After Chelsea’s exit, English clubs face European humbling
LONDON (AP) — Exiting the Champions League was painful for Jose Mourinho but there was no sense of injustice. The Chelsea manager was uncharacteristically restrained, with no attempt to excuse an abject performance against a Paris Saint-Germain side reduced to 10 men for most of Wednesday’s game.
Chelsea lacked defensive organization and attacking resolve against the French league’s second-place team. And Mourinho was left questioning the mental strength of his players, who have forged a five-point lead in the Premier League but couldn’t beat a team shorn of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic after half an hour.
“When a team cannot defend two corners and concedes two goals from the corners, that team doesn’t deserve to win,” Mourinho said after the 2-2 draw which sent PSG through on away goals with the 3-3 aggregate result.
“I think we couldn’t cope with that pressure.”
Mourinho was echoing Arsene Wenger’s assessment of Arsenal after the north London club crumbled 3-1 at home to another French side, Monaco, in their round of 16 first leg.
Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal still has a chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals next week. So does Manchester City, which trails Barcelona 2-1.
But faced with those tough away assignments in Europe, City and Arsenal also find themselves playing for the reputation of the Premier League.
The English topflight has never been stronger as a business, with its financial firepower reinforced by a new $8 billion, three-year deal for domestic television rights sealed last month.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore celebrated the windfall by predicting it will “make our clubs even more competitive against our European counterparts.”
It is an optimistic outlook. English clubs have been declining as a force in Europe even though their bank balances have been swelled by Premier League cash.
English clubs featured in seven of the eight Champions League finals between 2005 and 2012, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United lifting the European Cup during the spell of domination. But the 2013 and 2014 finals lacked any English sides, and now it looks unlikely that there will be a single representative even in the quarterfinals.
“We’re going to have to have a good long look at ourselves,” England assistant coach Gary Neville told Sky Sports. “We’re getting embarrassed year in, year out at the moment.
“It is shocking, really shocking, and until we get an intensity in our game that befits top-level football, it is not going to happen. We are way off, absolutely way off.”
As for an imminent upturn in fortunes, Neville’s outlook is bleak.
England has not just struggled in the Champions League. Liverpool, which was demoted to the Europa League after failing in the Champions League group stage, went out in the round of 32 along with Tottenham. Everton is the last English representative in the round of 16, playing Dynamo Kiev on Thursday.
“We are miles away,” Neville said. “It’s in the defending aspect, and the urgency to defend.
“There are aspects of possession we could improve on, but we are nowhere near good enough defensively. ... Other teams have more energy, more urgency and better appetite.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris