Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic proved tonight with their standout performances in Barcelona’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie that Chelsea are the Premier League’s only hope of glory.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men were dismantled in the first half by Messi et al and the Catalans should have been out of sight before the half time whistle, never mind before the trip to Camp Nou in three weeks’ time for the second leg.
Former Liverpool striker Suarez was rusty in the early stages of the match, misplacing passes and missing chances, but he switched on after 15 minutes and was on hand to ruthlessly exploit a mistake by City captain Vincent Kompany to open the scoring.
The Uruguayan doubled the lead after some sensational play by Messi on the edge of the box and then a smart squared pass from Jordi Alba left him with a tap in. The home side rallied in the second half and put on some pressure, but they missed opportunities and Barcelona always looked dangerous on the break.
It is hard to imagine the second leg being anything other than a straightforward victory for Luis Enrique’s side and they aren’t even the best side in the competition. No, Bayern Munich and holders Real Madrid are two that are arguably more likely to lift the trophy come May.
Perhaps it is the management of Pellegrini, or perhaps it is the mentality of the players, but the Premier League champions just cannot seem to bring the same level of performances into Europe as they do domestically.
Even if Manchester City somehow manage to turn the tables and make it through to the quarter-finals, this kind of home performance shows they do not have the mentality for big European nights and are likely to come unstuck against the better teams.
Still Hope For EPL
However, not all hope is lost for a Premier League winner in this year’s competition, one man has the expertise and the personnel necessary to go all the way to the final, and glory, in Berlin’s Olympiastadion at the end of the season – and it’s not Arsene Wenger.
Jose Mourinho has been thwarted at the semi-final stage in six of the eight occasions he has made it there and last year’s defeat to Atletico Madrid was his fourth in a row. The Chelsea boss will be desperate to put that right in this year’s competition and he is best placed of the English representatives to do so.
Luckily for Chelsea, their manger is a specialist in stifling and he has a defensive unit born to repel possession-loving opponents.
A 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital was underwhelming, but it is a brave man that would bet against a Mourinho side that goes into a second leg at Stamford Bridge with the scores level and an away goal.
Barcelona were breath-taking at times in front of the Etihad Stadium crowd on Tuesday night and defending against them will be a mean feat for any side. Luckily for Chelsea, their manger is a specialist in stifling and he has a defensive unit born to repel possession-loving opponents.
Gunners Are No-Hopers
Arsenal go up against AS Monaco on Wednesday night in the first leg of what was the kindest last 16 draw for the Premier League sides, and while they are strong favourites to proceed to the quarter-finals, nobody really believes they can go all the way.
Having Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in attack, with Santi Cazorla in such terrific form behind them, the Gunners are a match for any side’s defensive capabilities. But at the back there is always a mistake or two in them and it will ultimately cost them.
Arsene Wenger’s men put in the perfect away performance during their 2-0 win over Manchester City in the Premier League earlier this season, but repeating that against Barcelona or Bayern is a whole other proposition. The Gunners boss has shown a more pragmatic side recently, but the truth his team never look entirely comfortable when ceding possession.
Required Balance Is Only At The Bridge
Mourinho has the most balanced squad of the three Premier League sides and the squad most able to move from reactive sitting deep before hitting on the counter-attack to proactive possession based football to ramp up the pressure on opponents.
Manchester City are already nearly out and one can’t imagine Arsenal going much further than the next round without a favourable draw. Jose Mourinho is the perfect candidate and, realistically, the only one who can bring the big-eared trophy back to Blightly.