First, a disclaimer. Yes, after three consecutive seasons of having three English league clubs in the Champions League semifinals, this year there aren't any. Not since 2003-04 has Europe's Final Four included no Premiership teams.
However, make no mistake, there is no general message here, no broad conclusion to draw about the decline of the Premier League, or even the fall of its better clubs.
Judging the strength of a nation's league on European performances is silly. Doing so on the strength of one year's campaign is simply stupid. The Champions League, once past the group stage, is a knockout competition where luck and happenstance can be as important as quality.
That's why we can look at the top four and safely say that two of those teams probably are not among the continent's elite. Lyon has already lost 10 games this season (out of 47 it has played in all competitions). It may yet win Ligue 1 and has faced some very tough competition along the way, but
Last summer's transfer revolution was bound to take time to digest. When you bring in a new left back (
As a result, Lyon paid a hefty price, particularly earlier in the season. But once Lyon reached the knockout stage, it proved to be a tough nut to crack, with the weapons to hurt any opponent, as Real Madrid and Bordeaux discovered. Even so, this club is still a work in progress.
As for Bayern, it's probably fair to say that this club has yet to find itself. New boss
Yet amid all this, what Bayern, the club formely known as FC Hollywood, has added is a grit and determination few believed it could possess (at least not this version,
Which leaves the two teams that probably do belong among the top four.
In the case of Inter Milan, it's a borderline call. In fact, you get the sense that
The one -- I would hope -- nobody could argue with is Barcelona. The defending champions are deeper and even more multidimensional than last season with the return to fitness of
Exhilarating, particularly in the first half hour, against Arsenal at the Emirates, it allowed resident genius
So don't be too disappointed if some of the teams you thought were "good" are now out of the competition. The Champions League isn't about that. It never was. It's about rewarding teams that can raise their game, ride their luck and find ways to win individual games.
Instead, sit back, relish the matchups and enjoy the fact that you're guaranteed to see Barcelona at least two more times (and against its arch-enemy, Mourinho, no less). Or be inspired by Lyon getting better week after week or Bayern counting on hook, crook and the sheer delicate genius of Robben. In other words, enjoy it for what it is: the greatest international club competition in the world.