For the first time since four English teams were allowed to participate in the Champions League tournament, three representatives of the Premier League were beaten in the opening set of group fixtures when Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City all succumbed to 2-1 defeats this week. Only Chelsea secured a victory when beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 to ease the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho after an exceptionally poor start to their domestic campaign.
At a time when the Premier League is widely recognised as the most competitive of the all the top European leagues and is transmitted by television to a global audience, it may be that this reputation is not fully justified or just that other teams raise their standards when facing the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal in European competition.
In the case of Manchester United this week, Memphis Depay opened the scoring against his former team-mates at PSV Eindhoven before the Dutch team replied with two goals to seal the victory. PSV last played in the Group phase of the Champions League in 2008 but last season clinched the Eredivisie when losing just four games and once on home soil.
The game against Manchester United was overshadowed by the serious injury to full-back Luke Shaw which must have affected the visiting players, but it was arguably one the most important and prestigious matches to be staged at the Philips Stadion for several years. Without denying the qualities of the PSV players on the night, it could be asserted that United would beat the Dutch outfit more times than losing, especially with PSV losing two of their better players during the summer in Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.
In the case of Arsenal, defeat at Dinamo Zagreb was not helped by the controversial first half dismissal of Olivier Giroud but they had already conceded an earlier goal before that incident. The Zagreb team had previously played 41 matches without losing but finished fourth in their Champions League groups in their previous two participations. Yet the players appeared to rise to the occasion although they were perhaps fortunate to escape with the victory as the Gunners dominated possession but were susceptible to the counter-attack and defensive lapses.
For Manchester City, defeat against Juventus ended a perfect start to the season with five Premier League victories and no goals conceded. Then along came a Juventus team with just one point from their three Serie A games but claiming a 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium despite conceding the first goal.
It is still early days in the Champions League tournament, but perhaps this week’s results will serve as a reminder that Premier League teams should not be underestimating their European counterparts especially those clubs competing in leagues considered inferior in quality and for which that game may be considered the highlight of the season.