And just like that, two European heavyweights went crashing down to earth as their Champions League dreams came to an abrupt and unexpected ending this week. With Real Madrid and PSG consigned to the dust bin of European football, for now, you cannot help but feel there is a vacuum left in their wake.
It’s a void that should offer English clubs immense excitement; the opportunity to fill it is there for the taking. There are still four Premier League teams left in the Champions League and they may well be licking their lips at how the chips are falling in this year’s competition.
Even beyond this season though, with so much turmoil and unpredictability plaguing the continent’s top teams, English clubs could be primed to claim back their position at the top table once again.
All drama aside, Real Madrid’s 3-5 aggregate defeat to Ajax on Tuesday did feel very much like the end of an era for that wonderful, history-making team. Their modern success was unprecedented, but it was cast against the backdrop of multiple failures in La Liga and unrest on the touchline.
Zidane’s sudden resignation, just days after their last final victory over Liverpool in Kiev, ripped open into gaping fissures, the cracks that were already in the masonry of that famous club. Their defeat to Ajax was just another symptom of the sickness that is blighting Los Blancos at the moment.
Players are unsettled and there is a Patsy of a manager on the touchline as they endure another below-par campaign in Spain. All is not well for the 13 time champions. They will be back and will always have the capacity to regroup strongly, but their purple patch is well and truly over.
Juventus and PSG are similarly afflicted with the same big stage jitters and a lack of maturity on the biggest of stages. As PSG were once again dumped out in the last 16, from a position of first leg strength, you have to question their mental strength in this completion. As Chelsea discovered after 2003, you simply cannot open your wallet and waltz your way to European glory. On this stage, success is still earned and big game experience critical.
PSG will now have to face the same sneering judgment and doubts next season. It could worm its way into the mentality of the players and become a real monkey on their shoulders as their lack of big-time success shows no signs of abating.
The same problem loosely applies to Juventus. Dominance in Italy has not translated to the European game. They have lost their last five finals in this competition and will have to overcome a 2-0 deficit in Turin next Tuesday if they are to progress this season. Their squad is impressive and still growing but they simply cannot get over that mental hurdle on the European stage.
Both the French and Italian Champions crave success in this tournament. However, it appears that their desperation has only fueled their aggressive financial outlays rather that then pedigree in Europe’s elite competition.
These continental struggles are in stark contrast to the elation currently gripping Manchester and North London. United’s wonderful Parisian comeback will no doubt add fuel to their juggernaut. Their players will feel unbeatable at the moment and relish any opponent in the last eight. As will Spurs. Their thumping victory over Dortmund was a comprehensive display of control, maturity, and top class quality. They too should not be short on confidence as they fly into the quarterfinals.
No disrespect or underestimation will be given to the likes of Porto or Ajax who also currently furnish the last eight going into next week’s fixtures, however, the mental boost it will give the fan bases of English clubs to see the big boys crashing on the rocks, will be enormous.
Opportunity is knocking and English clubs should have no reason to doubt their ability to reclaim their dominance in this tournament. Man City are in pole position in their tie with Schalke, despite some jitters in this year’s tournament. They are by far and away one of the world’s best football establishments at the moment and they too will not be blind to the results this week. Liverpool also has a good opportunity, albeit with a tough game away at Bayern to come. But with their form this season and that rock solid defence they too have another puncher’s chance.
The Premier League is alive with competition at the moment. There is a neck and neck title race and four top teams vying for the reaming two Champions League places. This will no doubt serve them well and keep the players at the top of their games.
A lack of domestic competition has certainly hurt the likes of Bayern, Juventus and PSG and left them mentality half baked when it comes to the biggest of nights in the Champions League. It has culminated in their collective, misfiring form this season and could open the door for their rivals across The Channel to forge their places in the latter stages and beyond once again.
Fans of the English sides will be mindful of those heady days back in 2005-2012 when the cream of the Premier League boasted eight finalists and three winners in seven frenetic years. With so much uncertainty abroad, they could be well placed for a return to those glory days once again.