England's Champions League failure: Brief lapse or permanent problem?

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Such were the toils of Arsenal and Chelsea in their respective Champions League last 16 first-legs, the London pair will be thinking why they bothered scrapping in the group phase in the first place

While both AC Milan and Napoli all but disposed of their hopes in Europe's premier club competition, the Manchester pair of City and United, who had already suffered the embarrassment of being knocked out at the group stage, appear to be cruising through the Europa League.

Ironically, the lack of a genuine competitive force on a Thursday night is likely to be conducive to the duo's title challenge, while Arsenal and Chelsea, whose qualification represented a false dawn rather than a genuine cup run, are left to pick up the pieces after disastrous evenings in Italy.

Don't get me wrong, City and United would swap their position in an instant, with the defensive deficiencies of both Serie 'A' sides, as well as the lack of quality disputing the competition elsewhere, sure to have whetted the appetite of Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney.

But Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas' sides may reflect in the aftermath of their respective defeats, that while neither performance was up to the mark, neither squad were truly equipped to progress.

The Premier League's top two may feel similarly, not so much with the shortcomings of their personal, but rather with the chasm of experience in City's case, and the lack of defensive continuity in United's.

The English football fan has been treated to a plethora of success in the Champions League of late; seven clubs have reached the final in as many years, with three victories.

But this season is likely to be the first a English side hasn't reached the last-eight for 16 years, and while Switzerland, Russia and Cyprus may all have a representative, the footballing powerhouse that is England will be conspicuous by its absence.

It sparks debate as to whether this will signal a decline in our country's dominance on the continent, and for the time being any search for answers will be fruitless.

Granted, this season's showing has been someway short of what has often been expected of England's finest, but only when a succession of failures occur can we claim a decline.

With the repercussions of the financial play rule yet to be fully felt, it may be futile to predict whether the Premier League can earn a reprieve in the years to come, but the uncanny knack Sir Alex Ferguson has for returning all the more stronger, not to mention as he enters the twilight of his career, suggests United will be back.

Furthermore, failure in Europe, which could be swelled by a inability to finish top of the tree domestically, will surely spark more ins and outs at the Etihad Stadium.

The success of the smaller nations must give England's elite encouragement that significant progress can be made, even with Barcelona and Real Madrid's wall of dominance.

The troubles at two points of the compass in London might require more than a summer splurge to solve, and troubles against Norwich City and Swansea City suggests Liverpool are far from the finished article either.

But for the short-term, England's Champions League interest should be retained for years to come. Any depth of success is likely to be dictated by how quickly Wenger and Villas-Boas hit the reset button.

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Europa League
European News
Manchester City
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Manchester United

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