Manchester Clubs' UEFA Europa League Defeats Prove EPL Is Living in the Past

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2012

BILBAO, SPAIN - MARCH 15: Manchester United's  Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, assistant manager Mike Phelan and Sir Alex Ferguson look on during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 second leg match between Manchester United and Athletic Bilbao at San Mames Stadium on March 15, 2012 in Bilbao, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Seeing table-toppers Manchester United and Manchester City eliminated from the UEFA Europa League by Athletic Bilbao and Sporting Lisbon shows that the Premier League is living in the past.

Athletic Bilbao's superiority against the most successful team in Premier League history reveals an archaic attitude towards the more technical and creative aspects of football.

Despite a valiant comeback, Manchester City were given a lesson in quality counterattacking and clinical efficiency by Sporting.

The Manchester clubs are comfortably the frontrunners in the Premier League. Yet they have been respectively seen off by La Liga's seventh-placed team and the side that sits fourth in Portugal. 

Bilbao's quick thinking, composed touch and speed of movement epitomised what the Spanish game has been about in the last five years. United's only answer was resiliency, determination and the power in forward areas offered by Wayne Rooney.

These are the attributes that are still valued above else in the EPL. This is despite the influx of players from Europe and South America.

The prevailing notion remains that rugged tenacity, dogged spirit and "getting stuck in" are the most important factors in footballing success.

Yet Bilbao have shown what is possible when the footballing culture emphasises technique, skill and intelligence above all else. That emphasis is the reason why Bilbao have brushed aside a club of larger stature and significantly greater financial resources.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: Referee Tom Harald Hagen shows a yellow card to Yaya Toure of Man City during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg match between Manchester City FC and Sporting Lisbon at Etihad Stadium on March 15, 2012 in Manches
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

To see a crop of youngsters like Iker Munain, Ander Herrerra and Javier Martinez be so assured and offer so much quality on the ball puts the Premier League to shame.

This talented trio can expect to be coveted by the Premier League's finest. However, would such a move be in their interests?

Their best attributes would be wasted in a footballing climate built to reward high-energy speed and power and make easy targets of diminutive playmakers.

Look at Juan Mata at Chelsea. He looks a forlorn figure in a team dynamic designed around Didier Drogba's strength and Frank Lampard's direct running.

Few teams in the Premier League play with the free-flowing style and intricate structure that favour the quick, neat passing and smart movement that symbolises the modern game.

Why, for instance, do so many Premier League pundits continue to be wowed by newly-promoted Norwich and Swansea City's ability to engage in neat passing and skillful attacking football?

Those should be the minimum requirements of any team playing in a nation's top flight. Yet instead, too many Premier League sides are applauded for their rugged physicality.

Their ruthless suffocation of creativity and midfield flair is distastefully disguised under the label of an "honest, old-fashioned" approach to the game.

However, now that the division's top two teams has been outplayed and out-thought in Europe's second-tier competition, maybe the English Premier League will finally change its culture to match the times.

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