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Leagues: Champions League

Can English teams restore some pride in Europe?

The Champions League was especially exciting this year, with a great final that saw Cristiano Ronaldo’s selfish goal-fest and over the top celebrations eclipsed by an absolute wondergoal from Mario Mandzukic. The only drawback with the tournament is the shocking performance by English sides, with brave little Leicester flying the flag into the quarter-finals. Manchester City should have done a lot better against a plucky Monaco side and Tottenham were relegated to the Europa League, not even making it out of their group.

With five teams in Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all qualifying this year and plenty of investment into all five teams looking likely over the summer, it certainly seems that the odds of an English club standing a chance of winning should be much higher this time around.

Although their group was a lot tougher than the other English sides in the tournament, perhaps excluding Leicester, Spurs only managed to beat CSKA Monaco in both legs, not enough to edge out either Bayer Leverkusen or dark horses Monaco.

Although Arsenal looked a lot better, their group wasn’t exactly challenging. Their reward was a knockout phase fixture against German Champions Bayern Munich. For those that didn’t see either the home or away fixture, the word ‘demolition’ is most apt. The first leg saw the Gunners facing Bayern at the Allianz Arena, a daunting stadium even during meaningless games. Bayern ran rampant, putting five past Arsenal. A single goal from Alexis Sanchez saved total embarrassment and all eyes were on Wenger’s tactics to see how he could stop the Bavarian train from brushing them aside just as easily at the Emirates. And it was all going ok, especially when Theo Walcott put the Gunners ahead in the 20th minute. Arsenal had only poked an angry bear, however. 5 more goals from four different players including a penalty and a brace from Arturo Vidal saw Arsenal hammered 10-2 on aggregate. The murmurs about Wenger’s job security were suddenly screams as his young side limped off the field, consigned to another season without European silverware.

Man City showed again that they simply cannot find their feet in Europe, making it through the group but losing to a Monaco side that looked like an under-21 outfit. Pep was going through tough times and the thought of finishing a season with a single winner’s medal obviously took its toll. Although City managed 5 at the Etihad, Monaco answered with three away goals and sent City packing from Stade Louis II on the end of a 3-1 defeat.

Leicester however stunned everyone once again. Although many thought they would bomb in the early stages, they managed to go on and win their group, losing only once to Porto. They managed to get past Sevilla in the last 16 and booked themselves a trip to Madrid against Atletico. They came pretty close, losing by a single goal at the Vicente Calderon with everything to play for at the King Power. Atletico were 1-0 up in the first half however leaving the Foxes with two goals to find, but even a 61st minute Jamie Vardy goal wasn’t enough to get them into the semis and they bowed out as the best English team in Europe in 2017.

So what has gone so wrong? Why have English teams performed so poorly compared to a few years ago, when two or three clubs were getting to at least the quarters?

It seems that quite a few big clubs are in transition at the moment. There was no Manchester United or Chelsea in this year’s tournament due to poor league finishes. Both teams were in transition with Jose Mourinho just about through the door at United and Antonio Conte yet to take the reigns and drag Chelsea out of poor form. Even City were still slipping and sliding, getting used to Pep’s tactics and vision. Tottenham, although in great form, couldn’t quite find form in mid-week games and it seemed that Pochettino was focusing his efforts on the League.

So with five of the English elite all eager for European glory next season there will surely be a vast improvement, won’t there?

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