Inside EPL | Premier League teams struggle in Europe as battle for title heats up

     With less than a third of the Premier league season remainin and the first legs of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 complete, fans of the English Premier League (EPL) have a lot to talk about. Despite being on the other side of the Atlantic, the Daily is here to break down the top soccer teams across the pond.

 

Chelsea

The first (and only) English team to score in the Champions League this calendar year, Premier League leader Chelsea played to a 1-1 draw away at Galatasaray in the Round of 16 on Wednesday night in Istanbul. 

In a matchup that pitted Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho against two of his most decorated former players, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, Chelsea dominated the first half, scoring eight minutes into the match. The team continued to put pressure on Galatasaray for the better part of an hour, but as has been typical of Chelsea this season, it failed to find the final ball and take a more commanding lead. The Blues paid for their wastefulness in front of the net, as the home side leveled the score on a corner with a volley inside the six yard box from Aurelien Chedjou in the 63rd minute.

Chelsea will have to move on quickly from the draw, as the club has three critical Premier League matches to play before it welcomes the Turkish club to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Champions League matchup. With primary title rivals Manchester City not playing an EPL match until March 15, Chelsea has the opportunity to go nine points up on its rivals if it wins the next two matches, upping the pressure on the blue side of Manchester.

 

Manchester City

The last two weeks have been nothing short of fascinating for Manchester City, and the intrigue does not look to be stopping any time soon. Man City play Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, in its first chance at silverware this season. Amazingly, however, the opportunity to win a trophy that has eluded the club for 38 years is not the game being discussed around Manchester these days.

In what was touted as the biggest match for Manchester City since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club in 2008, City’s long-anticipated matchup against Champions League fixture FC Barcelona resulted in severe disappointment and a 2-0 defeat.

The margin somewhat overstated the gap in play between the two sides, with Manchester City playing stretches of top-class counterattacking football. City allowed Barcelona harmless possessions outside the penalty area and attempted to strike their Catalan rivals quickly and directly whenever they lost possession. The strategy largely worked, save for one critical defensive lapse that changed the game.

After a 0-0 first half, City was delivered a knockout blow just eight minutes into the second half. Winger Jes??s Navas lost the ball in the midfield for the Sky Blues, after arguably being fouled. The ball was then delivered immediately to Lionel Messi, who turned on City defender and fellow Argentinian Martin Demichelis. Trailing Messi by a step, Demichelis committed the ultimate football sin, tackling Messi from behind in the penalty box, resulting in a red card and a penalty that was swiftly converted. Down a goal and a man, even the most optimistic City fan saw no way back.

Following a late goal from Dani Alves to bring Barcelona’s goals to two, Man City has a monumental task ahead of it in the second leg against Barcelona. Still, it’s hard to completely rule out this side with a history of stunning comebacks.

 

Arsenal

Second-place Arsenal enters this week’s Premier League match against Stoke City on an inconsistent run of form. After being thrashed at Liverpool 5-1 less than two weeks ago, and earning only a draw against Manchester United days later, Arsenal has strung a couple of quality performances together, reminiscent of the early days of its season.

The first of those fixtures had it facing Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup, eight days after an embarrassing performance away at Anfield. This match, however, had a different result, with Arsenal scoring twice in the opening 50 minutes, before surviving an offensive onslaught from Liverpool for the final 40. 

Just three days following the victory against Liverpool, Arsenal quickly had to turn its attention to the Champions League and the consensus best team in the world, Bayern Munich.

It looked to be a dream start for Arsenal: after earning a penalty just 12 minutes into the game, star midfielder Mesut ?–zil walked up to the spot. Arsenal had started brilliantly, taking the game right to the champions of Europe.

How the fixture may have changed, had ?–zil not weakly struck the ball at Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer, failing to convert the penalty. A red card, and two goals later, Arsenal’s place in the Champions league looks to be all but over, despite playing well against the strongest side in Europe.

      The North London side will now look to divert most of its attention to the Premier League, where it is sitting just one point behind Chelsea with eleven games remaining.


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