The UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League are the two club competitions in Europe that all teams strive to qualify for. Almost every country has at least one spot in these competitions but these tournaments are dominated by the elite clubs in Europe. The last time a team outside of Europe’s top 6 leagues won the Champions League was in 1994-95 when Ajax Amsterdam defeated AC Milan in the final. Being one of the top leagues, the English Premier League is usually expected to have its top teams fight for European glory, but this season the top clubs have struggled in European competition.
In this article we will examine the contributing factors and reasons why the English clubs have struggled in Europe this season.
This season English clubs have been dreadful in the Champions League and Europa league. West Ham lost to Astra Giurgiu from Romania in the third qualifying round of the Europa League and Southampton lost to Midtjylland from Denmark in the fourth qualifying round of the Europa League. The worst results however, have come from the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League.
Teams in the English Premier League are a combined, 8-6-6 in the group stages of the two competitions. That is absolutely horrendous for such big clubs to perform so poorly in the most prestigious competitions. So why have the clubs done so poorly in these competitions?
Mentality and Preparation
First off, the mentality of the players and coaches has been all wrong. The teams have gone into most matches thinking they can just breeze through and get results but that is the wrong mindset. Too many teams in Europe have enough quality and skill to breakdown and upset teams with the wrong mindset. As shown when Arsenal played Dinamo Zagreb, just showing up will not get you a win. Zagreb played a quality game and made the best of their chances, leading them to pull off the upset.
A poor mentality can also be blamed on the coaching staff. The coaches need to do their best to prepare the team for what they are going to face and make sure their teams are motivated to win every match. The teams need more drive if they want to succeed in Europe and this needs to come from the coaches.
Focusing too much on Premier League
The English teams that are in Europe are the best from England and they are expected to succeed in all matches they play in. This year the focus has been on the Premier League so much that the teams cannot send out an entirely fresh squad midweek in the Champions League. These clubs do not have deep enough squads that they can rotate players in the League and Europe so they eventually get tired and cannot perform at 100%.
Also the emphasis has almost been fully on the Premier League. These clubs face loads of pressure to win every week in the league and they cannot realistically change mindsets in four days to play again in Europe. All these clubs are trying to get to the top four to make sure they secure Champions League football and teams like Chelsea and Liverpool are not showing that they can reach the top four this season. Based on this Bleacher Report article and many other sources, the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. This does not give teams any easy matches compared to other leagues in Europe.
Another example is that the week of September 12-20, Manchester United had to play at home to Liverpool, away in the Champions League at PSV Eindhoven, and then away at Southampton in the Premier League. Over that same time period Real Madrid face Espanyol away, followed by a home Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk, and then a home match against Granada in La Liga. Manchester United had to travel 741 miles that week while Real Madrid had to travel 377 miles. This gives Manchester United a severe disadvantage haven to face much tougher competition and traveling further than Real Madrid.
Opposing Team Views
The opponents of the Premier League teams in Europe have also changed one small factor that has had a dramatic effect on match outcomes. The opponents have seen that the English teams have lost to smaller clubs in the past and think that they can beat English teams. Going into a match thinking you can get a result leads to playing a better match and striving to get that result. This view has been shown with teams like Basel beating Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham in the past few season, and also FC Sion and Rubin Kazan being able to draw with Liverpool at Anfield this season. Though these teams do not have the best chance against English Clubs, they play their best matches and end up stealing points from English giants.
In conclusion, Premier League teams need to really step their game up if they want to compete in Europe and show how good the league is. By succeeding in Europe and getting teams to the later rounds of the Champions League, it shows the world how strong the league is. The fact the the Premier League has only had one team make the semi finals and one team make the quarterfinals in the past three seasons is embarrassing. To change the poor results in Europe, coaches need to change their teams mentality and change the teams preparation before a European match. Also teams need to realize that can gain large amounts of money by succeeding in European Competition. These English clubs will change their results in Europe and they all should make it out of their respective groups and into the knockout round this year.
England could actually lose their fourth Champions League spot and only have three spots if England falls in the UEFA Country Coefficient. This would be a major catastrophe and it could happen to English football if these teams do not start winning in Europe, you can read about it here (scroll down to Country coefficient)