With only Chelsea returning from Istanbul with any credit what so ever in the last two weeks, the English sides have undoubtedly performed poorly in their last 16 first leg matches. Chelsea stopped the rot on Wednesday night with a one-all draw against Galatasaray in Istanbul, a game where they were very much in control of in the first half, until poor defending from a set-piece in the second half led to the home side’s equaliser just after half time. Manchester United continued their downfall this season with their first ever loss against Greek opposition away to Olympiacos on Tuesday night. A comfortable 2 nil win for the home side with United never threatening bar a chance for Robin Van Persie towards the end of the second half which he failed to convert. Olympiacos were always in control, with United constantly giving away possession and never threatening. Arsenal can count themselves slightly unfortunate in my opinion with the missed penalty from Özil and with Wojciech Szczęsny’s sending off, but Bayern completely outplayed them with the extra man and Arsenal just had no answer. Manchester City were undone by another sending off, for Martín Demichelis when he brought down Lionel Messi and the referee awarded a spot-kick, which on the replay should have been a free kick just outside the area. However the referee gave the spot-kick and Dani Alves struck home a second towards the end of the 90 to give Barcelona a comfortable two goal lead to bring back to the Nou Camp.
Looking forward to the second legs
With all four teams apart from possibly Chelsea looking unlikely to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League at this stage, the motion was put forward again this week, how strong is the Premier League at the moment? Many pundits taking the view that it possibly has taken a step back along the line of being well behind Spain’s La Liga or perhaps the Bundesliga in Germany at the moment. We have to remind ourselves of just how poorly Manchester United are performing this season and the fact that they are in a re-building mode and probably not going to return to the Champions League next season. It was also Manchester City’s first time in the knockout stages of the tournament with perhaps the lack of experience aiding their defeat against Barcelona at the Etihad. I would think Arsenal have a slight chance of turning it around as they proved last season at the Allianz in Munich. Manchester United have it all to do in the return leg, and with their abysmal home record so far this season, I couldn’t see them turning it around, especially with Juan Mata not available, and with such low morale in the camp at the minute. It really does seem to be down between Real Madrid, who destroyed Schalke 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday night, Barcelona and also Bayern Munich for European glory this season. It is hard to make a case for Chelsea, even though they seem to be the only likely English side to progress to the last 8.
Why such a gulf in class?
With Manchester City’s lack of experience in the knockout stages an obvious marker as I mentioned earlier, they still have an incredible team who have brushed aside everyone except Chelsea this season in the Premier League. The money has been well spent and they seem to have jelled well together thus far, but you should not forget how brilliant Barcelona still are. They are without doubt still one of the best teams in the world at the moment, and one of the best possession teams in the world with fantastic players. Manchester United’s team needs a serious makeover at the end of the season, and even though we may have seen how poorly United played the other night, Olympiacos aren’t a bad side and are currently running away with the Greek league and have one of the best home records in any league in Europe at the moment. When Arsenal drew champions Bayern, I thought that that was the toughest draw that any of the English sides could have got. They are the fittest team in Europe, and the most organised with fantastic individual players all over the pitch. It’s no secret that United wanted to sign Toni Kroos in the last few days of the January window. We have seen the full array of his talents, not to mention his superbly taken goal against Arsenal. I thought that Chelsea were a far superior team to Galatasaray on Wednesday night and could have brought a decent lead back to Stamford Bridge. However Chelsea seemed to allow the home side to come onto them in the second half, and never looked like threatening to get a second goal. I would think though that Chelsea will have too much class to overcome Galatasaray in the return leg and should be able to progress to the last 8.