Tired and too timid: Why our best, including Manchester City and Arsenal, fail in the Champions League
No winter break and deference to the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich hits Premier League's challenge
Per Mertesacker does not do denial. He has no interest in the argument that Arsenal were undone by bad luck on Wednesday night.
The first-half sending off certainly spoiled the contest and made a difficult job even harder, but the rhythm of the night was set before Arjen Robben's acrobatic response to the nudge from Wojciech Szczesny's shoulder in the 37th minute.
Bayern Munich demonstrated in their relentless possession of the ball, just as Barcelona had done 24 hours earlier against Manchester City at the Etihad, that hegemony in club football rests elsewhere. For all its inherent drama and competitive spread, at the über level of the game the Premier League falls some way short of producing the best teams, at least in this phase of the cycle.
Chelsea and Manchester United might well progress to the quarter-final stages to give England a 25 per cent stake in the Champions League but no one would make a confident case for either, particularly United, were they drawn against this week's visitors, Real Madrid or even Paris Saint-Germain.
City cannot blame resources for their reverse. This was an opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to the fading idea of Barcelona's supremacy. Manuel Pellegrini struck the right note beforehand with bold claims about playing the "City way", but ultimately cut his cloth according to Barcelona's measure.
There is no discernible shift in pattern wherever the Catalans play. They did not spend too long worrying about dealing with the problems Yaya Touré or David Silva might present, Jesus Navas or Alvaro Negredo. Barcelona played their game and City adjusted to it. That's called deference and it handed Barcelona a fatal initiative even before the penalty.
Arsenal did not suffer from the same attitude deficit. Arsène Wenger sent them out to compete. In this he deserves huge credit. Arsenal should have led through Mesut Özil from the penalty spot. A goal then might have changed the dynamic of the match and perhaps the outcome, though, as Mertesacker acknowledged, the precision tooling at the heart of Bayern's passing machine was already having a wearing effect.
"It was very difficult because how they keep the ball, how they play with possession is absolutely amazing," he said. "I think we showed spirit and energy in first 10-15 minutes, we could have scored from the pen, but you could see with 10 men it was absolutely impossible to create any chances in the second half."
Bayern are clearly enjoying a special moment in their history, arguably taking the story on from the Barcelona model, to which they add power and pace as well as artistry. Progress is in part due to the structural changes made a decade ago in the German domestic game, which made the production of home-grown talent a priority after Germany's disastrous European Championship campaign in 2000.
Bayern are not so much a German institution as a global brand, reflected in a cosmopolitan squad, but even they started with five Germany players, bringing on two more from the bench. Apart from the quality of individuals as blessed as Toni Kroos, Mario Götze, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer, there is the less easily quantifiable yet vital sense of identity that underpins belief.
There is no doubt, too, that Bayern looked the fresher side. This would be because they benefit from a winter break. While English clubs are feeding the festive frenzy over the Christmas and new year period, when intensity is at its height, their counterparts in Germany are enjoying a one-month break from competition.
For two of those four weeks they sit quietly at home in restful recovery, before resuming somewhere in the Gulf for warm-weather training and practice matches. It is not only the body that needs to renew itself but the brain as well.
Is there anybody out there who does not think Özil needs to soak his feet in salted water for a month? If there was one element of Wednesday's encounter that demonstrated the need for the Premier League to revisit the idea of a period of rest it was the performance of Özil, who began brightly but finished like a dud firework.
He has gone in head and limb, and who can blame him after consecutive fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United and Liverpool again in the lead up to this encounter? Here's Mertesacker again: "We have a lot of games here in England. Everyone is tired, we came from a massive game on Sunday against Liverpool. Everybody was confident to show another great team performance tonight. So it is up to everybody to encourage each other again and to come back."
For his German team-mate, there is only sympathy from Mertesacker. "It is not only up to Mesut, he will come back even stronger," the defender said. "We speak all the time during the game. We need to encourage each other. He has played a lot of games. But he is a massive player and we need him at his best."
Both Arsenal and City have won in Munich in the past 11 months, so in theory at least nothing is decided. But what the statistics do not tell you is the circumstances behind the results. Victory at the Allianz did not take Arsenal through and Bayern were unassailable at the top of their group when City came back from two goals down inside 12 minutes. In other words, they had their foot off the gas.
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