Posted on Goonersphere.
A Champions League Final is not normally a hive of frenetic action, sandwiched by thrilling passages of play.
No, European club football’s crowning glory is usually poster child for tedium and anti-football. Y’know the types of games I’m referring to – just picture a game involving a Jose Mourinho team in an important fixture and you’ll get the idea.
It is completely understandable though. Since the European Cup transformed itself in the early 90’s, the current format has gone from strength to strength and is now the pinnacle of all achievements for any club on the continent.
So for a team to play ultra-cautiously in fear of losing is just another effect of the Champions League gravity ensuring everything in its orbit is affected.
The latest Final though, in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, was markedly and pleasantly different.
Both finalists – eventual winners Real Madrid and beaten finalist Juventus – went at each other with vigorous enthusiasm, and the first half especially was a joy to watch. The ebb and flow of the game was akin to a tennis match, but don’t for one moment think that the defensive arts were maligned. With each attack, the defence for both teams were the craggy rocks which the marauding waves crashed upon.
Juventus’s almost mythical defence of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini were eventually found wanting in the face of the Real forward line, but Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos also had a tough time tracking the movement of Paolo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain.
All parameters of skill in football were crammed into the ninety or so minutes, and what became increasingly apparent as the minutes whizzed by was that Arsenal – and the Premier League – are miles behind the level on show.
The Premier League’s biggest strength – it’s physicality and fizzing speed – is also its biggest flaw. It means that the technical ability that Real and Juventus possess and dole out on the pitch can slice through the crash and bang that PL sides bring to the table.
We have players in every PL team that can play in this manner. Some clubs have more than others, but the bottom line is that it isn’t just the Champions League finalists that have climbed above our best sides.
Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Monaco, Barcelona. These teams, if drawn against one of the big PL sides, could slice us to ribbons on demand. Of course, Dortmund have seen better days, and PSG haven’t been at their best, but five English sides making the Last 8 in the last SIX seasons pretty much underlines it.
There are matches when English teams can raise their game and occasions when their play is breathtaking. At their best, they can stand shoulder to shoulder with these Euro giants.
The problem is though, is that they are standing on tiptoes, and this can’t be maintained for long.
We have some of the best coaches. We have the most money. We have the platform to grow and become giants, like we once were.
There are other factors. A lack of a winter break leaves English teams with less capacity than their Euro brethren, and the frenetic nature of our League means stamina becomes an issue.
These are not the main reason though, and that is why this summer will be a big one for the big boys of the Premier League.
These clubs are now the richest on the continent, and despite this, they still don’t possess the best talent that money can buy. Suarez, Neymar, Dybala, Higuain, Bale, Ronaldo, Reus, Douglas Costa, Lewandowski. These men are at the very top, and none play in England.
Hell, Real Madrid couldn’t even fit James Rodriguez onto their bench!
We have Ozil, Sanchez, Hazard, Aguero, Pogba, Koscielny, Kane. These players can hold their head high amongst these esteemed names, but on the whole, we have a huge amount of catching up to do.
On the pitch, and off of it, we will see a big change. This summer will be the start, as silly money gets chucked around so City, United, Chelsea and hopefully Arsenal, attempt to claw back their shortcomings.
The CL Final may just serve as a wake up call for the Premier League big clubs.