Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Year of Falling Giants

This past season has been very bad for a number of big teams. Their downfalls have been confusing and surprising; while some teams managed to rebound and finish in a respectable position, many finished the season near the bottom of the table. First, let's look at those clubs that had an incredibly poor season they wish they could forget.

The most notable club that had a poor season is of course Schalke in Germany. They made it to the Champions League semi-finals and won the German Cup - that doesn't sound like a poor season, does it? Well they also finished the Bundesliga in 14th place, only two places above relegation. They were 2nd last year, 8th the year before, 3rd before that, and 2nd before that. Their average finish in the four seasons before this one is 4th. A drop of twelve places is huge and will signal big changes for the club - in fact, star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has already announced that he will not be back at Schalke next season.

Schalke weren't alone in Germany as a big club having a poor season. Wolfsburg finished one place behind Schalke - one place above the drop. Wolfsburg were Bundesliga Champions two years ago. They were 8th last season, 5th in the season before they were Champions, and 15th the year before that. Wolfsburg have taken their fans on quite the roller coaster ride from 15th to 15th in 5 years. The back to back seasons of dropping seven places doesn't bode well for these former champions.

In Italy, Sampdoria started this season in the Champions League and will start the next one in Serie B after being relegated. They dropped 14 places this season, from 4th last year to 18th this year. Their average finish in the league for the four years prior to this campaign is 8th, ten places higher than their finish. We will need to watch through the summer to see what happens to Sampdoria's squad to know if they will be able to make a quick return to Serie A.

In Spain, Julian de Guzman's old club Deportivo la Coruna were relegated from La Liga. They finished in 18th place after finishing 10th last year. They were 7th the year before. Depor hadn't been competing in Europe for a while but they were certainly an established La Liga side. Their average finish in the four years leading up to this campaign was 10th. If JDG left the club because of some financial issues there, then those are only going to get worse in the Segunda and it could be awhile before Depor are back in the top flight.

Moving north to France, it has been a bad year for AS Monaco. Granted it has been a while since they were in the Champions League final, but after an 8th place finish in Ligue 1 last year, their fans certainly expected more from them than to be in 18th place with one match left. They need at least a point to have a chance at survival, but are home to 3rd place Lyon who need one point to secure 3rd place and Champions League football. In my mind Monaco are going down. Like Depor their four prior seasons average was 10th.

There were a few other clubs I wouldn't consider to be big clubs, but certainly established clubs in the top flight, that were relegated as well. In England, both Birmingham and West Ham were relegated. Birmingham finished 9th last season and won the League Cup this season, but were only able to finish in 18th this year. The club has been a bit of a yo-yo side with two promotions and two relegations in the last five years; however they looked to put that behind them with a 9th place finish and a League Cup victory. In the end they couldn't avoid the drop. I don't expect them to get promoted back to the Premier League next season unless they invest in a number of new players. West Ham had a dismal season, and after a poor campaign last year as well they aren't in the same category as the other teams. Even with their poor year last year, their prior four years average finish was 13th, seven places higher than the 20th of this year. This club is in a lot of trouble; they need to do a huge rebuild and a number of their star players are leaving. West Ham's main focus should be on avoiding back to back relegations.

A similar story played out in Portugal. Naval 1 Maio were relegated for their last place finish. While not achieving any huge heights, they had an average finish of 11th in the four years before this season. They would have expected to do better this year, especially after they managed an 8th place finish last year.

Let's switch over to some of the big clubs that managed to salvage a poor season. Returning to Germany, Bayern Munich spent a much larger portion of the season away from the top than anyone at the club is used to; consequently, head coach van Gaal was sacked. That said, they did manage to salvage 3rd place and qualify for the Champions League. With German keeper Neuer rumoured to be joining from Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen's coach joining the club, next season should be better for the Bundesliga giants.

In England, Liverpool got off to a horrible start and sacked their manager, too. However King Kenny came in and got Liverpool into 6th place. Also in England, 9th place Aston Villa were involved in the relegation battle until the last month of the season. Their manager left the club at the start and then replacement boss Gerard Houllier was hospitalised and his assistant took over for the last few matches of the season. After the way this season has gone, I imagine most Villa fans are pleasantly surprised with a finish in the top ten.

Moving to Turkey, Galatasaray managed an 8th place finish this year. They spent a large portion of the campaign just above the relegation zone. In fact, they only finished six points out of 14th. This was a huge disaster for the Istanbul club whose last four league finishes were 3rd, 5th, 1st, and 3rd. They had a few injuries this season, brought back Fatih Terim for a 3rd time as manager, and have moved to a new stadium. They have also been linked with Didier Drogba -safe to say that they will likely improve on their 8th place finish next season.

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