Champions League: Why Has Bundesliga Succeeded, Premier League Failed This Year?
The second leg of the UEFA Champions League Last 16 sees Arsenal travel to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, with the German side leading 3-1 from the first leg at the Emirates Stadium.
The situation those two sides find themselves in presents us something of a microcosm of the season that English Premier League teams and their German Bundesliga counterparts have had in the Champions League this season.
Four English and four German teams started off the season in Europe's premiere competition, yet there is a good chance that the last eight sides standing will feature three from Germany and none from England.
Where has it gone wrong for England's top flight, and what is Germany's doing better?
The Bundesliga Representatives
Though four teams started the campaign in the Champions League from Germany, only three made it through to the group stages. Borussia Moenchengladbach were knocked out at the qualifying stage on aggregate by Dynamo Kiev, which meant they instead competed in the Europa League. They qualified through the group stages there—but were eliminated in the first knockout stage by Lazio.
The other three sides, Schalke, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, had no such problems.
Those three teams ended third, second and first, respectively, in last season's Bundesliga. All three of them finished top of their group stages in the Champions League.
In fact, between them they lost just once in 18 group stage fixtures.
Schalke's form in Europe has given them some respite from some inconsistent domestic form; they have recently regained a top-four place on goals scored, but as recently as a couple of months ago, they languished around eighth or ninth place.
Having topped their group, Schalke held Galatasaray to a 1-1 draw in Turkey in the Last16 first leg, giving themselves every chance to progress to the quarterfinals.
Dortmund have struggled to maintain the high levels of last season in their domestic league, though remain a hugely formidable force, while Bayern Munich have surpassed their rivals at home after a two-year spell spent off the top spot.
In Europe, both Dortmund and Bayern have been emphatic in their confidence and quality of performances, and show no signs of slowing down yet.
The Premier League Participants
Though Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth in the Premier League last season, their spot in the Champions League was lost as Chelsea won the competition outright, thereby guaranteeing their participation at the expense of Spurs.
However, for the first time since the rebranding of the Champions League, the holders failed to even negotiate the group stages successfully as Chelsea flopped spectacularly, sacking their manager and ending in only third place behind Shakhtar and Juventus.
Manchester City, who won the Premier League last year, similarly failed to exit the group stage, ending their campaign in disgrace as they failed to win even a single match and lost all three games away from home.
Their impact on the competition has been minimal over the past two years, despite the vast sums spent on player transfers.
Arsenal and Manchester United kept English heads above water in the group stages, with their customary qualifications.
The Gunners, who finished third last season domestically, made it through the group stage, but stuttered on their way, winning only three of their six games. That looks to be about as good as it gets for Arsenal though—they face a huge mountain to overcome Bayern in the second leg.
And for United, the dream is already over for another year.
Despite topping their group with ease, they have been eliminated in the Last 16 by Real Madrid, suffering a 3-2 aggregate defeat after a controversial sending off for winger Nani in the second leg.
In both cases, United and Arsenal have safely negotiated a group stage of multiple games, but have been ultimately beaten—or almost, in the case of Arsenal—at the first sign of real quality.
Head to Heads
Group B: 24 October, Arsenal 0-2 Schalke. 6 November, Schalke 2-2 Arsenal.
Group D: 3 October, Man City 1-1 Dortmund. 4 December, Dortmund 1-0 Man City.
Last 16: 19 February, Arsenal 1-3 Bayern.
Four group stage matches provided an England vs. Germany backdrop, before Arsenal and Bayern then met in the knockout stages.
From the five games played so far, it's fair to say that the Bundesliga has had a far more consistent and enjoyable time of things; the German clubs have racked up three wins between them, with the other two games ending in draws.
No Premier League side has beaten a Bundesliga side this season.
It doesn't look entirely likely that Arsenal will break that streak in the second leg on Wednesday.
Why has the Bundesliga been so much better than the Premier League? Tactics, mentality, squad depth and overall quality all play a significant role, of course, but when did the gap between the two leagues get so big?
Only a few seasons ago, English teams made up the bulk of the latter stages of the Champions League. This year, there are likely to be none at all in the draw for the last eight.
Has the drop in league standard been that swift, while a noticeable improvement has gone on in Germany? For sure, the level of play, and especially defending, has been poorer in England over the past couple of seasons, while Bayern seem to have come out of their dip stronger than ever.
Dortmund, under Jurgen Klopp, have built themselves one of the most impressive sides in possession anywhere in Europe.
Eintracht Frankfurt, 'Gladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg have also all shown great quality at times this season—and all have players who seem to be in demand all over Europe.
Barring one of the most unexpected comebacks in two-legged football history, Arsenal aren't going to be in the Champions League by the time the quarterfinal draw is made.
That will mean that for the first time since 1995-96 season, there are no English representatives in the last eight. Germany will have two, and possibly three if Schalke can hold out for a 0-0 draw, or a victory, against Galatasaray—no easy feat, it must be admitted.
The draw itself will reveal more about the chances of each time to win the trophy, and with no country protection in the last eight, it could yet be that two German sides face each other in the next round.
Bayern, though, must at this stage be seen as one of the favourites for overall glory.
Dortmund are a terrific side, but they don't seem to hold the self-confidence or unbeatable aura about themselves this season when facing Bayern.
The last German winners of the Champions League were Bayern Munich themselves back in 2001 against Valencia.
Since then, Leverkusen (2002), and Bayern (2010 and 2012) have reached the final and lost, representing Germany.
England have seen no less than eight finalists (Liverpool '05 and '07, Arsenal '06, Chelsea '08 and '12 and Manchester United '08, '09 and '11) during the same period, with Liverpool, United and Chelsea all victorious.
Will a German team win the UEFA Champions League this season?
Right now, there are barely three UEFA coefficient points between the two nations—the aggregate score which dictates how many teams are allowed to play in European competition. If Bayern knock out Arsenal, there is a good chance Germany will rise above England, and if they, Dortmund or Schalke progress to the last four, or even the final, Germany will definitely go ahead.
It won't have any immediate impact on how many Champions and Europa League entrants England are allowed—barring any sudden rule changes—but it does make England next in line to lose a spot if the Italian, French or Portuguese sides are successful over the next 15 months or so.
England's top clubs, for their own sakes as well as that of the league's, could do well to take a few lessons from their Bundesliga counterparts.
Germany's teams have been through a relatively fallow period in terms of success in the Champions League, but there is certainly no doubting that they are back with a bang now.
Don't bet against one of them, perhaps especially Bayern Munich, taking the big trophy off Chelsea's hands come May.
A rather fitting image for the German league taking the place of the English league as one of the biggest domestic competitions around.
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