Why Manchester United has a long way to go to match this benchmark

Sir Alex Ferguson

Most of Europe would have been stunned by the event taking place at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Barcelona was being overrun, outplayed and humiliated by a stronger and much more lethal force. In Manchester, Alex Ferguson would have had a sinking feeling; despite knowing the Premier League title was wrapped up and his side were the kings of England, United are currently far from matching the excellence set by Bayern in the Champions League.

It would be premature to write about this Bayern team as if they were the champions of Europe already. Let’s not take too much away from a fantastic Dortmund side, currently the joint best in Europe and yet one who saw the Bundesliga champions clinch the title with a 20 point gap. United put together a similar feat in England, but the road to glory was nothing like that of Jupp Heyncke’s Bayern.

And that’s what they are. We speak so glowingly of Pep Guardiola and what his Bayern side might achieve in the future, but many are quick to forget that this is Jupp Heyncke’s team. This is a team who have been piecing together something as dominant as this for a number of years. It’s a side in Europe who are unrivalled in terms of depth. It’s a side who look infinitely stronger and more dangerous than the last two Bayern teams who reached the Champions League final. In England, we’re a little way off seeing a team who can match the side who shocked the world by putting Barcelona to the sword, in the Champions League semifinal no less.

For much of this season we’ve looked on at the products in Europe, both as a collective in terms of leagues and of individual clubs. We’ve questioned the merits of English football and whether it is still the undoubted best in the world. Yet at every stage of the Champions League, and notably with every emphatic statement in domestic competition, we’ve been provided with more and more indicators that the Premier League is falling well behind.

It’s already been said that this Manchester United team won the title because they were the best in a distinctly poor season for English football. Manchester City did very little to put together a strong defence of their title and Chelsea haven’t been a regular in the title picture for two seasons. When United stretched their campaign into Europe, they were far from convincing. They were left to rely on Robin van Persie at various points, while the defensive or attacking frailties of their opponents offered United safe passage out of the group stage.

Bayern’s biggest shock of the season in Europe came with a loss away to Bate Borisov. On the night, Heyncke’s men were also guilty of failing to take their chances. The game at home to Arsenal also should have raised some eyebrows; a marker that will stand as Bayern’s only loss so far in 2013.

The importance for United will be to ensure they retain their league title next season, and you can already sense where they’re likely to strengthen this summer. But then what? Bayern Munich have a side who blew away one of the best attacking sides in Europe in Borussia Dortmund, taking back the Bundesliga title in the process and marching thunderously on to the European Cup final. Next season, Guardiola will arrive, as will Mario Goetze and at least two or three others. How much further can you strengthen a side who humiliated Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate?

Sky love to make the point about the balance of power shifting from one place to another, it’s their party line alongside “best league in the world.” But how much disappointment is there that the Premier League isn’t at the head of that topic? We need to stop talking as if the rest of Europe has caught up with English clubs and their consistency in the Champions League. The clear case now is that English clubs have fallen way below while those on the continent have continued to soar.

Manchester United may be proud of their 20th league title, and rightly so. But come the end of May, it’s possible we could be looking at the makings of another dynasty similar to what we saw in Catalonia. At the moment, the very best in England holds very little in the way of challenging or toppling the next superpower in the modern game.

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