Europe’s top five leagues are having interesting seasons, to say the least.
Only two of last season’s champions are still atop their table, and even then, neither club holds a lead greater than four points. The vast majority of last season’s league winners in Europe’s ‘top five’ are enduring a difficult 2020/21. But of those, who is having the most disappointing season? Well, we’ve looked at the state of play for each club and ranked them.
5. Bayern Munich
Points ahead of second: 4
Bayern haven’t been quite as all-conquering as they were towards the back-end of 2019/20 and have already lost two games, but they’re still the most consistent side in Germany and have won the most games (12). They’ve also scored the most goals in, not only the Bundesliga, but across the continent’s top five divisions (49). Disappointment is a relative term here because mostly, Bayern are just doing Bayern things. They are very much on track for a ninth successive title.
Points ahead of second: 0
On the one hand PSG are top of Ligue 1. On the other hand it’s only on goal difference ahead of a Lille side whose top scorer is 35-year-old Buruk Yilmaz, and if Lyon had won their match against Metz, the Parisians wouldn’t even be top. They’ve looked considerably below par this season when you consider the attacking talent that is on offer. A team comprised of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe really ought to be, not only be nigh-on unstoppable, but also fantastic to watch, and PSG are neither, really. The situation ultimately cost Thomas Tuchel his job and Qatar Sports Investments will be hoping that Mauricio Pochettino will lift them to the level they want to be at.
Points off the top: 6
Liverpool set such a ridiculous pace last season, winning 27 of their first 29 games in the Premier League before football’s pandemic-enforced hiatus (and no that’s not a typo, that actually happened), which in many ways would make an ordinary title win a disappointment this time around. But, the Reds haven’t looked like managing even that. Jurgen Klopp’s men have been ropey at the back, even before Virgil van Dijk’s horrible injury. They lost 7-2 to Aston Villa. 7-2!
Klopp’s high-powered attacking trio have been shown up by a lad they signed from Wolves in Diogo Jota, and without him they’ve managed to go four league games without scoring, and were only lucky that Manchester United didn’t really fancy it in their recent clash at Anfield.
However, more recently Burnley did fancy it, bringing an end to Liverpool’s 69-game unbeaten streak on home soil in the league. These are testing times for Klopp and Liverpool, who could be as low as seventh if Tottenham, Everton and Aston Villa all win their games in hand.
2. Real Madrid
Points off the top: 7 (potentially 10)
Real Madrid weren’t particularly good in 2019/20 but a run of solid defensive performances, aided greatly by some superb form from Thibaut Courtois, and a series of questionable refereeing decisions, helped them power their way to La Liga glory. So the bar wasn’t set particularly high, but Los Blancos have failed even to clear that. True enough they are second and even though they beat Atletico Madrid, they remain seven points behind their rivals having played a game more.
They have been miserable to watch, lacking even the impeccable defensive solidity they showed at the end of 2019/20. Every defender is a wreck, or a wreck waiting to happen; every forward (beyond Karim Benzema) is a jittering mess; and the midfield looks very much like a midfield that was first assembled six years ago and has never really changed since then.
It’s worth mentioning Madrid also lost twice to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and only progressed to the knockouts thanks to Inter Milan’s dire form in Group B, while they recently crashed out of the Copa del Rey to third-tier Alcoyano, a humiliating black mark on the Zidane era in Madrid.
They’re also having enormous salary trouble, Eden Hazard is still injured, unfit or useless, and worst of all, the mercurial young talents in the team are either not playing or look short of confidence.
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Points off the top: 10 (potentially 7)
Juventus were gunning for an historic tenth consecutive Serie A title this season but in the summer they sacked Maurizio Sarri and appointed the inexperienced Andrea Pirlo in his place. And as it turns out, when your squad is the ageing core of a previous great side; a mishmash of nonsense you signed on a free simply because you could; and an overpriced goalscoring machine who, despite finding the net at sheer will, destroys the team shape and cannibalises shots, having a solid veteran like Sarri to keep things running is better than appointing a bright young tactician with big ideas.
Juve have simply flattered to deceived this term. They’re miles away from the Milan sides, both in terms of points on the table, but also performances on the pitch. In fact had Milan not been devastated by injury it’s likely they’d have beaten Juve as Inter did, and the gap would be even greater.
This is just not a squad built with any sort of logic. It’s a sort of ad hoc Lego construction, built out of a giant box of random pieces. No one really complements one another and there is little coherence, even if it all does technically fit together.
Pirlo is a wonderfully dressed man and everyone wants him to succeed but he doesn’t appear to have the world-weary cynicism and experience to make this squad a functional team who just grind their way to the title. And who could blame him? That’s a horrible way for a football club to exist, especially one as storied and powerful as Juventus.
Juventus and Real Madrid are by far the most disappointing of Europe’s top five champions; all dysfunction and misery. Juve finish ahead of Los Blancos simply because their misery is utterly self-inflicted as they shattered their sensible squad building to gamble on Cristiano Ronaldo; sacked Max Allegri then appointed Sarri without ever thinking about what Sarri needs to succeed; and then finally threw poor Pirlo in at the deep end, expecting him to deliver success with what is now a talented but disorganised mishmash of a squad.
That has led to what looks like being the most disappointing season from a defending champion in Europe’s top five leagues.