Watching ArsenaLOL and CheLOLsea go down in flames in the UEFA Champions League (*) in the past week or so has resulted in a scenario where no English Premier League team is likely to reach the quarter-final in the continent's grandest competition. A continually regressing Arsenal squad was slaughtered 0-4 by Milan (**) at the San Siro while Chelsea was convincingly defeated 1-3 yesterday by Napoli at the Stadio San Paulo -- versus a side that currently sits 6th in the Serie A table. This got me thinking -- how might Manchester United fare if they were to compete in La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga this season?
* For the record -- yes -- I'd rather be involved in the Europa League rather than suffer from the embarrassment of a 4-0 defeat by Milan. I'll keep telling myself this and pretend Basel never happened... :(
** At least it wasn't 2-8.
Quite obviously, one can't look at the Arsenal result versus Milan nor the Chelsea result versus Napoli and try to make direct comparisons from our own results versus the English sides. There are the issues of form fluctuation throughout a season, how certain systems or players match-up, the small sample size of a single result or two, and numerous other factors. However, I think many of us have a general idea -- or we think we do anyway -- on the strength of the top sides throughout Europe and in Europe's best leagues. I thought it might be fun to discuss Europe's three other strongest leagues -- besides the Premier League of course -- and try to assess (or more accurately, guess) where United might finish in those tables. It is impossible to know for sure what the right answers are but what the hell... it's something fun to discuss while you all should be either working, studying, or paying attention to your children/significant other(s)/pet(s). I obviously have a bias towards United but I'll do my best to be honest and offer my assessment to where I think where we would finish in Spain, Italy, and Germany.
FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are arguably the two best sides in the world. I think we finish 3rd in La Liga.
While the Catalans have won La Liga for three successive seasons, conquered Europe twice in the past three Champions League campaigns, and defeated United in the final for each of those two European Cups, it is Real Madrid that is running away with the league title this season. Many have even said Madrid's 10-point lead is insurmountable. I still Barcelona are superior in comparison to any other side in the world but I think motivation and fatigue may have hindered their league title hopes this season. However, their 3-1 away defeat of Real Madrid in the first league Clasico and their continual convincing results in Europe shows that Barca can still rise to the occasion. Jose Mourinho's Madrid side is certainly no slouch either and in my opinion, they are the 2nd best side in the world. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Madrid lift the European Cup for a record 10th time come May.
Where does that leave United in La Liga? A tier above Valencia. The squad depth of the Red Devils and winning culture in the squad likely would allow them to stay much closer to Madrid and Barca when compared to other Spanish sides. The current state of the La Liga only has two clubs that realistically can compete for the title while the other 18 sides compete to be the 'best of the rest'. My guess would be that United stay closer to the top two sides than they would with the 'best of the rest'.
La Liga verdict: 3rd
Currently, the main contenders for the Scudetto are Milan and Juventus while only six points separate the trailing pack of Udinese, Lazio, AS Roma, Napoli, and Inter for the final Champions League spot. Because of a well-built squad -- whose top quality can be somewhat debated but not so much it's depth -- United most-certainly would compete with Milan and Juve for the Scudetto rather than be involved in a race for 3rd.
Milan have become a more functional side under Max Allegri that is heavily-reliant on the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassno, Pato, and Robinho to provide individual incisiveness in attack. However, disregard the Rossoneri at your own peril for this as their dismantling of Arsenal and and the difficulties that Barca had with them in the Champions League group stage does well to show their might. Juve are a hard-working side that frees up Andrea Pirlo to dictate matches from deep -- however, they have the propensity for too many draws. My guess is that United has the balance to consistently pick up the full three points against lesser sides while also having the personnel to compete well versus the top Serie A sides. If manager Sir Alex Ferguson could prevent from getting overrun in the center of the park, United's width would likely cause many Italian sides difficulty. I think United edge out Milan and Juve for the Scudetto.
Serie A verdict: 1st
For those of you who haven't paid attention recently, the Bundesliga is a very entertaining league right now. Bayern Munich are obviously the giants of Germany and as is typical, they are lingering around in the title race. However, the Bavarians currently sit 3rd in the table and their season began to slide a bit when midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was injured in November -- he has since returned. The hard-pressing, dynamic, and defending league champions Borussia Dortmund currently top the table while Borsussia Monchengladbach sit 2nd while trailing the leaders by only a single point. Schalke '04 -- United's opponents last season in the Champions League semi-final -- are 4th and trail BVD by 5 points. On paper, it would seem that Bayern and BVD are the class of Germany while Monchengladbach and Schalke appear to be a tier (or two) below. However, the current standing of the league table does well to illustrate the competitiveness of the Bundesliga and it's unpredictability.
My gut tells me that only BVD and Bayern could compete with United but there are two other sides that are more than just competing with the preseason favorites. In a head-to-head match-up, BVD's pace and hard-pressing would likely cause United trouble while Bayern has obvious quality in their squad -- and the latter handled City easily in Munich in the only Champions League group stage match between the two that was meaningful to the German side. Ultimately, I think United edges these sides out for the title but I think it would be a very tight title race. I wouldn't be confident enough to wager heavily in this belief.
Bundesliga verdict: 1st
This is all quite subjective obviously and the form of English sides in Europe this season perhaps makes it arrogant to suggest that United would be favored to win Serie A and the Bundesliga. However, my honest feeling is that Fergie's side would edge out Milan and Juve in Serie A and they would come out top in the Bundesliga title-competing pack. I firmly believe United are a tier or two below Barca and Madrid right now though. We have own battle in England with our 'noisy neighbour' for the title but I thought this would be a simple, but fun exercise.
How do you feel United would fare in these other European leagues? Which league is United most likely to win? How many and which teams in Europe do you feel are better sides than United right now? Feel free as always to share your thoughts in the comments below.