Saturday, March 2, 2024

Ranking Europe’s most disappointing teams: Manchester United lead the way; Chelsea not far behind

As the winter transfer window draws to a close, major soccer leagues around the world are reaching a critical stage. The title race and competition for European spots along with relegation races are taking center stage but for plenty of teams in the middle of the pack, their ambitions were higher at the start of the campaign while they’re now looking to remain relevant. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the most disappointing teams around the world as January comes to a close. 

No. 5 Everton

Already having been deducted 10 points for financial breaches and at risk of further deductions for further alleged financial rule breaking, there may not be a team in the Premier League to whom goals are more valuable than the Toffees. One of six Premier League teams to never be relegated, Everton have performed exceptionally under Sean Dyche thanks to their strong defense but they’d be comfortably midtable even with the points deductions if goals were going in as expected. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Beto haven’t been good enough to lead the line but Dyche’s excellent set plays have done enough to keep Everton above the drop zone.

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Currently safe by one point, Everton should avoid the drop but if more deductions come, that may not be the case. Six goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure is good for the attack but the midfielder also shouldn’t be Everton’s top scorer with double the goals of striker Calvert-Lewin. Four goals from defenders have been helpful but it also isn’t sustainable.

No. 4 Napoli

One season removed from winning the Scudetto, everything has changed for Napoli. While they’re still in the Champions League knockout stages and have a date with Barcelona in the last 16 of the tournament, Napoli are currently ninth in Serie A and may miss out on European soccer altogether next season. Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia are still there to lead the attack but the magic of last season isn’t. From Kvaratskhelia’s agent and Osimhen trading blows to Napoli’s defense struggling without the presence of Kim Min-jae, who is now at Bayern Munich, this team dropped off big time. Only scoring 30 goals from an xG of 35, there are bigger underperformers around the world but few have the starpower in attack that Napoli boass. 

Almost every key attacker is underperforming making it hard for Napoli to bring any sense of consistency to the table. When a team is having issues on this scale, it usually points to coaching or something behind the scenes but either way this is an issue too large to solve before the end of the season.

No. 3 Chelsea

While an EFL Cup title could help paper over what has been a poor season for the Blues, their finishing woes have been well-documented and five penalty goals from Cole Palmer can only do so much to prop the team up. Only Liverpool have a higher expected goals than the Blues 42.07 but Mauricio Pochettino’s men have only mustered 35 goals from those excellent chances. Nicolas Jackson is the biggest offender underperforming his xG of 10.59 by almost four goals but a surprise name comes in Enzo Fernandez. The defensive midfielder has license to get forward for Chelsea but along with a missed penalty, he hasn’t done enough in the final third, scoring two goals from an xG of 4.93. With how thin margins are in the Premier League, if those goals go in, Chelsea could still be in the running for a European place instead of sitting nine points off of fifth place.

Defensively the Blues have been solid which shows that parts of Pochettino’s system is working but when wingers are rotating weekly along with injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James, it’s hard to put together a consistent system that is repeatable. When Chelsea have purchased a new team during these recent windows, if these finishing woes don’t improve, the Blues may be going into another summer searching for the right players. 

No. 2 Sevilla

This could be the season during which Sevilla finally can’t get out of the relegation race in Spain as their yearly cycle is broken. A standard Sevilla season sees them struggle in La Liga, fire their coach, win a European trophy, rinse and repeat. But finishing last in their Champions League group, there’s no chance at European glory and only the grind that comes with attempting to avoid relegation may be all that is left. Sevilla have already appointed their third coach of the season, Quique Sanchez Flores, after moving on from Diego Alonso and Jose Luis Mendilibar. It’s astonishing but in the last five years, there have been eight managers for Sevilla and that’s with Julen Lopetegui overseeing the club for almost three of those years. 

Stability has been something lacking around the club and unlike other teams on this list, it isn’t that Sevilla should be performing better based on their metrics as they grade out as a bottom-four team in Spain, it’s that this proud club has fallen so short of their expectations. If something doesn’t change soon, it could be a historic relegation incoming.

No. 1 Manchester United

With a minority ownership change and shift in operating procedures, Manchester United may be in for the biggest improvement of any club on this list next season but that doesn’t take away from their poor performances under Erik ten Hag this season. Out of Champions League and unlikely to qualify for European competition via the league, big decisions will need to be made on ten Hag’s future. 

Boasting one of the better defenses in the Premier League, the Red Devils have only allowed 29 goals this season but their attack has been among the worst in the English top flight. Even new signing Rasmus Hojlund finally finding form hasn’t been enough as Marcus Rashford and Antony are still underperforming. After overperforming last season to finish in the top four, United are paying for it this season and the summer could be the start of a rebuild.

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