Belfast Telegraph

Premier League now miles behind the best, says Paul Scholes

By Paul Scholes

As far as the failings of Premier League teams in this season's Champions League goes then there was no better example of their collective shortcomings than Manchester City's defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.

Out-played, out-fought and out-thought, City were miles off the pace.

This was a defeat that was not just about Lionel Messi, although he was sensational. It was not just about Barcelona's return to form, although they look very good again. It was about another English team going into a game against brilliant European opposition with no plan to stop their opponents playing and an extreme naivety when it came to their tactical approach.

Just as Arsenal's complacency and arrogance in the first leg against Monaco cost them dearly come the second leg on Tuesday night, so City failed to understand what it took to beat Barcelona.

Just as Chelsea failed to create more than one chance against Paris Saint-Germain in Paris and then got caught between attacking and defending their lead in the second leg, so City let Barcelona take control.

It is a shocking statistic over the last three seasons that England have had just two representatives in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and only one, Chelsea last season, in the semi-finals.

Once upon a time we might have been able to blame that kind of failure rate on a lack of imported coaching talent, but we have got the supposed tactical masters from across Europe and South America at our top clubs now.

Once we might not have been able to compete with the biggest European clubs in terms of transfer fees, but our league has the biggest television deal in history.

Over the last two weeks our coaches and players in the Champions League have looked second rate. If you put one of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the Premier League, they would win it by 10-15 points. Even PSG and Juventus look better than any of those currently at the top of the Premier League.

The bottom line to this season's failings? I think the big two in Spain, and Bayern, simply have better players than the English teams.

It takes us back to that gulf between the best teams in Europe and the best teams in the Premier League.

English clubs should not be pleased to go to places like Barcelona and get away without a thrashing. They should be able to compete. They have the resources.

In Monaco, Arsenal showed what they can do when the shackles were off and they had to attack. It was a brilliant performance against a very average team, even if they did not get the third goal they needed.

Typical Arsenal, that when the pressure is off, they played their best football.

I was impressed with the midfield partnership of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, although I'd have picked a different team to the one that Arsene Wenger selected.

I'd have played Cazorla further up the pitch, started with Aaron Ramsey alongside Coquelin and dropped Mesut Ozil.

It was another game from Ozil and another failure to make the big difference.

It was not his worse performance, and he had a role in the first goal for Olivier Giroud, but how long must Arsenal wait for him to deliver the moment that wins them a tie like that against all the odds?

He found space but his touch was not great. He slows Arsenal down at times and was bought to make a difference on nights like that.

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