Premier League Teams' Mentality Has to Change If They Are to Conquer Europe

Guillem Balague@@GuillemBalagueFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014


After the defeats of Arsenal and Manchester City to Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively, I want to touch on the English teams’ European displays.

A lot has been said about the naivety of the English teams. Two sending offs, 2-0 down at home—and that shows that they are naive, that they do not know how to play in this competition.

That is true to an extent, naivety plays a part, but it does not tell the whole story.

The way teams play in the Premier League does not benefit them when they move into Europe.

That has been identified by managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, so they have two different styles of play.

You need the tactics, formations and different players. Manchester United for instance, in the era of Carlos Queiroz, played 4-4-2, 4-3-3 in the Premier League. But in Europe it was always 4-5-1.

It is not just the formation, it is the style as well. Teams in the Premier League can win the league on the back of the individual quality of their forwards, by going on the attack. But when they come to Europe, it is a completely different story, you just cannot go on all-out attack.

In the Premier League, Manchester City will enjoy a lot of possession, but against Barcelona that was not the case. So it is about how you adapt, and Manchester City didn’t.

Manuel Pellegrini
Manuel PellegriniLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The style of the Premier League is becoming a problem for the English sides, but also there is a big different in the style of refereeing in the Premier League compared to Europe.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has got used to the style of refereeing in the Premier League, and he became annoyed with the little fouls that were taking place and stopping the rhythm of the game.

All that works against the English sides, no doubt, but there is something else.

The top English sides have lost that winning mentality. As I wrote last week, I don’t believe in mind games or what are perceived to be mind games. There is no evidence to say there is a benefit or that it affects the result.

People twist stories to explain things based on mind-game moments, such as the famous Kevin Keegan one, but I don’t see any evidence to say it affects the game.

In the Keegan example, when he was in charge of Newcastle United in 1996, Manchester United were already top of the table when Keegan broke down in front of the cameras. So poor management, and not breaking down in front of the cameras, was the reason for what happened in that season.

Psychology does play an important part for football teams and players, and the mindset is wrong in the English teams.

When I went to the Emirates for the Arsenal-Bayern Munich game, I was handed proof of the lack of a winning mentality. I met one of Arsenal’s most famous fans, and he said: “We have nothing to lose, if we get something then brilliant but if we get knocked out everyone expects it.”

How can you think that way?

And that is the problem with English football, especially with Arsenal: that winning mentality.

Arsenal played well before the sending off of Wojciech Szczesny, but it seems that the feeling is “there is nothing to lose” and I disagree with that.

Thick Accent

Manchester City approached their game a little bit better than last season’s with Real Madrid for instance, when they defended very deep.

They tried to come out a bit more, especially in the second half, but the feeling was that they were not comfortable with the ball.

Jose Mourinho showed the way with Real Madrid that you have to be more aggressive when taking on Barcelona. City did not have that. It was as if the players were resigned to Barcelona being superior.

Looking at Manchester United, it is the same. They have lost it because their players have been there before. They need a new bunch of players. I do not doubt David Moyes’ winning mentality, but there a is something lacking at the moment. I am sure that will be adjusted in the summer.

With Chelsea, they are claiming to be a small team—which is not true. They defend deep and counter attack, which is easier than taking the initiative. For the money they have and club they are, they should approach things like a big team.