Recapping a nightmarish week for English teams in Europe
By Daniel Rubens
The first round of European fixtures in 2015 did not go well for England.
Three teams played in each of the Champions and Europa Leagues from the Premier League over this round of games. Of the six that played, two teams are out and two are in big trouble. Only Everton advanced to the round of 16 of the Europa League, and only Chelsea are in good shape heading into the return Champions League legs.
Even Chelsea, who drew 1-1 at PSG last week, didn’t quite inspire confidence with their play even if they are in a pretty decent position. They didn’t impress, getting just two shots off and setting the stage for the carnage that followed for England.
A week later, needing a big result at home against Barcelona to put their past Champions League failures out of memory, Manchester City found themselves 2-0 down after a half hour courtesy of an old nemesis. Luis Suarez’s goals immediately put City in a bind. They
clawed back a goal in the second half courtesy of their own talented striker, Sergio Aguero, but were down to 10 men just five minutes later when Gael Clichy picked up a second yellow. In the end, their goal was their final shot, and City now have a mountain to climb at the Camp Nou.
Speaking of teams with mountains to climb going on the road for a return leg, Arsenal capitulated this week. The Gunners laid an egg at home, proving extremely wasteful in a 3-1 loss to Monaco. While Arsenal’s final touches let them down, the Ligue 1 side’s finishing was clinical, and the Gunners have a tall task ahead of them if they want to overcome their perennial European underachievers label.
While it’s decidedly less glamorous than the Champions League, the Europa League still matters to the teams with designs on lifting the trophy and locking up the Champions League spot that comes with it. Only one English team now has a chance to do that. Everton wrapped up a tidy 7-2 aggregate win over Swiss side Young Boys with a 3-1 home victory Thursday, but both Tottenham and Liverpool traveled to the continent and flopped.
After a 1-1 draw at home, Spurs needed a goal at Fiorentina to have a chance to move on. Instead, they put together a shocker of a performance. The strikers were on target on just three of 10 shots, and both center backs — Federico Fazio and Jan Vertonghen — made errors that led to goals in a 2-0 defeat. It was a poor showing for a team that was hoping for a deep run in the competition and now has only a Cup Final on Sunday and Premier League games the rest of the way.
Liverpool also bowed out of Europe, with Dejan Lovren skying the last penalty of a shootout in Istanbul to send the Reds home with a loss to Besiktas. After taking a narrow 1-0 lead to Turkey, Liverpool couldn’t break down a Besiktas side that evened the tie in the 72nd minute and seemed content to play for penalties thereafter. The first nine shooters converted before Lovren stepped up and missed, sending the Ataturk Olympic Stadium into delirium (but not the same kind of delirium for Liverpool as the last time this situation occurred).
At the end, the last team to play salvaged some pride for Prem, but Everton’s win was never in doubt after a dominant road win in the first leg. Every English team that had an opportunity to win an important European game this week failed, and that’s a very bad thing for a
league with a reputation of having “the best football in the world” to live up to. It’s certainly some of the world’s most fascinating football, but after a showing like that against Europe’s elite, the evidence says most of England’s top tier teams are a notch below their continental counterparts.