England, man. Their clubs spend all that money on some of the best players in the world, get all that media hype about being the best league in the world, and right as you start to buy into it all they meet a couple underdogs from Europe and prove yet again that England isn’t as good as it’s made out to be.
The most recent examples of the Premier League’s ongoing European embarrassment comes from both sides of Manchester.
We thought that, after looking so good to start the season and equipped with a preposterously stacked squad, Manchester City would take yesterday’s Champions League match against Juventus to catapult themselves into the conversation as a real contender for the European Cup. Things started well enough, as City looked pretty comfortable for much of the first half and went up thanks to a Vincent Kompany-induced Giorgio Chiellini own goal.
Instead of sitting idly by in fulfillment of their role as the Act 1 bad guys City would dispatch with ease on their way to victory in Mad Mancs: Furious Road To European Glory, Juve remembered they had a couple studs, too, and might as well punch back.
In the 70th minute, future Barcelona superstar and Ballon d’Or finalist (don’t believe me, just watch) Paul Pogba stroked a gorgeous cross into the heart of City’s box, where Mario Mandžukić scraped just enough of his boot onto the incoming ball to rattle it in off the woodwork.
Ten minutes later, a Juventus defender sent a simple long ball behind the defense in the direction of Juan Cuadrado. The ball ricocheted off a City player, leading once and future Real Madrid striker Álvaro Morata to hustle onto and club the ball past Joe Hart for the winning goal.
Even a draw here would’ve been a bad result, considering City were at home, had been playing great leading up to this game, and were big favorites over what has been an unimpressive Juve team so far this year. Sergio Agüero didn’t start, which was a huge miss, obviously, but that’s not an excuse. They really shouldn’t have lost.
It’s a little different with these guys. Nobody’s really bought what United have been selling in the post-Fergie era. Even then, with as much money as they’ve spent this past summer, even we didn’t expect little old PSV to topple the once great and mighty Manchester United. I mean, PSV got here off the strength of winning the Eredivisie last season with a team that’s lost its two best players, and the better of the two was starting for the other team.
It was the former PSV man who opened the scoring, as Memphis Depay—who seems to save his good performances for this competition—gamboled around two defenders before shooting past the keeper. United dominated the first half and could’ve easily lead by more than one by the time Maxime Lestienne sent in a corner that Héctor Moreno turned past David De Gea.
Emboldened by somehow still being in the game, PSV kept sending bodies forward on the break those rare instances when United didn’t have the ball. It was after a cheap giveaway by United that PSV pushed forward for their second goal, as Lestienne found himself chilling all alone out wide where he again crossed in a ball, which this time was scored by Luciano Narsingh.
United threw everything they could at the Dutch in search of the equalizer, but PSV held on. Yet another embarrassing Champions League result from a team that not that long ago thrived in Europe.
It would be easy to write off these two divergent losses as flukes, and it is true both matches could’ve (and maybe even should’ve) gone the other way. But this is getting ridiculous. There’s a reason the Premier League’s UEFA coefficient (the number UEFA uses to assess the relative strength of Europe’s various leagues, determined mainly by the results a country’s clubs get in the Champions and Europa Leagues) is steadily sliding, and it’s not just randomness.
Whether it’s because English teams suffer from the depth of quality of their domestic league or if the inability to attract the very best of the best (for instance, there’s not a chance Pogba leaves Juve for anyone in England) hurts them in knockout competitions, or that the specific tactical strategies optimized for English play don’t translate overseas, or whatever other reason EPL apologists can come up with, the league’s teams have to get better in European competitions. Displays like yesterday’s prove that we might need to start differentiating between the most exciting and competitive league, and the one with the most quality.
[Fox Deportes | FS1]
Top photo via AP