5 Top Clubs Whose Rebuilds Are Going to Plan

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 16, 2020

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Manchester United at Goodison Park on March 01, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus)
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Football clubs are generally in one of three stages at any one time: crisis, reboot or stable.

It's amazing how quickly they can flit from one stage to the next; the sport is cyclical, and some can complete the transition inside a few years—then fall back to the first stage again almost without warning.

Clubs of all shapes and sizes go through these cycles. The elite are not immune.

Here, B/R Football has used the pause in action to profile five sides whose fortunes and prospects have greatly improved over the last 12 months. Whether they were in crisis or reboot, they're now rapidly heading for that coveted "stable" tag.

Some clubs who are progressing well have missed out on this list because there's only room for five, but typically speaking, if they're not here, it's because they're doing the opposite of what we're looking for (sliding, like Barcelona) or barely presenting a pulse (Tottenham Hotspur).

For the purpose of all of sanity, this article assumes the 2019-20 season will resume and outstanding Champions League games will be played—otherwise we'll be lost in the ifs and buts.


5. Sevilla

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 07: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Joan Jordan of Sevilla FC controls the ball during the Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Sevilla FC at Wanda Metropolitano on March 7, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The summer of 2019 was a very "Monchi summer." The famed wheeler-dealer sporting director, back in Andalusia after a mixed spell at Roma, brought in more than 10 players and sold even more. In the space of a few months, he completely reshaped a squad.

Much of the outgoing work featured players who were aged 27 or older, while much of the incoming work featured players aged 26 or younger. A clear move was made to freshen things up, though some experienced heads were retained or acquired to keep the balance.

That transfer window has done two things: set them up with a talented group of players for the years ahead and made them much stronger defensively—something that has helped them edge a number of tight games.

Just as important was the hire of Julen Lopetegui, a very good manager whose reputation took a hit after the Spain and Real Madrid debacles in 2018. His true colours are shining through now, though, and he's led Los Rojiblancos to third in La Liga through 27 games.

Keys: Strong recruitment, good managerial hire, stern defence


4. Borussia Monchengladbach

Moenchengladbach's French forward Marcus Thuram celebrates their victory at the end of the German first division Bundesliga football match Borussia Moenchengladbach v Mainz 05 in Moenchengladbach on January 25, 2020. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP) / DFL

"The Foals are in freefall," a DW Sport headline exclaimed in April last year.

A run of five points from seven games, including a damaging 3-1 loss to neighbours Fortuna Dusseldorf, saw them slide out of the top four and never return. Manager Dieter Hecking was fired.

It's important to recall this and the rudderless feeling around the club, because 12 months on, their position in the Bundesliga isn't dramatically different but their prospects and outlook are.

They accrued 55 points from 34 games in 2018-19; this term, they're on 49 from 25, so they're on track to better that total. They're also fourth, rather than fifth, and on track for a Champions League return.

Most importantly, though, there's an exciting sheen to this team, led by rising managerial star Marco Rose and fuelled by a glut of excellent young players. 

A chunk of their most used players and best performers are aged 23 and under: Marcus Thuram, Denis Zakaria, Breel Embolo, Florian Neuhaus and Laszlo Benes. They play frenetic, high-energy football that most opponents simply cannot deal with. 

Again, we go back to that DW Sports article, in which they translated a scathing assessment of Gladbach's play from Kicker: "Helpless, lifeless and defenceless, which lacked running, aggression, body language, ideas, tempo, technique and any threat in front of goal."

How far we are from anything close to that in 2020.

Keys: Exciting young manager, exciting play style, excellent recruitment


3. Manchester United

LINZ, AUSTRIA - MARCH 12: (FREE FOR EDITORIAL USE) In this handout image provided by UEFA, Odion Ighalo of Manchester United celebrates with Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Brandon Williams and Juan Mata after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa L
UEFA - Handout/Getty Images

Around 12 months ago, Manchester United were riding a wave: unbeaten in 12 matches under the momentum new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had brought. But things would soon fall down—form dropped off severely, leading to a poor end to last season and an up-and-down start this one—amounting to a difficult 2019 on the whole.

So far, though, 2020 has felt a lot like Solskjaer's initial surge, and that's despite injuries to Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, two of the club's best players who operate in crucial positions.

The January acquisition of Bruno Fernandes is probably the headline reason, with the Portugal international giving United a swagger and pizzazz in midfield that has been lacking with Pogba out. Scott McTominay's return has also provided balance, and the Red Devils' middle three suddenly looks something to be proud of.

That builds on a summer's work that shored up the defence, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka the same lockdown defender he was at Crystal Palace and Harry Maguire hitting good levels. 

As Dean Jones revealed on B/R Football Ranks earlier this month, securing Champions League football could step this rebuild up a notch, with the likes of Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho very possible signings if they make it.

B/R Football @brfootball

Manchester United are increasingly confident they can land Jadon Sancho AND Jack Grealish this summer | @DeanJonesBR

Keys: Improved defence, Bruno Fernandes signing, midfield balance


2. Real Madrid

SEVILLA, SPAIN - MARCH 8: Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander  match between Real Betis Sevilla v Real Madrid at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 8, 2020 in Sevilla Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Barring a fairly miraculous turnaround, Real Madrid look set to drop out of the Champions League round of 16 for the second consecutive year. Manchester City were just too good in the first leg and are expected to finish the job at home.

Given that Los Blancos see this as "their" competition, that sort of defeat is hard to take. In fact, the day after the first leg, Spanish pundit Tomas Roncero was seen crying on TV, in a Real Madrid tracksuit, bemoaning the end of an era.

To say it was all a little dramatic is an understatement. Defeat at home on the big stage is hard to take, but the truth is Real Madrid's aggressive reload has put them in a much healthier position than they were this time last year when they were soundly beaten by Ajax.

They've finally come to terms with losing Cristiano Ronaldo and adjusted their tactical approach as a result. They now press and counter-press well, block up the middle and have become extremely hard to play against—just 19 goals conceded in 27 La Liga games speaks to that.

The squad is chock full of budding stars: Reinier, Vinicius Junior and Eder Militao are all future starters, while the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Martin Odegaard are impressing so much on loan that they could easily command a spot in the XI in 2020-21.

There should even be a question mark over how many—if any—signings they make this summer. These starlets need room to grow and game time to improve, so even if they abstained from Galactico additions in 2020, they'd still be in an excellent position.

Keys: Reformed tactical approach, glut of young talent


1. Bayern Munich

MUNICH, GERMANY - MARCH 08: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Alphonso Davies of Bayern Muenchen throw-in during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and FC Augsburg at Allianz Arena on March 8, 2020 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images v
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The 2018-19 season was hardly disastrous for Bayern Munich—they won the domestic double, after all—but no one truly came out of it feeling 100 per cent confident.

They were handled with ease by Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16 and trailed Borussia Dortmund for long spells in the Bundesliga before a late surge earned them the title. By their standards, that's unacceptable.

An aggressive, youthful transfer window followed, in which big bucks were spent on the likes of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. The transformation underwent its second stage when Hansi Flick replaced Niko Kovac as manager in November, and they've unearthed a star in Alphonso Davies at left-back.

Chelsea are a lesser beast than Liverpool admittedly, but the approach and manner of performance Bayern produced in February to beat the Blues 3-0 was in stark contrast to what we saw against Liverpool the year before.

Whether Flick is the long-term answer remains uncertain (though he's done little other than impress), but what is clear is that his work—in conjunction with a strong summer in 2019—has placed Bayern back on track.

Keys: Attack-minded coach in charge, transformed defence

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