Top 10 Most Unpredictable Football Clubs of 2011
For the most part, 2011 was a rather predictable year in terms of major title winners. Manchester United won the English Premier League, Barcelona won La Liga, AC Milan won Serie A, and the UEFA Champions League Final was contested between the eventual title winners in England and Spain.
That's as close to the script as it will probably get in any given year. Nevertheless, 2011 did hold a number of surprises for world football as a whole.
Some teams, who may or not be pictured above, started 2011 in imperious form, looking set to dominate in all their competitions, only to falter spectacularly when it came to trophy-winning time.
Others teams managed to impress us with their improbable league titles, and one team in particular managed to secure its place in history by completing an impressive treble-winning season.
These teams and others are listed ahead as we profile the 10 most unpredictable teams of 2011.
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Arsenal's remarkable fall from grace in the 2010-11 season has been profiled by numerous journalists and Bleacher Report writers in particular. For that reason, we'll skip the background and cut right to the chase.
At the start of 2011, Arsenal were in excellent form in all competition. They had worked themselves up to second in the league, and were in hot pursuit of first place.
They had managed to beat FC Barcelona at the Emirates in the Champions League, and had an easy finals matchup in the League Cup against Birmingham City that looked likely to give Arsenal their first major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup.
Then disaster struck in the form of an awful mix-up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny, and Obafemi Martins bagged the goal that won Birmingham City the League Cup.
From there Arsenal's season crumbled. An FA Cup loss to Manchester United and Champions League loss to FC Barcelona (the latter was particularly heart-breaking for how close Arsenal came to winning and the controversy surrounding Robin van Persie's sending off) quickly cut Arsenal's total competitions from three to one in a matter of just two weeks.
With a shell-shocked squad, Arsenal could not maintain their title challenge or even good league form, and fell all the way to fourth place in the league.
Arsenal have been unpredictable these season as well. After an awful start to the season, highlighted by two painfully awful defeats against Liverpool and Manchester United, many fans believed that Arsenal were set for one of the worst seasons in their history.
However, after weathering the storm, Arsenal have come back strong behind the good form and leadership of captain Robin van Persie, and are back in the hunt for the Champions League spots.
As Arsenal fans will admit, Arsenal is probably one of the hardest teams to support. Unlike with any other team, you never know what to expect with Arsenal: they'll disappoint you when your hopes are up, and impress you when you have no expectations.
If I had to pick the most unpredictable team of the year, I'd probably pick Arsenal. Gunners fans will be hoping for a much more stable 2012 from their team.
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Borussia Dortmund's title success in 2011 didn't come completely out of the blue.
The German side had been gradually growing as a club and investing in talented youngsters since the 2007-08 season, and had shown an improvement in their domestic league results as well, jumping from 13th to sixth to fifth in the league from 2007 to 2010.
But going into the 2010-11 season, few German pundits and fans alike consider Borussia Dortmund real title contenders.
By December though, a run of 15 wins in 16 games had shocked the Bundesliga, and Dortmund carried enough of that form into the second half of the season to sew up the title.
On the other hand, Borussia Dortmund's struggles in the Europa League last season and Champions League this season have been rather surprising and unpredictable as well.
In the Europa League in 2010-11, the future Bundesliga champions were unable to record a single win in four attempts over the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla, and found themselves out of the competition at the group stage.
In the Champions League this season, the current Bundesliga champions gave a poor representation of themselves, finishing last in their group after picking up only a single victory, 1-0 over Olympiakos, and four losses in six matches.
Like Arsenal, Dortmund have overcome their early domestic league struggles to storm all the way back up second, only three points behind league leaders Bayern Munich. Time will tell if Dortmund can manage a second consecutive upset, or if Munich's superior quality will shine through this time around.
For me, FC Porto was the most impressive team of 2011.
It gets old complimenting the beauty of FC Barcelona's style and the fluidity and power in their gameplay.
Yes, they're the best right now, and probably the best in history as well. I personally cannot wait to see them be dethroned (though I understand I am probably in for quite a wait).
But my point is, whereas FC Barcelona's dominance was expected and anticipated by many, few people expected FC Porto to show the kind of dominance over Portugal and the Europa League that they did in 2011.
The FC Porto of 2009-10 had finished third in the Primeira Liga, which is about as low as Porto ever goes in its domestic league. It had missed out on Champions League qualification to Sporting de Braga, and won none of the four competitions in participated in in 2009-10.
Fast-forward one season, and Andre Villas-Boas had changed all that. Domestically, FC Porto posted the insane record of 27 wins and three draws. They won the Millennium Cup with ease as well, tearing apart Vitória de Guimarães 6-2 in the final.
And to prove that it wasn't a fluke, Porto went about annihilating teams in the Europa League as well.
After going undefeated in their group, Porto blew away the likes of CSKA Moscow, Sevilla, Villarreal and Spartak Moscow to win the Europa League title against Braga—the team that kept Porto out of the Champions League in 2010.
Hulk and Falcao finished the 2010-11 season with goal totals of 35 and 39 respectively.
But sadly, it could not last. Andre Villas-Boas left for greener pastures (and more money surely) against the advice of FC Porto president Jorge Pinto da Costa, while Radamel Falcao was also sold to Atletico Madrid for €40 million.
The future still looks bright for FC Porto, as the squad raised a financial windfall from Falcao's transfer fee and massively successful season.
Undoubtedly however, FC Porto will not see a season as successful as the 2010-11 season was for a very, very long time.
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The 2010-11 season ended on a high note for PSG.
The club finished as runners-up in the Coupe de France and fourth in the Ligue 1 table, and with the announcement that the Qatar Investment Authority would be investing its money in the club, hope and expectations were both set very high for the 2011-12 season.
So far, these hopes and expectations have been half-met, half left unfulfilled. Already, despite the massive influx of funds and talented players over the summer, PSG find themselves out of two competitions: the Coupe de la Ligue and the Europa League.
The exit from the latter in particular has been particularly painful for the club to take as PSG were overwhelmingly favored to win their group.
Still, not all has been bad for the club. PSG have been in the top two for much of the season, and still have the Coupe de France ahead of them.
But, possibly the most worrying sign for the future of the club is Javier Pastore's recent declarations on his future.
Pastore has stated that he does not consider PSG to be a big club despite their recent influx of funds and his massive transfer fee, and wants to eventually move to a bigger team.
Considering PSG have made it their goal to build up their squad by recruiting young talents for the future, it could significantly hurt the success of their project if their best player does indeed have a strong desire to move elsewhere.
PSG may want to reconsider how quickly they wish to see success if they want to hold onto their best talents for the forseeable future. The club's investors have talked up a long, multi-year plan with the club, but today's footballers may not be willing to wait around that long for success.
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Liverpool have been arguably the most up-and-down team of 2011.
First, Kenny Dalglish was brought in to replace Roy Hodgson at the start of the year, and after a couple of difficult results, things began to completely turn around for Liverpool.
The arrival of Luis Suarez gave Liverpool's squad a huge boost of quality and creativity, which enabled Liverpool to surge back into good form.
However, Liverpool still failed to achieve their goal of qualifying for Europe, finishing 10 points off of fourth place and losing to Tottenham in the crucial, fifth-place-deciding penultimate match of the EPL season.
The 2011-12 started with great promise, as it was expected that winter signings Luis Suarez and Andrew Carroll would form a dangerous partnership up front together, and would be fed scoring opportunities from the likes of Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing (all summer signings made with the money of Liverpool's new investors).
But thus far, all three summer signings have been largely disappointing, and Andrew Carroll's poor form has been particularly infuriating for Liverpool fans to take in, especially considering the spectacular amount of investments in Carroll.
Nevertheless, despite the poor performances of numerous Liverpool players, Liverpool sit comfortably in sixth place domestically, and are only three points off fourth-place Chelsea.
Many expect Liverpool to have a busy winter to compensate for all the out-of-form players in the Liverpool squad, as well as the permanent injury to Lucas and the ban to Suarez, and indeed it looks like at least some signings will be needed if Liverpool hope to meet any of their objectives this season.
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I still fondly remember Fenerbahce's 2008 Champions League run all the way to the quarterfinals, when the plucky Turkish champions pushed Chelsea to the brink before being overcome at Stanford Bridge.
Fenerbahce will surely be hoping that they could return to those bright days and avoid the dark future that looms ahead.
Fenerbahce ended the 2010-11 season as league champions after an excellent run of form allowed them to top Trabzonspor on the final day. However, a few weeks later, it was discovered that Fenerbahce were involved in a match-fixing scandal, the results of which have yet to be established.
Already, Fenerbahce were stripped of the opportunity to participate in the 2011 Champions League, with this opportunity being handed to Trabzonspor. But there are calls from inside Turkey and from UEFA for much more.
Many want Fenerbahce's 2010-11 title to be revoked, and it is surely a matter of time until this happens given the solid evidence of match-fixing that has been revealed.
Others want more than even that...they want Fenerbahce to be relegated, as Juventus was from Serie A for its role in Calciopoli.
To the credit of Fenerbahce, the club have performed admirably under adversity, and remain solid title contenders along the likes of Galatasaray. However, as more and more evidence is discovered, it seems that the future does not look bright for Turkey's premier club.
In English and Spanish football, the feel-good underdog stories don't usually last very long.
Hull City started life in the Premier League with a bang in '08-09, and found themselves at the top of the table for a while, but were relegated back to the Championship by the end of the '09-10 EPL season.
This season, Levante, usually relegation candidates in La Liga, actually topped the table ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid. After a 7-2-0 start, however, they've lost five of their last seven matches and looks set for a slow climb down the table.
In French football though, feel-good stories can last a bit longer, and Montpellier is a prime example of this.
Only promoted at the end of the 2008-09 season, Montpellier shocked Ligue 1 by finishing fifth in their first season and claiming a Europa League spot. At one point, Montpellier even topped the table.
This year, Montpellier have continued to overachieve. They current sit second in the table, and have been Paris Saint-Germain's biggest title rivals, despite the limitations of a significantly smaller budget.
In order to keep performing though, Montpellier will have to hold onto their biggest players, like Olivier Giroud, who's been targeted by a number of clubs already.
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For shocking the football world by overcoming Manchester United in the Champions League recently, FC Basel easily deserve their spot on this list.
Shaktar Donetsk were candidates for this spot, but in my book taking four points from the English champions is far more impressive than beating a decent but struggling Roma side from Serie A.
FC Basel will almost surely be knocked out next year when they take on Champions League contenders Bayern Munich, but Munich will know they cannot afford to underestimate the Swiss title holders.
FC Schalke 04
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So remember how I labelled Liverpool the most unpredictable team of 2011? Yea, I take that back. That title has to go to Schalke.
Schalke's league campaign in 2010-11 was a complete mess. The team had one stretch of good form from the beginning of November to mid-December in 2010, but otherwise they couldn't manage to show any type of consistent league form.
And they couldn't even end their league campaign on a good note, ending it the way it started: with four consecutive losses.
But outside the league, Schalke were an impressive force. In the Champions League, they qualified from a group they were expected to win, but followed that up with impressive wins over Valencia and Inter Milan.
The latter victory was especially remarkable, as Schalke were the underdogs by a significant margin, and yet managed to win by the hugely impressive margin of seven goals to three.
To put the icing on the cake of a very volatile season, Schalke resoundingly won the DFB-Pokal with a 5-0 win over MSV Duisberg.
This season, good form has returned to Schalke in the league—they sit joint-second in the Bundesliga, only three points behind Bayern Munich. They also have done very well in the Europa League.
We close with a mention to one of the world's strangest clubs, Anzhi Makhachkala.
Anzhi was purchased by billionaire businessman Suleyman Kerimov on January 18th, 2011, and in doing so joined the elite group of money-infused clubs looking to leave their mark on the world game (Chelsea, Manchester City, Malaga and PSG among the members of this fine group).
But throughout the duration of the 2011 calender year, followers of Anzhi have been left seriously confused by the decisions and actions of the club.
For example, Anzhi currently have two coaches, Andrei Gordeyev and Roberto Carlos. As the Guardian and other sources illustrate, both men are in charge of preparing and coaching the team virtually in equal capacity.
Additionally, the club continues to train in Moscow and fly in for home games, which surely must not be a comfortable scenario for its players.
Moving from the off-field issues to the on-field issues, the club's results have not been impressive.
They barely finished eighth in the first half the 2011-12 Russian Premier League season, and have already been eliminated from the Russian Cup.
It remains to be seen when Anzhi will actually begin to fulfill the big promises from player-manager Roberto Carlos.
Big names and talents continue to be targets of Anzhi, but until the results begin to materialize on the pitch, all the signings in the world won't do the club any good.
Signing an experienced, respected coach though may be the first step in the right direction for Anzhi.
What do you think? Were there any clubs I left out which you think deserved mentioned?
I left out non-European clubs because I believe that branching out into North and South America would make me accountable for the likes of Africa and Asia as well, and I just don't have the knowledge nor the space on this list to account for all unpredictable clubs of the world.
Nevertheless, if there is a particular club outside of Europe that was deserving of recognition on this list, please do bring it up in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.