Monday, May 18, 2015

The 10 Biggest Disappointments in European Football This Season

In a few weeks, we can look at the players and teams that had the most success this season, including Chelsea winning back the EPL title with the leadership of Mourinho and inspiration of Costa and Fabergas, Barcelona with a shot at the treble (and fine seasons for the deadly front line of Neymar, Sanchez and, of course, Messi), Ronaldo continuing to break records on the individual level and Juventus adding a Champions League final to another league victory. But before doing that, why not take a look at some of the biggest disappointments of the 2014-15 season …

Angel di Maria

One expected big things from the most expensive player in Premier League history, particularly after a bright start to a season that came on the back of leading Europe in assists last season in helping Real to their 10th European title and a fine World Cup cut short by injury. But after a few highlight reel goals and assists, something appeared to happen to the Argentine, who maybe never wanted the move to United to begin with. His passing started going askew, he got a red against hated Arsenal in an FA Cup loss and gave the ball away time and time again while exposing the defenders behind him. The ignominy has hit new heights as he sits on the bench with only two games left in the season, having played 19 games and scored 3 goals for his 60 million pound fee. Like Ozil the year before, leading Real in assists doesn’t appear to guarantee a seamless transition to the EPL the following year. Ozil has improved dramatically since returning from injury though, and one assumes di Maria will be back to his best next season, though probably not with United.

Gareth Bale

Another Real player who is suffering a year after his heroics played a key role in Copa del Rey and UCL finals, Bale could find himself replacing di Maria at United next year. He started the season in fine form and has scored 19 goals and added 11 assists in all competitions this season, following 22 goals and 16 last term. But he has only scored only 3 goals in his last 19 games (with 5 assists), only 1 in his last 9, and was abject in the two leg loss to Juve, faltering on three chances to send them back to the final in the second half of the second leg alone. The negativity from an unforgiving Madrid crowd appeared to take a minor drop in form and transformed it into a crisis of confidence that appears to mean the most expensive transfer in football history might be back on the market two years after arriving in Spain. I don’t think he can be considered another U.K. failure “down under” after a blistering first season, but might be yet another warning to British players thinking about moving on to Spain in the future.

Radamel Falcoa

Staying with United, we have one of the biggest striker flops in recent memory; a player United pays 265,000 pound a week (along with a loan fee of 6 million pounds) for four goals and more misses than a 10-minute lowlight reel could assemble. Falcoa will be moving on after this forgettable season, seemingly a shell of the player that built a world-class resume with Porto, Atletico and then Monaco before a knee injury appears to have diminished his talent and confidence possibly beyond repair. At 29, the right coach might be able to rejuvenate his flailing career, but one assumes that will not be Van Gaal and the clock is ticking.

Yaya Toure

Toure was one of the main reasons Man City won the title last season, and played a key role in their first title two years earlier. Yesterday, he scored a brace to push City into more firm control over second place in a 4-2 win over Swansea City. But it is clear that his form has declined this season, along with the rest of the team (except maybe Aguero and Silva), and that charges of lack of effort seem most aimed at the Ivory Coast international who finally saw his stacked team win an elusive African Cup of Nations title in January. His absence might have played a part in City’s inability to defend their title as well, though that problem seems to relate more to the failure of Brazilian duo Fernando and Fernandinho to shore up the space in front of a more porous back four.

Vincent Kompany

That porous back four includes a very disappointing Mangala, who cost City 31.8 million pounds last summer, but also a Belgian who has experienced a surprising decline in form. Kompany was arguably one of the best defenders in the world over the past few seasons, impressive on both sides of the pitch by chipping in with key goals on occasion (ala John Terry). But this season the mistakes that showed up a little last term have become more common and there are real questions emerging of whether his best days are behind him. His positioning seems off, he is beaten one on one a little too frequently and seems to have lost the dominance that once made him so great. Toure and he are just two examples of an aging squad that clearly needs youth injections next season.

Borussia Dortmund

The Klopp project at Dortmund had been in decline over the past couple of years, after winning two Bundesliga titles in a row (2010-12), the DFB-Pokal (2012) and Supercup (2013, 14), as well as just missing out to rival Bayern Munich in the finals of the 2013 Champions League final. Two many of their best players have left, mainly for rival Bayern, and injuries decimated the squad early. They have since moved up from the relegation zone, but will miss out at Champions League football next year, probably lose more stars and be without the coach that led their rise to the cream of Europe. Money is arguably the biggest reason for the decline, though one could also argue that teams adapted to their press and counter strategy, making it less effective over time. One assumes Klopp will be fielding offers across the continent, though it is unclear where he will end up at the moment.


But for a Gerrard slip. That iconic image of one of the most iconic figures in English football history cost Liverpool their 20th league title last year, but there was great hope they would again challenge for the title. After the “bite felt round the world” at the World Cup this summer, the time had finally come to move on Suarez and Brendan Rodgers was then charged with turning that big fee from Barcelona into the sort of replacements that could push the Reds forward. Instead players including the three-Ls (Lallana, Lambert and Lovren), Markovich and, most auspiciously, Balotelli, failed to live up to the hype and the team took several steps backwards this term. The declining form of their star, the ongoing injury saga of Sturridge and defensive lapses at key moments all contributed to the fall after a good middle-season run saw them on the cusp of claiming fourth place. Two years without a trophy means Rodgers now finds himself on the hot seat and needing to locate reinforcements that can push them above one of the four teams in front of them.
Pep Guardiola

Can one call a season winning the league a failure? Well, when you are the coach of a Bayern team that won the treble two years ago, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. For the second year running, Guardiola’s team was smashed by Spanish opponents in the semifinals of the UCL, this time by the team he called home from his playing days until his departure three years ago. The fact the medical team for the past 30 years stormed off in protest only adds to the sense that Guardiola has one more season at most before he departs for Greener pastures, quite possibly the Powder Blue variety of Manchester. Injuries have clearly played a role in the underperformance, but their inability to match up against Real and Barcelona in successive years has to at least partially come down to the coach.

Carlo Ancelotti

As the New Year started, Real Madrid had just ended a long winning streak, were ahead in the league, undefeated in the Group Stage of the Champions League and looked set for more glory in May. A slipup in January and early February pushed a resurgent Barca above them in the table before a tight 2-1 loss in the latest El Classico meant they would need help to win the league. A Barcelona draw gave them hope but a draw of their own last week meant they needed to make up four points and a goal difference deficit in two games. Bad went to worse as an equalizer from Juve in the second half pushed them out of the UCL Final and a chance at repeating. And then the likely became the reality, as Barcelona sewed up the title at a team Real just can’t beat this year – Atletico – cancelling out a 4-1 win for Los Blancos over Espanyol. The team did win the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup in the first half of the season, but will add no more silverware this year and one assumes the Italian will be back on the market come the summer, not least for his inability to beat the team Barcelona just took down.

League Title Race Drama

Chelsea and Man City were tied at the top of the EPL as the New Year began only for City to fade as Chelsea solidified their lead. Arsenal snuck into the race in April heading into a key matchup with their crosstown rivals at the Emirates, but their hopes were slim from the onset and ended with a drab 0-0 draw. In La Liga, the El Classico between Real and Barcelona on March 22 appeared to be the match of the season, with the winner likely to take the crown. And that is exactly what happened with Barcelona winning 2-1 on the way to securing the title with a game left in hand. Real will look back on a few head scratching results costing them the title for the second year running (in the very unforgiving La Liga race, where one draw can make all the difference). Bayern Munich and Juventus ran away with their league titles for the third year running (in Germany and Italy, of course) and PSG did the same, after a tight race with Lyon for most of the season. Teams are still fighting for positions in the Champions League, the Europa League or to stave off elimination, but it is a rather anticlimactic end to a scintillating season.

Dishonorable Mentions

Adebayor (Tottenham)
Roberto Martinez and the Everton Defense
Newcastle Post-Pardew
Roy Keane (as Aston Villa Assistant)
The Entire QPR Team (including Rio’s sayonara and ‘Arry’s knees)
Hull City Newbies (Hernandez, Ramirez, Ben Arfa)
Robin Van Persie (though injuries played a role)
Munich Injury List

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