed through their system, the German clubs in particular.
Bayern Munich boasts Phillip Lahm, Thomas Muller, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Barcelona has been viewed for the past decade as the hallmark of Spanish soccer. Their youth academy has produced Xavi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and even Argentinean Lionel Messi. Even Real Madrid, which has the biggest pockets in the world, has developed young players like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Marcelo.
British squads do not exactly manufacture top players anymore. John Terry is the only homegrown player that remains a consistent player in the Champions League. Besides Joe Hart, Manchester City has gained most of its talent through pricey transfers.
Wayne Rooney has been at Manchester United for most of his career and progressed there, and Jack Wilshere developed in the Arsenal system. Raheem Sterling is probably the best example of a player that has recently matured in a British youth academy, but he still has a way to go before becoming a world-class player.
There is some hope for the Premier League in the upcoming years, as elite talent like Angel Di Maria, Diego Costa, and Alexis Sanchez continue to adapt to their teams. The difficulty of the Premier League and the failing youth programs, though, will not change soon. The British sides may have to wait until Messi and Ronaldo retire, before they can reach they pinnacle of European soccer again.