Each season, some rather unexpected relegation candidates emerge from Europe’s top leagues.
Perhaps they didn’t spend efficiently during the transfer periods; maybe some instability emerged as the result of a change in manager.
But whatever the case, they find themselves batting for their top-flight lives when winter turns to spring.
In European football, no club is too big to fail.
Following are 20 outfits that were never supposed to be in their current positions and could very well be playing second-division football next term.
Following last season’s seventh-place finish in the Turkish Super Lig, Antalyaspor were not expecting to be battling relegation in 2013-14.
But with 14 rounds remaining, that’s exactly where they find themselves.
A modest level of investment saw the loan acquisition of Eyong Enoh and permanent transfer of Anton Ferdinand accomplished in an effort to ensure their safety, but with upcoming matches against both Galatasaray and Besiktas, the Mediterranean side are anything but safe.
An eight-place finish under former manager Steve Clarke looked to have West Bromwich Albion on the up and up, but ahead of next weekend’s relegation derby at home to Fulham, the Baggies are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Jettisoned in to replace Clarke in early January, former Real Betis manager Pepe Mel has hardly hit the ground running at The Hawthorns, and there’s a distinct chance the 50-year-old could see both sides he managed during 2013-14 relegated in the spring.
If the Ekstraklasa season ended today, Cracovia, Poland’s oldest football club, would be partaking in that country’s top-flight relegation round.
With just eight matches remaining, last season’s promotion winners are ninth in the standings and looking every bit a candidate to go straight back down to the second division.
Regarded as one of the top academy clubs in Europe, Rennes could be headed to Ligue 2 if results don’t soon improve under Philippe Montanier, who was appointed manager just last year.
Presently 15th in the table, Rennes are seven points above the relegation places but are dropping like a rock, with just one win from their last nine matches.
Given their 15-point deduction for entering administration, it’s not exactly surprising that Hearts are dead last in the Scottish Premier League.
Still, the Edinburgh giants are a big club and would no doubt have avoided this mess had the regime of Vladimir Romanov not wreaked havoc with its finances.
Shahid Khan’s first season as Fulham manager has not gone according to plan.
And that’s an understatement.
The summer acquisitions of Maarten Stekelenburg, Scott Parker, Sascha Riether and Fernando Amorebieta were supposed to help the Cottagers achieve a mid-table finish, but as it stands they’re propping up the Premier League in 20th place.
Four points back of safety, they’re also on their third manager of the season after Felix Magath was brought in to replace Rene Meulensteen.
Not so long ago, Anzhi Makhachkala were among the biggest spenders in football.
With billionaire Suleyman Kerimov bankrolling the Dagestani outfit, exorbitant transfer fees and wages were paid to secure the services of Roberto Carlos, Yuri Zhirkov, Willian and Christopher Samba, and in 2012-13 they came third in the Russian Premier League.
But with Kerimov seeming to have pulled his support, Anzhi are now little more than a joke—a former play-thing without a win this season and destined for relegation when the RPL resumes next month.
Valenciennes have been playing top-flight football since 2005, and last season they finished 11th in Ligue 1.
But they’ve simply been unable to keep the ball out of the net this season, and ahead of next weekend’s vital match at home to Sochaux they’ve won just three of their last 13 matches.
If Rayo Vallecano were buoyed by a February 8 win at home to Malaga, they were sunk by a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Saturday.
Presently second from bottom in La Liga, the likeable Madrid side have won just twice since early November, and poor results from upcoming matches against Sevilla and Valencia could see popular manager Paco Jemez sacrificed in a last-ditch attempt at safety.
One of the Bundesliga’s true hipster sides, Freiburg finished an impressive fifth last season but now find themselves among an unlikely group near the bottom of the German top flight.
With just 18 points from 21 matches, and coming off a 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich, the Breisgau-Brasilianer are just a single point above the relegation playoff place and have a woeful goal difference of minus-20.
It was only in 2007 that Sochaux—two-time French champions—won their first Coupe de France in 70 years.
Still, their decline has been coming for some time, and if the alarm bells didn’t go off with their 15th-place finish last season, they are certainly ringing now.
With just 18 points from 25 matches, the Peugeot-owned club are second from bottom in Ligue 1 and five points from safety.
Don’t look now, but 1970 Scudetto winners Cagliari could be headed for Serie B unless their downward spiral is halted—and quickly.
The club of Luigi Riva has won only three matches since early November, and despite a squad that includes the likes of Andrea Cossu, Marco Sau, Davide Astori and Albin Ekdal, they go into Sunday’s six-pointer with Livorno just seven points above the drop.
Stuttgart are currently experiencing one of their worst runs in years, with six losses in succession ahead of next weekend’s match at home to Hertha Berlin.
Thomas Schneider, who replaced Bruno Labbadia as manager in August, has so far been unable to coax much in the way of results from the 2007 Bundesliga champions, and with 13 matches remaining, his side sit just two points above the relegation playoff spot.
The November sacking of Giuseppe Sannino has done little for Chievo’s fortunes, and ahead of Sunday’s match away to Juventus new manager Eugenio Corini has overseen just three matches from his 11 in charge.
A 12th-place finisher last season, the Gialloblu are presently 17th in Serie A and a single point above the drop.
Malaga may have lost playmaker Isco to Real Madrid during the summer, but their most hurtful exit was that of manager Manuel Pellegrini, who joined Manchester City after guiding the Primera Division outfit to a sixth-place finish.
His successor, Bernd Schuster, has had nowhere his success, and last weekend’s 4-1 defeat to relegation rival Rayo Vallecano left Los Bloquerones only three points above the drop zone.
It’s easy to forget, given their current struggles, that Bologna are one of the proudest and most storied clubs in Italy, with seven Scudetti to their name.
But a 1-0 defeat to AC Milan on Valentine’s Day has left the Rossoblu in a precarious position just four points above the relegation zone after 24 matches.
Tenth-place finishers last spring, Getafe were hardly expecting to have a relegation battle on their hands during the stretch run of 2-13-14.
But with only a single win since the end of October, that’s exactly where the Greater Madrid club finds itself, and Sunday’s match against Real Madrid will be unlikely to deliver a second.
El Geta are presently 15th in La Liga and four points above the relegation places.
Werder Bremen have the Bundesliga’s second-worst defensive record through 21 rounds and currently sit 13th in the standings—four points clear of the relegation playoff spot.
But their current form makes them an obvious candidate for the drop, as Robin Dutt’s side has posted only a pair of wins since October.
Following the exit’s of Pepe Mel and Juan Carlos Garrido, La Liga basement-dwellers Real Betis are now on their third manager of the campaign, having hired Gabriel Calderon in January.
The Argentine has delivered three points out of a possible nine since being appointed, and in the two losses his side conceded an astonishing nine goals.
With 15 matches to play Betis are a whopping 10 points adrift of safety.
Seven-time Bundesliga champions and 1983 European Cup winners, Hamburg will soon appoint a third manager of the 2013-14 season after Bert van Marwijk was sacked following Friday’s embarrassing defeat to promoted Eintracht Braunschweig.
After being appointed to succeed Thorsten Fink in late September, van Marwijk was only able to deliver three wins from 15 matches, and going into next weekend’s showdown with Borussia Dortmund, Hamburg are 17th in the German top flight and two points back of safety.