So now, the final 16 of the Champions League has been decided. What does the make up of this exclusive club tell us about the health of various leagues and sides? One of the big stories, at least in England, has been the relative lack of success of English sides in this years competition. In recent years, fans and the media have been used to all four English sides getting this far, so only two sides making it through is certainly a comedown.
The question is, “is this symptomatic of a change in power in Europe, or a one-off blip”?. Certainly, the 2012/13 season of the Premier League is not a vintage one. It’s already turned into a two horse race, with 3rd place looking like the best thing that Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs can hope for. Chelsea are doing their best to look like the worst run club in the world, and Roberto Mancini‘s Man City seem to have a complete brain-freeze when they play in Europe.
You get the feeling that if Mancini wins the Premier League again this year, he’ll be allowed one more crack at the Champions League – any further failure will see him losing his job. Even the two English sides that have made the last 16 (Arsenal & Man Utd)are not vintage editions and are unlikely to be lining up at Wembley for the final in 2013. I’m not sure it’s a sign of a slide though. All four big English sides, and probably Spurs and Liverpool are likely to be stronger next season than this.
So what of the rest of the line up? The only big surprise is Celtic. Generally seen as mere Europa League fodder, they have made the last 16 entirely on merit, especially taking three points off the mighty Barcelona. Galatasaray, like Celtic, are probably raging against the dying light – with nouveau riche East European sides like Shaktar Donetsk muscling in.
Spain are top dogs – defying the theory that La Liga is a two team competition. Malaga in particular were tipped for disaster this season when it looked like their oligarch had gone missing, but he’s stuck around and money is buying success once again.
As for the rest (Barca, Madrid, Valencia, Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke, PSG and Porto), well they are exactly the teams you would expect. Borussia Dortmund are becoming everyones second favourite team – an exciting young side, a club where the fans have a majority share, and their 80,000 capacity stadium has ample standing room. They are hardly underdogs, but if you fancied looking beyond the traditional ruling powers and the petro-dollars, they are probably as good as it gets.
Mark Cruise is a soccer writer for Rantsports. Follow him on Twitter: @chiefhairyman