Europe's Biggest Underachieving Clubs
With the 2014 calendars having replaced their 2013 predecessors on the wall, a handful of football’s biggest clubs will be hoping the New Year brings about a considerable change in fortune.
Many will have even made resolutions.
Some will have vowed to splash the cash during the January transfer window; others will have promised themselves that their current squads remain capable of reaching their goals with four months remaining in the club season.
But each and every one of them has no doubt resolved to improve performances going forward, to start stringing together the sort of results that eluded them during the first half of the schedule.
Over the next few slides we’ll examine several of these big, big clubs that underachieved during the 2013 portion of the campaign, and one, in particular, that has already experienced a dreadful start to 2014.
A 3-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in their second-last match before the winter break resulted in Valencia relieving manager Miroslav Dukic of his duties, and already under incoming boss Juan Antonio Pizzi the Spanish giants have enjoyed an uptick in results.
The Pizzi era was ushered in with a 2-0 win at home to Levante in the city derby on January 4, and three days later Los Che played Atletico to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie.
That said, Valencia have still only won three La Liga matches since September, and ahead of the weekend’s trip to Celta Vigo they sit an underwhelming eighth in the standings—eight points back of the final Europa League spot and 10 points adrift of the Champions League places they are accustomed to finishing in.
Of course, a massive player exit—the result of the club’s poor finances—has decimated the squad in recent seasons. Following on the heels of the likes of David Villa and Juan Mata were Roberto Soldado and Aly Cissokho, both of whom departed the Mestalla during the summer.
The Bundesliga season won’t restart until later this month, which means Borussia Dortmund will be sitting fourth in the table a lot longer than they’d like.
Having taken just a single win from their final six matches of 2013, the Champions League finalists will kick off the second half of their campaign at home to Augsburg trailing Borussia Monchengladbach by one point, Bayer Leverkusen by five and Bayern Munich by 12.
That striker Robert Lewandowski has signed a pre-contract agreement with Bayern Munich will have hardly helped to raise spirits at the Westfalenstadion, although the club are hopeful of landing Standard Liege marksman Michy Batshuayi during the January transfer window, according to the Daily Mail.
But without an opponent higher than eighth in the German top flight before the middle of March, Dortmund have the chance to creep up the standings after the restart and will also be favoured to see off Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League.
A quarterfinal appearance in Europe’s most prestigious club competition and top-three finish in the Bundesliga may have to qualify as success for them this season.
Erick Thohir recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport that it was “natural to feel disappointed when you lose a match,” and given Inter Milan’s recent displays, it may become a familiar feeling to the new Nerazzurri owner.
Hopes for a fresh start in 2014 were crushed by a 1-0 loss away to Lazio on January 6. With the defeat, Inter have now picked up just a single victory from their last six matches.
Through 18 rounds, the 18-time Scudetto winners have claimed the full three points on just eight occasions (half as many as Serie A leaders Juventus), and ahead of the weekend’s visit of Chievo Verona they sit sixth in the standings, eight points back of the final Champions League berth and 18 adrift of first place.
Rodrigo Palacio has been a rare bright spot for them, however, but after his 10 tallies, the side’s next-highest goalscorers are Esteban Cambiasso and Yuto Nagatomo, both of whom have scored four times so far this term.
It’s less than two weeks into 2014, but already Manchester United are experiencing an "annus horribilis."
The Red Devils have lost each of the three matches they’ve played so far this calendar year—two of them at home.
Following a New Year’s Day loss to Tottenham Hotspur, they were bounced from the FA Cup by Swansea, and on Tuesday they were beaten 2-1 away to Sunderland in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal.
Granted, both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are injured, but nevertheless United appear more disjointed and uninspired than at any time during the long, illustrious reign of Sir Alex Ferguson.
New manager David Moyes is surely feeling the heat, but after Premier League matches against Swansea and Chelsea he’ll have a chance to right the ship when United face beatable opposition in the forms of Cardiff, Stoke and Fulham.
The winds of change are blowing through AC Milan.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri has revealed he won’t be back for another season at the San Siro, and Barbara Berlusconi—daughter of club owner and former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi—has taken on more of an administrative role with the seven-time European champions while Adriano Galliani has had his responsibilities reduced.
And all the while, the Rossoneri have slumped from one poor result to the next. They presently sit 11th in Serie A with 18 rounds in the books.
A 3-0 win at home to Atalanta was just Milan’s fifth win of their Serie A campaign, but the pair of goals from Kaka, who has experienced something of a renaissance since his repatriation from Real Madrid, will be something of an encouragement.
So, too, will the acquisition of Keisuke Honda.
The Japan international has joined the club on a January transfer from CSKA Moscow and could be included in Allegri’s side of the weekend’s trip to promoted Sassuolo.