Reviewing the Performances of English Teams in Europe this season
It’d be great if Athletic had a really, really, tiny player so he could be called Bilbao Baggins
In a patch of Middle Earth called San Mames, the sequel to the epic battle of Old Trafford Gondor took place between a team of Bilbao Baggins, Aragorn Iraola, Legolas Llorente, and his elves against the Orcs from Manchester United and their lead ogre, Wayne Rooney.
Like the Lord of the Rings series, the outcome was the same as the hobbits, elves and humans prevailed over those Orcs from Manchester.
Smeagol couldn’t take any part in this battle because he plies his trade in Liverpool in the form of Jay Spearing.
European club football’s version of the World Cup kicked off as early as June with a series of qualifying phases taking place till it was down to the last 32. The draws took place in September and everyone hoped for another great showpiece of Europe’s elite club competition.
Manchester City was paired in a tricky group with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal but they were tipped to scale through courtesy of their mega-million squad that was flooded with superstars.
Chelsea’s group was not as tricky as Manchester City’s but a few skeptics were weary about the threat Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia posed. Genk lived up to the tag of the group’s whooping boys.
Manchester United licked their lips in anticipation of their easiest group yet as they were paired with FC Basel and Otelul Galati with the main threat offered by SL Benfica.
Arsenal went through the gruelling task of a two-legged playoff against Udinese and were paired with three Champions of their respective leagues, Olympique Marseille, Olympiakos and Borussia Dortmund.
In Europe’s second tier competition, the Europa League, Tottenham was paired with PAOK Salonika, Rubin Kazan and Shamrock Rovers. Football’s Rugby outfit Stoke contended with Besiktas, Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Recently relegated Carling Cup winners, Birmingham City were paired with Club Brugge, SC Braga and Maribor while Fulham played against Twente, Wisla Krakow and Odense.
After going through the required group stages, England was disgraced in the Europa League with Twitchy Ol’ ‘Arry’s Tottenham and recent finalists Fulham crashing out in the group stages. Stoke City proved that rugby could actually prevail over football in special cases as they qualified to the Round of 32.
Unlike Tottenham that advanced to the quarterfinals before being whitewashed by Real Madrid, Manchester City’s maiden Champions League adventure came to an abrupt end after the group phase. They were followed closely by their arch-rivals Manchester United, that really disappointed to say the least.
Some say that Manchester United lost their final group phase game because they were scared of teams with the acronym “F.C.B” with red and blue vertical stripes on their jerseys.
Be the judge of that.
While a dark Champions League cloud loomed over Manchester, the Moon was shining brightly in London as Arsenal and Chelsea finished their groups in pole position.
However, Arsenal put up a valiant performance in the second leg of their knockout fixture with AC Milan but it wasn’t enough as they were outplayed, outclassed and were one foot away from the Champions League following the humiliating first leg result.
Chelsea, on the other hand, put up an atrocious outing in Naples but the players invoked the spirit of the Mourinho era to give their fans a night they’ll never forget.
In the Europa League, Stoke was ousted narrowly by Valencia while Manchester United had enough in the gas tank to see out AFC Ajax. The defending Champions FC Porto were demolished by Manchester City.
These results brought an air of arrogance especially with the Manchester United fans I follow on Twitter. They labeled the competition as “winnable” and acted as if other teams in the competition are there to make up the numbers.
Yesterday night, many eyes were opened as Marcelo Bielsa’s boys from Basque completed the double over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Orcs. Roberto Mancini’s team showed great spirit to stage a superb comeback but it wasn’t enough as Sporting CP ran out as winners thanks to the away goal rule.
For the first time since dinosaurs walked the Earth, one team is currently flying England’s flag in Europe at just the quarterfinal stage.
I’m now reminiscing on the seasons when all four English teams qualified to the quarterfinals causing two English teams to face off with each other. The Chelsea – Liverpool encounters were epic to say the least.
After my review of the performances of English sides in Europe, I’ve come up with the following conclusions:
Manchester United were the makers of their own downfall with their series of disappointing home draws that made them pay the ultimate price. They have been one of the most consistent Champions League sides in the past decade and they even had a spell when they played in four semifinals in five seasons or so.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are odds on with their “noisy” neighbors to win the league and I’m pretty sure that the Scot gaffer will make some big-name signings this summer to bolster his squad.
Arsenal are not in the Champions League quarterfinals because the squad lacked quality in the bench to kill off the tie in that fateful night at the Emirates.
Nobody should point a finger at Robin van Persie for missing that chance against Christian Abbiati. In the same game, he had two brilliant shots that were saved by Abbiati and he scored a penalty that sent the goalie the wrong way.
If Arsenal had the right “personnel” to replace the Ox and Theo Walcott that night, the outcome would surely have been different because everything seemed to go against AC Milan that night.
Arsene Wenger has this summer to set things right.
If AVB was still at the helm of affairs when Chelsea played Napoli in the second leg, no English team “might” have been in the quarterfinals because he had clearly lost his dressing room and the players lacked motivation.
I’m indifferent of how Chelsea plays in the competition but I hope they don’t win it. As an Arsenal fan, I won’t like to see Chelsea win the competition before my team. I must confess that I killed a ram the day after John Terry missed that fateful penalty in Luzhniki.
Tottenham has gotten the sweet taste of Champions League football and are trying their best to make it a possibility. They have to be wary about Arsenal and Chelsea breathing down their necks and it wouldn’t care less if they don’t qualify.
Besides, you have to have your first cigarette before you can become addicted to smoking.
This season’s Champions League is now down to the last eight and FC Barcelona is still the team to beat.
However, I’ve ran out of superlatives after reviewing the statistics of the three most lethal forwards in world football at the moment.
The Messi-less alien from Plant Krypton, leaving among us Earthlings, has scored 50 goals for FC Barcelona this season.
He has scored nine goals with his right foot, 30 with his left foot, three headers, two with other body parts, five Penalties and one free kick.
The world’s most flamboyant winger with probably more footballing tricks than Harry Houdini, Cristiano Ronald has scored 42 goals for Real Madrid.
He has latched in 17 goals with his right foot, nine with his left foot, four headers, 11 penalties and one free kick.
Arsenal’s perpetual goal scoring machine of the first kind, Robin van Persie, has scored 33 goals for the Gunners.
He has banged in 12 goals with his right chocolate foot, 14 with his cultured left foot, two headers, four penalties and one free kick.
It’s also worth noting that Robin van Persie has scored more goals with his right foot than Fernando Torres, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez have scored with all body parts this season.
Imagine having a team with these three forwards leading your attack.
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