10 April 2007


7-1! I dislike taking Liverpool previews off the top before games under most circumstances, for Manchester United I like it even less, but this is surely exemplary. The first placed team in the Premier League beat the second placed team from Serie A by 6 goals in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. That’s completely mind-boggling.

Marseille beat CSKA Moscow 6-0 in 1993. Lyon beat Werder Bremen 7-2 in 2005. Those are the only other knockout stage victories listed in UEFA’s all-time records that come close to this margin.

Every now and then you’ll see a score like that in the qualifying round, and even less frequently, one will occur in the group stage. This year, the widest margins in the groups were Barcelona 5-0 over Levski Sofia and Real Madrid over Dynamo Kiev 5-1. I’ve never seen a game like today’s in the knockout rounds, let alone between the best team in England and the second best in Italy.

7-1 is not just a bad night, a fluke performance, although I do doubt United could repeat the feat. It’s complete domination. It takes an awful lot to get to that point; bad nights are 3 or 4 goal losses. United were by far the better team in every part of the game. When you go 3 goals down in the first 20 minutes and are all but eliminated from Europe, heads are bound to go down, but to let in 4 others is more than demoralization. It shows a severe gulf in quality between the two teams.

The final score wasn’t helped by the way United play; they attack under all circumstances and never truly stopped pushing forward, but it’s not as if they were still going all out by the last whistle. They could easily have scored more than seven. And even then, we almost never see Manchester this capable in the Champions League. Historically, United haven’t matched their European performance with their league. And they had never overturned a first leg deficit in the revamped Champions League.

It’s exceptionally disappointing writing this as a Liverpool fan, and the day after questioning whether United could hold onto their league lead to boot. However, it’s impossible not to be awed by this performance. But as good as they were, I’m really left with questions about the state of European football. Is the Premiership really that much better than Serie A, where the 1st placed side in the former can handle the 2nd in the latter so easily?

If it isn’t already, I think we’re well on our way. In the end, it goes back to the money behind it all. The Premiership is one of the fastest growing leagues in the world. Look at the television deal, at all the foreign owners buying in, at all the worldwide (truly worldwide) coverage. While in contrast Serie A seems portrayed as rife with corruption, seediness, violence (whether that one is even fair or not is a question I’m unwilling to explore), ultras, and dilapidated stadia.

No offense meant, but if this was a 7-1 victory over a team from a smaller country, it’s a different matter. But the Italians are historically European powerhouses, as much as if not more so than the English. Both countries have had clubs win the Champions League 10 times, and it was less than 4 years ago I remember talk of Italian domination, with AC Milan meeting Juventus in the 2003 final. How recently the Italians seemed on top should temper my remarks; time does have a habit of changing situations. But with the apparent increasing distance between the Premier League and everyone else, and what may well be three teams in the last 4 of this year’s Champions League, the tables look to be turning again. With the growing importance on finances, it will be far harder for others to catch up this time.

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