As the cream of the Premiership crashed out of the Champions League last week, making it the first year since 2003 that no English team has made the semi finals, questions should be asked as to why this has happened and what is needed to fix it.
Out of all the English teams that were left in the Champions League Chelsea had the best chance of winning the competition. Chelsea possesses ample of experience all over the pitch and have always been very difficult to play against. At the beginning of the season Roman Abramovich combined this with a new manager, who has experienced Champions League glory in the past, and it looked like Chelsea were the team to beat.
However, if there is one criticism to be made of the Blues in recent seasons it is their lack of style and their reluctance to use the full width of the pitch. It is hard to blame their various managers for this however, as it would be foolish not to make the most of a spine made up of players such as Essien, Lampard and Drogba. But despite having these world class performers at their disposal Chelsea need another dimension to ensure they can beat world class teams on a consistent basis.
In Jose Mourinho they came up against a master tactician who was always one step ahead. Mourinho, partly due to his previous experiences, knew what Ancelotti’s side were about and stifled the threat of Drogba and Lampard with devastating effects. At a time when Chelsea were crying out for an extra dimension and for someone to get out wide and make things happen, much like Robben and Ribery do for Bayern Munich, they didn’t have it and were soundly beaten.
Verdict- Add an extra dimension to their play by investing in some wide players and Chelsea will be serious contenders next year.
The Red Devils have reached the final of the Champions League the past two years but didn’t even come close this time. Nobody can look past the impact that losing Cristiano Ronaldo has had and although Wayne Rooney has worked miracles this season, he could never be expected to keep it going once the knockout stages of the Champions League came around.
Without Ronaldo and Tevez, United have looked somewhat one dimensional leaving Rooney up front on his own. At times over the past few seasons they had been unplayable using a flexible formation allowing Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez the freedom to interchange and move around the pitch, in turn making it almost impossible for opponents to develop a defensive strategy with which to stop them.
However, this season United have relied a lot more on the counter attacking style using a rigid 4-5-1 formation and getting Rooney on the ball whenever possible. As effective as this has been domestically, it is what has eventually led them to getting knocked out Europe. Wayne Rooney is only human and cannot be asked to do everything like he was against Bayern Munich. During the first leg every time the ball went up to him, Rooney lost possession and it came straight back at the United the back four in turn putting them under more and more pressure as the game went on.
Rooney’s teammate, Dimitar Berbatov, is a highly talented player but his technical style of play means that he needs regular football in order to find his form, and Rooney has shown that he will never perform to his full potential whilst playing alongside him. Berbatov is not like Rooney in that he can’t make up for a lack of sharpness with bustling pace and mobility, and the Bulgarian simply doesn’t fit in with the ethos of the team and the style of Rooney’s play. Wayne Rooney has always played his best alongside quick and hard working strike partners, such as Emile Heskey and Cristiano Ronaldo, and these are the kind of players Ferguson must recruit to ensure that Rooney doesn’t burn out and so Manchester United can do better in the Champions League next season.
On top of all this the Manchester United team has suddenly got old. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are now without question the wrong side of the hill and Rio Ferdinand looks like he is also closer to retirement than he or Ferguson would like. It is no coincidence therefore that United have signed the likes of Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez, but history has proved that there is nothing as powerful as producing your own youngsters.
VERDICT- Sell Berbatov to bring in someone with pace and commitment to play alongside Rooney, and find the next generation of young talent.
The Gunners lack the strength, both mental and physical, to be serious contenders for a Champions League title. Arsene Wenger has to be admired for showing so much faith in his young players, but they simply aren’t good enough to win trophies just yet, and the truth is that may never hit the heights of his previous teams.
Arsenal’s record against Chelsea and Manchester United in recent years is nothing short of atrocious, collecting just eight points out of a possible 36 in the league since the departure of Thierry Henry. Arsenal simply do not have the strength or the character to deal with world class players such as Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and until Wenger goes and buys players of this ilk Arsenal are always going to struggle in big games.
Long gone are the days when Patrick Viera used to single handedly run the game without breaking sweat. Now Arsenal seem to act like a rabbit stuck in the headlights whenever they face a team with some strength, some pace and a player who can take a decent set piece. This is shown by how Arsenal have been thoroughly beaten this season by the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Stoke.
Although Cesc Fabregas is an undoubted match winner, he needs other people in the spine of the team to play dynamically if he is to dictate the game. Thomas Vermaelan has been a very good signing but Arsenal need a lot more than just one strong centre half if they are to ever win the Champions League.
Verdict- Strengthen the whole spine of the team with a new goalkeeper, another centre back and an all action central midfielder to assist Fabregas in big games.
Written by Kieran Lovelock