Both Arsenal and Manchester United deployed two starkly contrasting tactics in their most recent Champions League group games, with differing results, but one general theme – disappointment.
Granted, the Red Devils won their first home game back in the big time, that is ultimately all that matters as they seek to make the knockout stages. Whereas Arsenal, well, they were typical Arsenal.
The kamikaze, lax defending style we often see from the Gunners was in full show as they sank to a 3-2 loss to Greek side Olympiakos, after twice levelling. The North London side were picked off at will, much the same way as against Monaco last year.
Meanwhile, Manchester United scraped a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg. There were some good performances no doubt, but if the German side possessed a touch more quality, it’s actually scary to think what position Louis van Gaal would be in, especially after Sunday’s loss at the Emirates.
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It seems it’s not really the systems managers of English clubs use – there’s something far deeper rooted as to why they are struggling on the continental stage. Sure, Arsenal’s suicidal defending doesn’t help – but neither did Man United’s bus parking in the closing stages of their clash.
The Red Devils sat atop the Premier League at the time, and were penned back at home by an average Bundesliga outfit, and let’s not forget their loss to PSV on the opening matchday. Something really is going wrong.
So, what does that say about the standard of the Premier League? The master tactician on these shores was beaten 2-1 by Porto, and find his side struggling towards the bottom of the table. Not even Jose Mourinho can save it seems.
Are sides on the continent just better prepared, tactically? English fans enjoyed a stellar period between 2005-2012, when Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea were involved in seven out of eight finals, but since then, it’s only Chelsea who have managed to get as far as the semi-finals.
Arsene Wenger is often lambasted for the way he prepares his side, but it seems not even the complete opposite tactic is a convicing way to beat your opponents. Man Utd scraped through against Wolfsburg by sitting back and defending, and last season Chelsea’s so often impenetrable parked bus had its windows caved in by ten man PSG.
Again, a struggling Juventus side managed to beat high flying Manchester City. Yes, the Old Lady were finalists last year, but have since lost Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal from that team, and have barely convinced in Serie A so far this season.
The quality in playing staff, other than the obvious three European powerhouses previously mentioned, more than often favour the Premier League clubs in Champions League games, as do the quality of their management.
There are some notable exceptions of course, but on the whole, it’s not hard to argue English clubs have an enviable standard of players and managers in comparison to most of the sides that make up the 32.
No matter which way they play, it seems English clubs are coming up short at every avenue. Perhaps the soap opera, entertainment based way the Premier League is played in has dulled previously sharp tactical minds.
In a weekly competition when anyone can often beat anyone, and every club within it is flush with cash, perhaps the sharp, innovative minds of the past are becoming bloated and blunt.
Other teams in other leagues are forced to work with what they’ve got, striving to find a system or specific tactic that works. Juventus won three league titles in a row before making in an impact on the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund won two league crowns before they reached the final.
Those are two examples of sides that have been crafted week in, week out for a number of years. In England, manager’s simply aren’t afforded the time to do so. The amount of money available to pretty much all 20 of the sides in the so called ‘best league in the world’ creates more of a weekly soap opera than a tactically innovative competition.