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A look at the the past two seasons Champions League semi-finals indicates a gap has emerged between the top continental teams and England’s best.

Can they bridge that gap?

Can the Premier League big guns bridge the gap in the Champions League?The past ten days has seen two Champions League finals played out against a general level of technical excellence to supplement the undoubted individual brilliance on show.

After a decade of consistency in the latter stages of Europe’s premier contest, English clubs are suddenly lagging behind. Spain’s big two have a seemingly unshakable hold on the world’s very best players but both Juventus and Bayern (not big spenders in European terms currently) have gone some way to bridging the gap.

Given the Premiership’s latest blockbuster TV deal, can the elite bridge the gap to the summit of European competition or is there more to it than simply splashing more cash? Let’s take a look at next season’s EPL representatives.

Chelsea

Recent history

Up until their triumph in Munich England’s champions were arguably Europe’s most consistent side alongside Barcelona, not always brilliant but always in the mix and never outclassed. Since their win and even with the evolution of a new team, Chelsea have in truth struggled in comparison with a single semi-final appearance – where they were well beaten by Atletico Madrid – sandwiched between a group stage exit and a limp second stage exit this time around.

What they need to improve

There is a lingering feeling that Mourinho is still not 100% happy with the balance and make up of his team. He has always been a 4-3-3 believer and 4-2-3-1 appears to leave him a player short in central midfield. This is born out in both his lack of trust in rotation and his increasingly negative tactics as the season progresses.

Whilst Mourinho’s record is phenomenal, a look at the stats shows he has often come up short in semi-finals and if Chelsea are to get to another final, he needs a team that is in good physical shape and that can attack as well as defend come the late Spring. Paul Pogba rather than Oscar – to give Mourinho the balance he prefers – and an able deputy (although Loic Remy may yet be that player) for Diego Costa and Chelsea could look a very good unit indeed.

Prospects

In European terms, Chelsea look the class of the Premiership field. Whilst their defence looks individually susceptible to pace, they are a superb unit and have a wonderful keeper. In Fabregas, Matic, Oscar and Hazard they have the technical players required to compete at the highest level and in (the when fit) Diego Costa they have an out and out goal scorer. The top end of European competition is measured in fractions and it will be fascinating to see if Mourinho can improve Chelsea in the small – but crucial – amounts required.

Manchester City

Recent history

Whilst City’s new found status has conquered the Premiership twice, they have been woeful in Europe. Granted they have had some tough draws – a legacy of having previously no meaningful European ranking – but City have been poor. They have at least progressed past the group stages in the past two seasons.

What they need to improve

It is impossible to suggest that City’s woes have been due to a lack of European experience given that nearly all the players are seasoned in both Europe and are all Internationals. The club’s transfer policy is the main weakness and what needs to be addressed given that City have not recruited players that have improved their first eleven in the past couple of seasons.

Around £141 million was spent on Mangala, Navas, Negredo, Jovetic, Fernando and Fernandinho before another £28m was spent on Wilfried Bony. None of these players are likely to raise an eyebrow in Madrid or Munich, certainly with respect to the quality of previous recruits such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure. Tactically, Pellegrini has also been naive in Europe. In the Premiership he can simply outgun the vast majority of sides but European competition often requires a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer.

Prospects

There is little to suggest that City possess the personnel or the nous currently to make a serious dent in the latter stages of the competition. City should look for another season of consolidation in Europe and aim for their first appearance in the quarter-finals.

Arsenal

Recent history

Arsenal have been phenomenally consistent in the Champions League or one could also argue that they have been consistently mediocre. Given however that they have limped into the top four of the Premiership each season, their last sixteen position in Europe is probably about right.

Since their defeat in the final to Barcelona in 2006, Arsenal have tended to exit the tournament when they first come up against a truly good side. Far too often, heroic second leg rescue attempts have masked the simple fact that Arsenal have not been good enough tactically at the sharp end of the competition.

What they need to improve

Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the phrase deja vu will be inexorably linked for the remainder of time. Should Arsenal address their obvious (to everyone else at least) deficiencies and strengthen their defensive and defensive midfield spine, they could become a formidable team again. For all Wenger’s achievements, his European record is atrocious. A look at the sharp end of European competition shows teams willing to cut their cloth accordingly. Juventus played a high tempo pressing game at home against Real before playing a far more balanced match in the Bernabeu. Last season’s semi-finals saw Real revert to counter attacking Bayern Munich – and they destroyed them.

Wenger has shown signs in big domestic games this season of some new found pragmatism but wins against the big teams are few and far between. In Europe they have either gone toe to toe with the big guns and been blown away or in the case of Monaco this season, simply ignored the opposition in their tactical thinking to catastrophic ending. For Arsenal to go deeper in to the tournament, Wenger must start to consider the opposition in his thinking.

Prospects

Typically at this time of year, thoughts turn to Arsenal mounting a real challenge for the top trophies the following season, and then the same debate crops up the following year. Arsenal frustratingly however possess much of the requirement for doing well in Europe given that they have a plethora of players with excellent technical ability. They are also a very experienced team in many ways and in players such as Ozil and Sanchez they possess some of the best players available.

If Wenger finally buys well this Summer, Arsenal could have more than a passing interest at the sharp end next Spring, if not it will be a case of ‘as you were’.

Manchester United

Recent history

United were consigned to domestic duties this season after David Moyes’ ill-fated reign saw the Reds fall out of European completion for the first time in a generation.

Before that, United’s record over the past ten seasons was colourful with three final appearances (one win) mixed up with some mediocre campaigns and a feeling that they were never quite in control of proceedings. Never let it be said that life under Sir Alex was dull. Nevertheless they have been one of the heavyweight presences in the tournament and they will be keen to get back to the summit.

What they need to improve

United need first and foremost to continue the overhaul of their squad. United have reached the top four almost by default but the truth is they are mess tactically and the squad needs a lot of work before it can challenge again for the big trophy. Many of the building blocks are in place however and if LVG can show that he has a clear plan in mind for both personnel and playing style going forwards then they may rebuild quickly.

Old Trafford is a huge draw for nearly any footballer and with a return to Champions League football they have also have the financial firepower to stand up to Spain’s big two – if that is what the Glazers wish to do.

Prospects

If life was never dull under Ferguson then it is little different under their new Dutch manager. Van Gaal has been criticised for his meticulous planning stifling his players but there is no doubting his pedigree. If United have a successful summer in the transfer market – and there is every reason to suspect they will – then they could re-establish themselves as a force next season.

A Champions League victory might be a couple of steps too far for a team in rebuilding but they should still be involved come next spring.

Originally published at voomfootball.com

Post written by Steven McBain
for Voomfootball, Blog: Voomfootball, Twitter: @Voomfootball

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

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