Europe's Biggest Underachieving Clubs: Stuttgart Dropping; United Lifeless
By now, a handful of big, big European clubs have firmly entrenched themselves among the season’s most disappointing sides.
However, there is still room for a debutante this week—a previous league champion, just like the others, with recent European football on its CV.
With that being said, there is hope.
Valencia and Borussia Dortmund, who were on this list for some time, are now stringing together some positive results as proof of that. Furthermore, given the tight races occurring in so many divisions, it’s still within the realm of possibility that a club in this inauspicious group could get out with a run of victories.
Here are the biggest underachievers in European club football.
5. Inter Milan
If they can beat Cagliari on Sunday and Roma on March 1, it’s likely that Inter Milan will follow Borussia Dortmund and Valencia off this list.
Back-to-back wins against Sassuolo and Fiorentina have taken the Nerazzurri to within five points of La Viola and fourth spot in Serie A.
While Champions League football still remains a pipe dream for manager Walter Mazzarri’s men, who are 11 points back of Napoli, they can at least look to a favourable run of fixtures—the Roma match notwithstanding—as an opportunity to work themselves up the table.
That said, the goals are hardly flowing for the 18-time Scudetto winners, who have scored more than once in a match just once since the middle of December.
Beyond Rodrigo Palacio, there is little goal threat from Inter, although the January addition of Hernanes looks to be an inspired piece of business.
It was only nine months ago that Stuttgart stood in the way of Bayern Munich’s historic treble, and while they lost the 2013 DfB Pokal final to the Bavarian giants, they nevertheless served notice that they’d be a club to contend with in the upcoming campaign.
Then they fell flat on their faces.
If the Bundesliga season ended today, the 2007 champions would survive relegation—barely.
Having lost six matches in succession, Die Roten are fourth from bottom in the German top flight and are just a single point above Freiburg and the relegation play-off place.
Going into Saturday’s match against Hertha Berlin, they’re also just three points above the automatic drop.
3. AC Milan
Mario Balotelli’s late winner at home to Bologna on Valentine’s Day was his 10th Serie A goal of the season.
No other AC Milan player has more than five. Stephan El Shaarawy’s injury troubles, combined with Robinho’s persistent misfiring, have hardly helped.
Still, new manager Clarence Seedorf seems to have found his team, and it includes club legend Kaka as well as January acquisitions Keisuke Honda and Adel Taarabt.
On Sunday, Milan will travel to Sampdoria for an absolutely crucial contest against a side only four points below them in the standings. On March 2, they’ll welcome Juventus to the San Siro.
If they’re to get anything from either of those matches, or from an upcoming run of fixtures that at first glance is rather challenging, they’ll have to shore up a defense that has been nothing short of woeful this season.
Last week’s 4-2 loss to last-placed Eintracht Braunschweig represented Bert van Marwijk’s final match in charge of Hamburg. A few days later, the seven-time German champions and 1983 European Cup winners chose Mirko Slomka to be their third manager of the season.
He inherits a side with by far the worst defensive record in the Bundesliga—one that has given up at least three goals in each of its last six matches.
Ahead of Saturday’s difficult test at home to Borussia Dortmund, Hamburg are second from bottom in the German top flight and just a single point off the floor. They’ve won only once since October and have about the poorest morale you’re likely to come across in professional sports.
1. Manchester United
They have held firm to first place in this ranking through most of the season, and going into Saturday’s match at Crystal Palace, they are winless in three with just a single victory from their last five outings.
It was never supposed to be like this for Manchester United—not even with the appointment of David Moyes to succeed the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson.
The self-belief that was ever present under Fergie seems well and truly gone, and rather than expounding on a reputation for late heroics, they’re now developing a reputation as a side prone to throwing away points in the dying minutes.
That said, they’ve played their best football in the Champions League, and next week’s match away to Olympiakos could end up being the springboard they need as they enter the season’s stretch run.
That, or it could be yet another disaster in a campaign already chock full of them.
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