Something is rotten in England. Over the past two days, the country that is allegedly home to the strongest, deepest professional soccer league in the world saw two of its three best teams lose to two of the rest of Europe’s best teams in embarrassingly spectacular fashion on its home soil. The English representatives, Manchester City and Arsenal, did not just lose to their counterparts, FC Barcelona and Bayern München, they had their trousers pulled down in front of a global viewing audience.
If one had to summarize the English sides’ attitude to the matches, it would be harder to find a more fitting image than the obscene gesture made by Arsenal’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after he was sent off late in the first half.
On Tuesday, Manchester City took to the pitch at the Etihad Stadium against Barcelona and were made to look foolish by a Barça side that seemed to be so far ahead of their English opponents that losing Martin Demichelis 54 minutes into play seemed superfluous. Lionel Messi proceeded to convert his penalty kick, while a last minute goal by Dani Alves not only sealed the Citizens’ fate for that match, but also spells almost certain elimination from the competition. Even using the best sites for gambling online, it would take a brave person to wager that Arsenal would score three unanswered goals in Munich in the return leg.
Fast forward 24 hours later, and a disturbingly similar story unfolded at Emirates Stadium in London. Arsenal played host to defending champions and the competition’s presumptive favorites Bayern München and proceeded to act as a welcome mat for the German side. The Gunners played a competitive half hour or so of football, although this is not entirely surprising as Bayern has been notoriously slow starting against strong sides. A questionable call led to the aforementioned red card for Szczesny, and in a moment of depressing English symmetry, at 54 minutes in, Toni Kroos put home a strike from 20 yards out and at 88 minutes, Thomas Müller sentenced Arsenal to the same fate as Manchester City.
There is no nice way to put this: England is in trouble. The Premier League is, ostensibly, the finest collection of football clubs in any country. Serie A has put just one team in to the round of 16. La Liga is, despite the resurgence of Atlético Madrid, still a two-team league. The Bundesliga is the only league that can reasonably be compared to the BPL, having sent four clubs to the round of 16 and featuring enough talent that clubs like Borussia Mönchengladbach can conceivably compete with table leaders Bayern. Nonetheless, the perception in Europe as well as the entire world is that the Bundesliga is, at best, good competition for England.
So if all of that is true, how have England’s best clubs seemingly fallen so far behind the best Spanish and German sides? (And, after watching Paris Saint-Germain dismantle Bayer Leverkusen, one might argue a French side as well.) It is, quite simply, hard to imagine the UEFA Champions League trophy not ending up in Munich, Madrid, Paris or Barcelona when all is said and done.