Out of their league

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

FOR ALL its TV zil­lions, su­per­star man­agers and the fas­ci­na­tion its six-way ti­tle scrap brings, the English Pre­mier League looks to be no nearer to get­ting the hang of Europe.

With just one Cham­pi­ons League group game re­main­ing, the EPL quar­tet has al­ready been re­duced to three with none re­motely threat­en­ing to get their hands on Old Big Ears.

Dis­ap­point­ing, yes, but it does not mean the most-hyped league in the world is all mouth and no trousers. It is sim­ply a sea­son too soon as most of the new bosses are still get­ting the mea­sure of their sides and the cur­rent pace­set­ters didn’t even qual­ify. Next year a Fab Four could be strut­ting their stuff in cus­tom­made Ar­mani.

It says a lot that the EPL’s lone shin­ing light was the least fan­cied. Five-thou­sand to one cham­pi­ons Le­ices­ter City have be­lied their do­mes­tic strug­gles to take to the com­pe­ti­tion in the man­ner born. Dom­i­nat­ing an ad­mit­tedly weak group, the Foxes will qual­ify for the knock-out phase in top spot and thereby avoid some of the con­ti­nent’s big beasts in the spring.

All credit to them – they are rook­ies af­ter all – but the con­trast with their league form is stark, and sus­pi­cions that cer­tain play­ers have saved them­selves for this shop win­dow to the con­ti­nent are not with­out foun­da­tion. But their fans have loved it and their counter-at­tack­ing style was al­ready tai­lor-made for the com­pe­ti­tion.

The big­gest dis­ap­point­ment has been Spurs. Hav­ing al­most chased the slink­ing lead­ers down last sea­son be­fore their late col­lapse, more was ex­pected of a young and sup­pos­edly hun­gry side mak­ing a rare foray into elite com­pany.

But greed got the bet­ter of chair­man Daniel Levy who couldn’t re­sist the lure of Wem­b­ley’s ex­tra gate money for home games and the team paid the price. They drew an ex­tra 50,000 fans to the 30,000 plus White Hart Lane would have been re­stricted to, but lost both games and will miss out on the cash bo­nanza of the knock­out stages.

There can be no sym­pa­thy for the hard­nosed Levy who has al­ways put pounds be­fore points in an of­ten penny-wise ten­ure of un­der­achieve­ment. Even with a crowd of 85,000, the team didn’t feel at home on the na­tional sta­dium’s broad acres, their op­po­nents didn’t feel in­tim­i­dated and the ad­van­tage was tossed away.

Be­cause of this the play­ers want to play their Europa League games at the Lane but Levy bet­ter hope they get used to Wem­b­ley soon – they’ll be play­ing all their Pre­mier League home games there next sea­son as White Hart Lane sees a new sta­dium rise.

Ex­cuses? Harry Kane’s in­jury is the most valid but a club with such am­bi­tions can­not be de­pen­dent on one man. The truth is that Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino didn’t buy bril­liantly last sum­mer. Just three main ad­di­tions of whom only Vic­tor Wanyama looks any­where near good enough. Vin­cent Janssen and Moussa Sis­soko don’t.

If the pre­vi­ous sea­son is not to ap­pear a false dawn and Spurs are to avoid the curse of the new home, Levy must grant Po­chet­tino the funds to bol­ster his in­ad­e­quate squad. When Arsene Wenger has spent £100 mil­lion, this is no time to be Scrooge or Spurs will once again be left trail­ing.

They still haven’t lost in the EPL but they Harry Kane (left), Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino (cen­tre) and Hugo Lloris de­jected af­ter their el­em­i­na­tion from the Cham­pi­ons League on Tues­day have only one league win since they beat City. Af­ter that, this col­umn’s head­line was “Spurs mean busi­ness”. They did, but sadly, with Levy it’s al­ways the stuff off the field that comes first.

As ev­ery foot­ball stat man knows, Ar­se­nal have made a habit of com­ing sec­ond and bow­ing out in the first knock­out round. And sec­ond looks a safe bet once again af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing home draw against PSG. So much for the added steel and re­silience – the French side could have had five or six but for the profli­gacy of Edin­son Ca­vani.

Well, £35m’s worth of re­silience in Granit Xhaka didn’t even start and Ar­se­nal only scored through a dodgy penalty and a flukey own goal. But the man they re­ally missed was Santi Ca­zorla – as they did for a chunk of last sea­son – and he’s out till Xmas.

So it could be Barcelona again next up. Or Real Madrid. Or Ju­ven­tus. At least they’ll avoid Bay­ern or it re­ally would have felt like cur­tains for the Gun­ners yet again. Wenger now looks as if he’s got to win the league to avoid the fans get­ting on his back for the umpteenth time.

Fi­nally, mon­ey­bags Manch­ester City, with the most hyped man­ager of them all, made it through un­con­vinc­ingly against mod­est Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach. So far, City have pro­duced one bril­liant half in Europe – against Barcelona – and they don’t yet look equipped for a se­ri­ous chal­lenge this time.

For all their pos­ses­sion, they sel­dom looked like scor­ing while a flak­i­ness per­sists at the back. With Vin­cent Kom­pany now look­ing like his ca­reer might be over, an­other cen­tre­back is des­per­ately needed.

Once again John Stones’ lack of so­lid­ity let the op­po­nents through and bet­ter teams will pun­ish them more se­verely. On nights like this, his first name should be pumice.

Up front and in mid­field they looked light­weight but in the knock­out phase, they’ll have Yaya Toure and Gabriel Je­sus, fresh from Brazil. To be­come Euro­pean cham­pi­ons, you feel they need more still but a cou­ple more trans­fer win­dows and Pep coach­ing later, they could be there­abouts.

On what we’ve seen in the do­mes­tic sea­son, both Chelsea and Liver­pool could be­come forces in Europe too. So for all the medi­ocrity on show this time, the rich­est league in the world just needs time be­fore it can claim to be the best.

MANCH­ESTER UNITED at­tempted to sign 31-year-old Ar­se­nal and France de­fender Mathieu De­buchy in the sum­mer.

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