Soccer

Champs League leaves Chelsea, City feeling blues

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LONDON (AP)

Chelsea and Manchester City are feeling the blues.

Two of the richest clubs in football were humiliated in the Champions League this season, with Chelsea's title defense lasting only 200 days and City also getting eliminated from the group stage after failing to win any of its six games.

It was a sobering campaign overall for the giants of the Premier League, with Arsenal stuttering through to the last 16 and Manchester United closing with an embarrassing 1-0 loss at home to unheralded Romanian club CFR Cluj.

In 24 group-stage games, England's finest won only 10. And for the second straight season, only two Premier League teams reached the knockout stage, although Chelsea and City are putting a positive spin on their exits.

City's elimination is most galling - a tally of three points is the lowest haul by an English club in the Champions League - but missing out on a third place and a spot in the Europa League has its advantages for the defending Premier League champions.

''It could be a good thing because we won't be playing on Thursdays (in the Europa League),'' said City manager Roberto Mancini, whose team is fighting with United for the English title once again. ''Our targets have not changed. Our main target was the Premier League and FA Cup - to win a trophy.''

Chelsea became the first reigning champion to fail to get out of the group stage, an embarrassing outcome for a club hoping to create a dynasty in Europe after winning its first Champions League title in May.

However, a 6-1 win over FC Nordsjaelland on Wednesday at least brightened the mood at the London club, ending interim manager Rafa Benitez's two-week wait for a first victory and Fernando Torres' month-long barren run in front of goal.

''It can be a good reference point,'' said Benitez, who replaced Roberto Di Matteo as coach on Nov. 21. ''Now we are progressing, doing better things.''

They felt like hollow words, coming less than seven months after Chelsea achieved the dream of owner Roman Abramovich by winning the Champions League in May.

Chelsea can have no complaints after being outplayed by Shakhtar Donetsk in both their group meetings and then slipping to a humbling 3-0 loss at Juventus, a result that was quickly followed by Di Matteo's departure.

The loss of knockout-stage revenue will also hit the team, especially after Abramovich sanctioned the spending of more than 70 million pounds ($112 million) to strengthen the squad in the offseason.

''We are all in the same boat, the manager and the players,'' Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said. ''The responsibility is the same for the players. We are a team and, even if you change the manager, the responsibility is on everyone.''

City has now been eliminated at the group stage twice in to seasons, stalling its ambitious plans to join Europe's elite group of teams. The standard of a group containing Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax proved to be high, but City's performances were disappointing nevertheless.

No other English team has ever failed to go through a group stage without registering a win.

''It hasn't been of a Man City standard this season,'' City defender Joleon Lescott said.

The worry for the English teams is that their rivals in Spain and Germany have been playing at a much higher standard.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are always held up as the teams to beat in Europe's elite competition but Borussia Dortmund and Schalke have run rings around City and Arsenal, respectively, in games this season.

Arsenal, for so long regarded as England's most stylish side, appeared labored when up against slick Schalke.

Few are expecting Arsenal, which is 10th in the Premier League, to go on and win the Champions League this season so the onus will be on United.

A home loss to Cluj, albeit with a largely reserve team, is hardly the ideal way to head into the knockout stage.

''We have won the group but we know the likes of Shakhtar (Donetsk), Milan, Porto, all the big names, are in there (as second-place finishers),'' United manager Alex Ferguson said. ''We qualified comfortably but the real tournament starts at the end of February.''

For the Blues of Chelsea and the Sky Blues of City, they'll be watching it all from afar.



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