Among the fixtures completed in the Champions League this past week, it had been expected that Bayer Leverkusen would offer a serious threat to Manchester United as both teams strived to book their places in the knock-out phase. The German team entered the match with an unbeaten home record this season and occupying second position in the Bundesliga. Alas, the 5-0 win by Manchester United perhaps proved that the Premier League is stronger in depth than its German counterpart.
Man Utd had beaten Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 at Old Trafford earlier in the season when it appeared that Sami Hyypia’s team were slightly overawed by the occasion. A more polished performance was anticipated in the reverse fixture especially as Robin Van Persie and Nemanja Vidic United would be missing from the United line-up.
Leverkusen were also sitting in second place in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich and had won nine of their ten homes this term with a 1-1 draw against Bayern being the exception.
Unfortunately, Sidney Sam is now sidelined by injury and his attacking qualities are of the most important assets in the Leverkusen squad, perhaps highlighted by their rather fortunate 1-0 win at Hertha Berlin on the previous weekend. His absence was a serious blow for Hyypia.
It could be argued that their 5-0 defeat by Manchester United was just a freak result but a more valid opinion may be that the Premier League teams are able to cope better without their more influential players.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund apart, the Bundesliga squads appear to lack the strength in depth of the top Premier League teams of which there are more in number. Leverkusen and Schalke 04 were the third and fourth place teams earning qualification for this season’s Champions League, but a Schalke team beset by injuries was comfortably beaten 3-0 on two occasions by Chelsea.
There are times when the real strong teams of Europe do succumb to the odd shock defeat as witnessed by Barcelona’s 2-1 loss at Ajax and the Basel 1-0 win against Chelsea, but both beaten teams were perhaps a shade complacent on an evening when they both confirmed their place in the knock-out phase.
Although the likes of Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen will have days when they can compete with the better teams in Europe, this is seemingly only possible when they are able to field their most important players.
They will still benefit from the Champions League funds to improve their squads but German club ownership rules do not allow for the financial benefits generated by foreign owned Premier League clubs, who also surpass their German equivalents in commercial revenues.
With their added purchasing power, the Premier League may continue to overshadow the Bundesliga in terms of strength in depth.