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Best league in the world, but its teams aren't good enough

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It’s hard to see how energy levels had anything to do with how Arsenal defended at home against Monaco or why Chelsea couldn’t beat 10 men at Stamford Bridge.

It’s hard to see how energy levels had anything to do with how Arsenal defended at home against Monaco or why Chelsea couldn’t beat 10 men at Stamford Bridge.

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It’s hard to see how energy levels had anything to do with how Arsenal defended at home against Monaco or why Chelsea couldn’t beat 10 men at Stamford Bridge.

Premier League clubs don't compete in the Champions League as a group. They don't contribute to each other's success and aren't responsible for each other's shortcomings, so there's little point in approaching their absence from the quarter-finals of the competition as a collective failing. Searching for silver-bullet solutions is also a waste of time.

There has been a lot said and written about why there are no English teams left in Europe, but you have to wonder if the Premier League itself sees it as much of a problem. Jose Mourinho has often pointed to the preferential treatment afforded to Champions League clubs from other countries by their respective leagues. It is reasonable to assume that a flexible approach from the Premier League to fixture changes in the week prior to European games would help their cause. That this doesn't happen may give an indication of where priorities lie.

It's also worth asking how far other clubs would go to assist the top four in conquering Europe if they were given the option to do so. Manchester City played eight competitive games during the 41 days Bayern Munich were resting during their winter break this season. There is no argument against allowing English clubs to do likewise if your focus is to help them compete, but I doubt that only the television stations would be against such a move.

At least 16 Premier League clubs (80 per cent of them) will have no involvement in the Champions League from mid-December. It's hard to imagine why they would want revenue from broadcasting and ticket sales to be put on hold for a number of weeks for the benefit of a rival club, especially as some of those will have their own ambition to get into the top four. There is too much money to be made keeping the show on the road through the holiday period. In any case, it's not like the players would be able to rest because the big clubs would quickly fill the break with lucrative trips abroad to play high-profile friendlies.

The only argument for rearranging fixtures and introducing a winter break is to guard against the onset of fatigue, but Liverpool can't point to that during the group stages. It's hard to see how energy levels had anything to do with how Arsenal defended at home against Monaco or why Chelsea couldn't beat 10 men at Stamford Bridge. And you could have doubled the fitness of every Manchester City player last Wednesday night and they still wouldn't have known how to stop Lionel Messi. The four English teams were eliminated from the competition for reasons unique to each of them. They faced different challenges and fell short for different reasons. They will respond as any team in their situation would, by changing managers, players, tactics or attitudes, in order to be better prepared the next time.

But in all of the analysis and commentary of this issue, it's time to drop references to the Premier League being the best in the world. Not because it's not true, though I'm not sure how you can conclusively answer such a question, but because it's irrelevant. A top team can be beaten by a bottom team? So what? It's more entertaining than other leagues? Irrelevant. Viewing figures from all over the world are greater than ever? It doesn't matter as long as the best players play for the biggest teams in other countries. It hasn't stopped Bayern Munich knocking English teams out of the Champions League five times since 2009. And Manchester City this season became the seventh English team to be knocked out of the competition by Real Madrid or Barcelona in the last six years. The best in Europe are better than the best in England. Until that changes, there is little reason to think results will significantly improve for Premier League clubs.

Liverpool play Manchester United this afternoon and the hype will return about the Premier League and its appeal. It will be about tribal rivalries and fourth-place finishes. It will be about restoring the pride of the Premier League to a global audience. And it will probably achieve it spectacularly. But the world's best coaches and the best players will be elsewhere. It will be two great clubs with average teams giving their all to beat each other. When it comes to that, there's no other league that's worth watching more. Just don't confuse that with being good enough to beat the best teams in Europe.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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