Football

Manchester United lack edge for Champions League success

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In recent years, English teams' chances of conquering the illustrious Champions League have been widely downplayed. Even when Chelsea miraculously beat Barcelona at the semi-final stage and then Bayern Munich in the final at the Allianz Arena, they were given little-to-no hope of making Roman Abramovich's European dream come true. 

Understandably, too. The Blues were outplayed in the first leg of their last-16 clash with Italian side Napoli, losing 3-1 in Naples under former boss Andre Villas-Boas. Before the second leg had taken place, the Portuguese coach had become the latest man to receive his P45 from the club's Russian billionaire owner.

After club legend Roberto Di Matteo oversaw a string of successful results - including a 4-1 victory in the return leg against Napoli that saw them progress to the quarter finals - he was appointed as AVB's successor, and went on to do what no Chelsea manager had done before him and win the Champions League. 

Some - sorry, most - still wonder how they managed it given the teams that stood in their way, but Lady Luck was shining on the west-London club and not even a John Terry red card in the Nou Camp could stop them. 

Their defence of the title was less than impressive, crashing out at the group stage last season - which, shockingly, saw Di Matteo follow in AVB's footsteps out of the revolving managerial exit door at Stamford Bridge.

But the 2012/13 Champions League was not a memorable one for any club in England, and if it was, it was for the wrong reasons. Arsenal suffered at the hands of eventual winners Bayern, losing out on away goals after a dire first leg performance that led to a 3-1 deficit, which could not be overhauled by their valiant 2-0 display in Germany. 

For Manchester United, Luis Nani's red card all-but signalled the end of Sir Alex Ferguson's time in Europe after the Scotsman's end-of-season announcement that it was his last as manager after 26 years of service. The Red Devils were unfortunate, having earned a credible draw at the Santiago Bernabeu against former player Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid, only to be undone by the former fans favourite after Nani's debatable dismissal in Manchester. 

Roberto Mancini's Manchester City side once again departed, like Chelsea, during the group phase after managing a poultry three points in a group containing Dutch champions Ajax, Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, and Jose Mourinho's Spanish champions Madrid. 

So, by the time March rolled around, not a single English team were in quarter-final action. 

And how have they responded?

Well, impressively. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United sit top of their respective groups with their destiny in their own hands - while ironically City have qualified for the last 16 despite being the only English team not in first position. 

But do any of the teams from these shores stand a realistic chance of glory amongst Europe's elite? 

Let's start with two-time winners United. Despite sitting top of Group A, the English champions have not yet stamped their authority on the Champions League, managing two meek draws away to Shakhtar Donetsk and most recently Real Sociedad. 

David Moyes has no experience of the competition, which has not shown at Old Trafford, but certainly has on their travels. Managerial experience is imperative in Europe, and it will be this that costs them if, rather than the usual when, they progress to the latter stages. 

Moyes is not a bad manager, otherwise he wouldn't be sat in the home dugout of the Theatre of Dreams. But his lack of experience at this level will tell when he's faced with the daunting task of overcoming one of Europe's powerhouses in their own back yard. They've been ropey at home in the league, and the likes of Barca, Bayern, Real, Dortmund or even Paris Saint-Germain will play without fear if they were to visit the red half of Manchester. 

They undoubtedly have the squad and the mentality to succeed in the future, but at this current moment they lack a manager with enough wealth of experience to conquer the European Cup. 

Arsenal certainly don't have this problem, with Arsene Wenger in his 17th year in charge of the Gunners. Having added world-class midfield talent to his squad in recent years, culminating in arguably the biggest Premier League coup ever when they signed Mesut Ozil on deadline day, they have the best chance of Champions League glory since half-time of the 2006 final defeat at the hands of Barca. 

Their credentials have been further enhanced by beating Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion in their last outing, showing they have what it takes to beat one of their main competitors away from Emirates Stadium. That, however, is counter acted by Jurgen Klopp's side's victory in north London two weeks beforehand. 

Their lack of attacking prowess will ultimately be their downfall. With Olivier Giroud tirelessly leading the line on his own so far this year, it's pretty plausible he will run out of steam by the time the crucial stages of the competition come around in March and April. Nicklas Bendtner, Arsenal's only other frontman, wants out as well - which is not a bad thing, as 60,000 Gunners fans will tell you. 

If they were to add a world class talent like Karim Benzema or Luis Suarez to their team this January - which is unlikely, but not out of the question - Wenger will have a real shot at avenging their final defeat seven years ago by winning their first Champions League. 

Manchester City do not lack attacking options and in Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, David Silva, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure, have the prowess in the final third to succeed in Europe. In Manuel Pellegrini, they have a man who knows the tournament inside out from his days at Madrid and most recently Malaga. In fact, he was one minute away from knocking runners-up Dortmund out in last year's campaign. 

However, he's new to City, having succeeded Mancini this summer. He needs time to mould his squad and put his own blueprint on them. They've also struggled dreadfully away from home in the league, losing four of six on the road. Their lack of defensive options in the absence of their injury-prone captain Vincent Kompany will ultimately cost them in Europe.

Gael Clichy is superb on his day, but susceptible to lapses in concentration against classier opponents and was found out in their recent trip to Chelsea, with Fernando Torres terrorising the French international all afternoon. Even if they add to their back line this January, they're likely to suffer another fruitless campaign on the European front. 

Last, but certainly not least, come Chelsea. Out of all the English sides, they have the best chance of success. They may have a new manager, but he's an old face, and Mourinho is a tactical genius in Europe who has suffered from a semi-final curse in recent seasons. 

He's twice won the competition, with Porto and Inter Milan, and has got to the last four on ample occasions. They have a squad that goes deep, with a frightening pool of midfield talent as well as a defence that is looking more solid with each 90 minutes that passes. 

Granted, they have been less than impressive in their last two Premier League ties, but responded to losing their opening group fixture in Europe by winning their next three, scoring ten goals without Petr Cech being beaten.

Ultimately, it's their lack of a prolific striker that may cost them, with Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto'o both past their best and Demba Ba out of his depth. 

Transfer speculation suggests they're going to amend that situation in the coming winter window, and if Mourinho picks the right man, he could well be celebrating becoming the first man to win the European Cup with three different teams. 

It's all if's and but's, of course. This year though, despite English football being largely dominated by both Manchester clubs in the previous two years, I feel the most sought-after trophy in club football will more likely reside in London, rather than Manchester, at the culmination of the 2013/14 season. 

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Manchester United
UEFA Champions League
Arsenal
Manchester City
Chelsea

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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