Can England's Top Clubs Bounce Back from 2013-14 Champions League Failures?

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Can England's Top Clubs Bounce Back from 2013-14 Champions League Failures?
Julian Finney/Getty Images
City's Joe Hart felt the wrath of Bayern, but City rebound from past CL faliures?

The Champions League has a knack for breaking hearts.

In 2005, AC Milan could do little but watch as their three-goal lead over Liverpool evaporated in a span of six minutes.

Bayern Munich had their world shattered by an 88th-minute Didier Drogba equalizer in 2012 but didn't forget to give their German rivals Borussia Dortmund their share of despair.

However, last season's edition of the world's premier club competition provided heartbreak early and often for clubs stationed in England, as all of the nation's top clubs crashed out unceremoniously early.

Reigning champions Chelsea and Premier League titleholders Manchester City were bounced in the group stage, while Manchester United and Arsenal then lost to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, respectively.

Entering this season, each of England's top teams has undergone change in some way.

Arsenal added Ozil, while Chelsea got slightly more special with the hiring of Jose Mourinho. Manchester United lost legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, while City canned Roberto Mancini roughly a year after he brought them their first to-flight title in 44 years.

However, the competition has also improved, as many of Europe's top teams spent big this summer.

Reigning champions Bayern added Mario Gotze, while also bringing in tiki-taka master Pep Guardiola. Barcelona brought in Brazilian wonder-kid Neymar, giving the Catalonians an even more potent attack force. Real Madrid even found a way to claim the Premier League's top player, as Gareth Bale shunned England for a big-money move to Spain.

With all of this being said, do any of the English clubs even have a chance? Early results are shaky at best with City and Chelsea both embarrassed on home soil. 

Let's take a look at each club, their chances of making it out of their group and, at the end of the day, competing for old big ears.

 

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Wayne Rooney and United will struggle in European competition.

Manchester United

The start of the David Moyes' era has been underwhelming to say the least.

The reigning Premier League champions find themselves sitting 12th in domestic competition, behind powerhouses such as Cardiff, West Brom and Hull.

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However, injuries have crippled the Red Devils thus far, as stars Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have each battled through knocks that have kept them out of action.

United should certainly be favoured to make it out of the group stages with the club currently top of Group A.

The Red Devils were able to take down German club Bayer Leverkeusen, while also picking up a point against Shakhtar in the always tricky Donbass Arena. 

However, United's current squad does not appear to possess the quality necessary to claim a European title.

United are certainly talented, but it's hard to imagine the Red Devils matching up with Europe's top teams.

The big question is this: Do Manchester United have the ability to top a team such as Madrid or Bayern over two legs?

Right now, that answer is no. Look for United to make their way out of the group but fall flat shortly after.

Prediction: Round of 16

 

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City will need to recover from Bayern's beatdown if they are to compete in Europe.

Manchester City

Let's take City's loss to reigning champions Bayern for what it is: an absolute butt-whooping at the hands of the European champions. 

On the other hand, getting outplayed on home soil is always a cause for concern, but losing to the European champions while still working out the kinks of a new manager is something that isn't relatively shocking.

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A lot is made of City's European failings, as the Citizens have failed to live up to expectations in continental play.

However, if City are ever to make it into the knockout round, this is the year to do it, as the Sky Blues find themselves in a group that is easily manageable.

The Bayern beat-down aside, City should have little to no problem with CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen, as evidenced by this absolute monstrosity of a goal that was actually allowed to happen in yesterday's contest between the two.

City have the talent to beat anyone on any given day, but do they have the mental strength to take down Europe's elite? Can they knock off top clubs, or is the Bayern mess a sign of things to come?

Expect City finally to make it out of the group stage, but everything after that depends on the draw. Luckily, they will avoid running into Bayern, which gives them one less possible buzz-saw as they attempt to make their way through the knockout round.

Look for City to get it together, as the Citizens progress through the round of 16, but it will be difficult to avoid being toppled late in the competition.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

 

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Chelsea's defeat at the hands of Basel should be a minor blip on the Blues' quest for trophies.

Chelsea

Out of all of England's European ventures last campaign, Chelsea's was the most successful. Kind of.

Chelsea were able to turn a group stage bouncing into Europa League gold, the Blues going on to win the continent's secondary competition.

However, this is a vastly different Chelsea team, as the introduction of Jose Mourinho is always sure to complicate things.

"The Special One"—or "The Happy One" as he now likes to be called—is undoubtably one of the world's top managers, as the Portuguese head man has led his teams to two Champions League crownings.

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Chelsea also have what appears to be the deepest squad, as a seemingly endless midfield has relegated even the great Juan Mata to bench duties.

Where Chelsea is weak is up front, as the loaning of Romelu Lukaku has left a lot of pressure on incumbent starter Fernando Torres and Premier League newcomer Samuel Eto'o.

For what it's worth, Torres has a wealth of experience on the international stage, while Eto'o is a three-time Champions League winner who can score goals on the big stage.

However, Torres' biggest contribution to the side this season has been his scratching of Jan Vertonghen, while Eto'o has spent his last few seasons toiling away in Russia.

Do Chelsea have the quality to get out of their group, even after an embarassing home defeat to Basel? Absolutely, as the Blues are surely the best of Group E.

Schalke should make things competitive, but Chelsea are sure to be favourites to finish top of the group, even after the slip-up to the Swiss champions.

From there, Chelsea appears to have the depth to compete with any of Europe's top teams. Their midfield is packed with playmakers, their defence is solid and Petr Cech is still a good-enough keeper to win games by himself. 

Where the questions lie are with the forwards. Torres and Eto'o will need to return to the form of their glory days for Chelsea to succeed. Can Torres and Eto'o turn back the clock just enough to remind us what 2009 felt like? I think so.

Expect Chelsea to make a deep run, as anything less will be a failure for Mourinho. There are only a handful of teams that would be favoured against the Blues, so look for Chelsea to make it past the quarters before being bounced by a team that can handle their midfield supremacy.

Prediction: Semi-finals 

 

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Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have led the way for the streaking Gunners.

Arsenal

The Gunners have been running rampant.

Mesut Ozil has adapted to life in England nicely, as the German playmaker has brought his flair for the spectacular to his new club. Aaron Ramsey has filled the gigantic void left by Gareth Bale, as the Premier League has yet another Welshman giving the league fits.

Olivier Giroud has been banging in goals left and right, and it finally appears that things have clicked for the Frenchman.

Despite barely scraping together a Champions League qualification, Arsenal have come out of the gates firing, and, at this point, look to be the Premier League's top club.

Now, it's still early. Arsenal are one injury away from surefire disaster. Ozil can be taken away just as quickly as he came, as the rough nature of the Premier League never fails to claim a few stars with injury.

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However, Arsenal have spent the entire season battling injuries, as losses of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have left the Gooners without some of their favorite offensive toys.

Arsenal also have the misfortune of being drawn in to this year's edition of the Group of Death, where Napoli, Marseille and Borussia Dortmund would provide obstacles for nearly any top side.

Despite their misfortune, Arsenal have taken care of business, handling both Marseille and Napoli with relative ease. Six points from six available means that Arsenal couldn't have asked for a better start to their European venture.

The main question is whether or not it can continue. It appears that Arsenal are the class of the group, but a matchup with BVB will still have something to say about that. The matchup against last season's Champions League runners-up will provide a major test for the Gunners.

However, it is a test that they could certainly pass. BVB lost superstar midfielder Mario Gotze to rivals Bayern, while Robert Lewandowski's future in yellow is surely in question, according to the Telegraph.

Look for Arsenal to top this year's Group of Death, as the Gunners have the quality to escape the disaster that UEFA put them in.

But can the Gunners go further? Of course they can, as Ozil is a pure match-winner with experience on the biggest of stages.

Look for Arsenal to make their way deep into the tournament but to fall just short as the Gunners continue the trophy drought that has plagued the club for years.

Prediction: Semi-finals

 

Which English team do you think has the best chance of Champions League glory? Have your say with a comment below or tweet @R_Tolmich with your ideas!

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