Premier League enthusiasts repeat the “world’s best league” mantra, but the Champions League continues to prove that the best soccer teams are based outside of England.
Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-2 draw Wednesday in the second leg of the round of 16 series edged it past Chelsea and into the Champions League quarterfinals on the away-goals rule. Chelsea twice took the lead, but PSG equalized on corner kicks, with Brazilian defenders David Luiz and Thiago Silva doing the honors.
The night of high drama at Stamford Bridge produced an unforgettable spectacle but also hammered home an uncomfortable truth about how the Premier League’s top teams compare to their counterparts from Spain, Germany and now France.
Chelsea currently leads the Premier League standings and is widely expected to lift the coveted trophy in May. It embodied England’s best hope of conquering Europe this season, but it was far from its best in both legs against PSG and remains outside the ranks of the continent’s true elites.
Arsenal and Manchester City still are alive in the Champions League, but most observers expect them to exit the competition with Chelsea in the round of 16. Manchester City must score at least twice and win at Barcelona next Wednesday, while Arsenal must beat Monaco by at least two goals (scoring three or more) next Tuesday in order to overturn the shock home loss to the French club in the first leg.
These are tall orders for teams that aren’t as strong as Chelsea domestically and, in Manchester City’s case, are facing one of the favorites to win the Champions League. The chances of an English team participating in the Champions League final for the first time since 2012 are remote, and Premier League teams largely have been absent from the semifinals in recent years.
If Chelsea cries foul after this latest elimination, those pleas will fall on deaf ears. PSG played the final 90 of 120 minutes with 10 men because of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial dismissal. The second leg was contentious throughout, threatening to descend into a brawl amid tough tackles, bad or missed calls and other moments of mayhem.
The two-game meeting wasn’t one in which Chelsea was dominant and created more chances by playing better soccer than PSG. The series was tense, aggressive and ultimately decided by PSG’s mental and physical superiority over 210 minutes of play. This is surprising, considering Chelsea had three more days to prepare for the game than PSG did.
PSG’s triumph over Chelsea is no great underdog story, either. The French club spares no expense in its effort to become a global powerhouse. Reaching the quarterfinals matches last season’s progression (where it fell to Chelsea 3-3 on away goals), and PSG’s players, fans and owners are expecting the star-studded team to participate in the semifinals annually.
Rather than being a sign that French soccer is moving up in the world, PSG’s win and Chelsea’s loss demonstrates both the Premier League’s failure to back its stylish presentation with equal substance and the extent to which the Blues must improve if they are to become the dynasty manager Jose Mourinho hopes to construct at Stamford Bridge.
Two months ago, many wondered whether this Chelsea team was good enough to win an unprecedented quadruple in 2014-15. Chelsea now must settle for domestic supremacy, at best. It also must accept the fact that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are a higher standard of team, and PSG is closer to that level than any English squad currently is.
Thumbnail photo via Matt Dunham/Associated Press