Champions League at the expense of League football: A very heavy price to pay?

Ajax, Dortmund, City & Madrid were all expected to take the Champions League by storm, but have given more importance to the European dream than defending their League titles..
A few weeks ago, the hype was surreal. Ajax (Dutch champions), Borussia Dortmund (German Champions), Manchester City (English Champions) and Real Madrid (Spanish Champions) were all drawn into one Champions League group, and all of a sudden, everyone was talking about the ‘Group of Death’.

Each of these sides have the quality, and can tear down an opposition, even on their weaker days. However, as the weeks have progressed, one thing is common amongst these four teams: a lacklustre start to their respective domestic campaigns. One can only wonder whether the Champions League has taken priority over the domestic competitions for some of these players and managers, and whether it is a heavy price to pay.

We share the same kind of pressure

Arsene Wenger recently went on record saying that the Premier League was the ‘real thing’ and winning the League mattered most to his team. Yes, the Champions League is financially very rewarding, but then one must realise that it takes grit and character to perform well over 38 games in a season. The Champions League on the other hand, can often be unjust to even good teams, and thus, focussing on the home competitions would make more sense.

Ajax have made a sluggish start to their season, accumulating 15 points after seven games, and sitting in fourth position. Siem de Jong and Thulani Serero have been their star players so far, but one would expect the team to do better. Christian Eriksen has yet not fired on all cylinders, and Theo Janssen has looked paltry. When compared with the other three teams in their group, Ajax appear to be the weakest on paper. One can only wonder if that is propelling them to focus largely on Europe as they have dominated the Eredivisie for a long time.

Eredivisie domination is not enough

Borussia Dortmund have won back to back Bundesliga titles and secured their first domestic double last season. With 11 points in six games, they are already sseven points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, who have won all their 6 games so far. Marco Reus has been impressive with four goals and an assist already to his name. However, their strikers have failed to impress. Robert Lewandowski and Julian Schieber have only got one goal in the league between them so far, and their defence looks pedestrian.

They conceded three goals against Hamburg SV and three against Frankfurt, to end up losing points in games which they should have won. Frankfurt skipper Pirmin Schwegler hailed Borussia Dortmund as "the best team in Germany right now" after his team fought back to secure a thrilling 3-3 draw against the back-to-back Bundesliga champions, and Dortmund will be looking to translate that form into Europe soon. But whether they end up paying the price in the Bundesliga is a question that only time would answer.

The latest revelation of last season

Manchester City were the latest revelation last season, when they clinched the Premiership and painted Manchester blue. However, they have had their fair share of problems this season. A season that began with a shaky 3-2 victory over newly promoted Southampton, a draw against Liverpool, Stoke City and Arsenal, they have acquired 12 points in 6 games, four points adrift league leaders Chelsea. Their poor defending cost them in the Champions League too, when they gave away two late goals at the Bernabeau to gift Real Madrid a win.
One can expect Sheikh Mansoor to be pretty clear on their objectives for the season with the Champions League definitely being a top priority after all the investment that they have pumped in. However, Roberto Mancini must not lose focus on the Premier League,  considering the competition for European spots in the league.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid began their season with all sorts of problems. First, Cristiano Ronaldo expressed displeasure and Jose Mourinho went on to say that Madrid were ‘not playing as a team’. With only 10 points from 6 games, they already have a bit of catching up to do on their traditional rivals and league leaders Barcelona. However, with three back to back victories (including the one against Manchester City), the spirits in the camp seem to be soaring again.

Can the 'Special One' win 'This One?'

Mourinho and his men would do well to know that they can ill afford to drop any more points on the domestic front. The Special One's desire to win the Champions League amongst the managers in the group of death is the highest considering Real Madrid last one the European title more than ten years back.

Let’s have a look at what Chelsea did last season. Had they not won the Champions League, they wouldn’t have qualified for the Champions League this tie around. Hats off to the Blues for their victory, but not every team can afford to depend on winning in Europe to qualify for playing in it next season. A fine balance needs to be maintained between the domestic and continental competitions.

That being said, managers have often gone overboard in tinkering with their formations, line ups and strategies. With all four of these ‘champions’ languishing in their domestic leagues, it is imperative to question their priorities. Teams that were almost indomitable domestically last season, have begun to look fallible now. Yes, the Champions League does bring tremendous pressure and glory with it. To win it would be incredible but to do it at the cost of the domestic competition would be foolhardy.

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