The exit of the Manchester big two from the Champions League have left many in a state of shock and still lingering numbness. Manchester United with their pedigree and illustrious European history were expected to breeze through the group stage with Benfica being the only other team of note in the group. Whilst City with their Arabian ATM (Sheik Mansour) and marquee players were also expected to do very well.
Well surprise, surprise. Both giants of the English game are now destined for the Europa League, a destination that really should have come at no surprise. Manchester United have been abysmal for quite some time and both Basel and Benfica exploited their shortcomings with relative ease. The failure of United to beat either team at Old Trafford is the main reason why their European games for the rest of this season will be played on Thursday nights instead of Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
This United outfit lacks cutting edge and guile in attack and as such pose no terror to opposing teams, even when playing at Old Trafford. In their last 14 games United have only scored 3 goals in a game on one occasion and this was against Aldershot Town — one of the worst performing teams in League Two. Of the other 13 games they could only muster a single goal in 9 of these encounters, not the kind of form to get you into the last 16 of the Champions League. In fact, it will not win you the Europa League either.
Roberto Mancini and his merry millionaires have now realized like Roman Abramovich that the Champions League cannot be won solely on the basis of financial power. His team, were only just beginning to find their European legs only to have them kicked out from under them, but they will be back next season all the better for the experience and playing in the Europa League will no doubt do them a world of good as they continue to gel as a team whilst playing in European competition.
The exit of both teams also brings into question the standing of the Premier League vis-à-vis the other major European leagues. Is this merely an isolated case of the football blues or could this be a sign of a greater malaise settling into the English game? Only time will tell. What is however evident is the growing gulf in class between Manchester United and the other European giants. We got a mere taste of it earlier this year at Wembley courtesy of a merciless Barcelona. And on the basis of current performance I would dare say that Manchester United are now a cut below Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan and, of course, we already know they are a cut below Manchester City.