Europe's Biggest Underachieving Clubs: Man Utd and AC Milan Show Signs of Life
Welcome back to the latest round-up of Europe's biggest underachievers, as some big-name clubs from around Europe continued their attempts to right their seasons over the past week.
Punching below their weight at this stage of the season means managers and players are coming under increasing pressure to kick on and have a big final three or four months of the season, with some still in the hunt for trophies or European spots—if they can find form.
Here are the biggest of those not reaching their expectations at present.
A 2-1 victory over AC Milan in the Coppa Italia was a welcome boost, but a subsequent league defeat to Parma leaves Udinese—who finished in the top five each of the past three seasons—still worrying about relegation.
Still just three points above the drop zone, the 15th-placed side play the two sides nearest to them in their next two games. Surely they cannot afford to lose to Bologna and/or Chievo Verona.
4. Real Betis
A 4-2 away defeat to Celta Vigo left Betis further adrift at the bottom of the table, making the task required of them to produce an improbable survival escape all the harder.
Having acquired just 11 points all season and dropping out of the Copa del Rey after defeat to Athletic Bilbao, the club’s continued participation in the Europa League (they face Rubin Kazan next month) may inadvertently only prove to be a distraction that extinguishes any small hopes the club that finished seventh last season have of staying up.
3. Borussia Dortmund
Having been underachieving somewhat even before the winter break, Borussia Dortmund returned to action at the weekend with something of a stutter, drawing 2-2 at home to FC Augsburg.
Sven Bender scored at the right end and the wrong end before Nuri Sahin gave Jurgen Klopp’s side a second-half advantage, but Ji Dong-won’s late strike prevented the hosts from resuming action with a win.
The draw was especially frustrating, considering Ji will play for Dortmund next season and Bayer Leverkusen, ahead of Dortmund in second in the Bundesliga, were beaten.
Dortmund visit Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday evening, and will be desperately keen to get a victory that might kick-start a strong finish to the campaign (and give them some more confidence ahead of the resumption of the Champions League).
2. AC Milan
The Clarence Seedorf era has begun at San Siro, with the Dutchman already beginning to ring the changes.
Michael Essien has joined on a short-term deal, while Antonio Nocerino has been allowed to leave on loan for West Ham—with further ins and outs expected to come before the transfer window closes.
On the pitch, however, matters have been mixed—with the club falling out of the Coppa Italia after losing 2-1 at home to Udinese, before beating Cagliari (thanks to two goals in the last three minutes) by the same scoreline in Serie A.
Currently ninth in the table with 28 points—exactly half as many as leaders Juventus (56), and twice as many as bottom side Catania—Seedorf has a job on his hands to help Milan back to a more appropriate finishing position by the end of the campaign.
1. Manchester United
A 2-0 victory over Cardiff City on Tuesday perhaps gave a glimpse of United’s true potential over the remainder of this season, with new signing Juan Mata combining with Robin van Persie and (as a substitute) Wayne Rooney to propel United to victory.
The win, along with Mata’s £37 million arrival, was a timely boost after last week’s disappointment—which saw United shockingly knocked out of the Capital One Cup on penalties to Sunderland.
The result means David Moyes will not win a domestic cup trophy in his first season at Old Trafford and, with the Premier League surely beyond the club, leaves the Champions League as the only vaguely viable opportunity for silverware.
For a club the size of United’s, such a season is destined to be one of underachievement (or “transition”), even if they do finish strongly in the league to secure Champions League qualification once again.