Europe’s top 5 top-flight football leagues have time and again brought with them immense excitement and brilliance. Be it the Liga Santander in Spain, Barclays Premier League in England, Serie A in Italy, Bundesliga in Germany or the Ligue 1 in France, the quality of football is well-defined, though, in recent times, many of these leagues have shown tendencies to become one-sided. In the 2017-18 season, this was the case in Spain, Germany, France, and England, as Football Club Barcelona, FC Bayern, Paris Saint Germain, and Manchester City, respectively, were dominant right from the start and secured their winners’ medals much earlier than expected. Serie A was a two-horse race right till the end, with Juventus capturing yet another league title. All these teams enjoyed domestic success as well.
Barca captured their 30th Copa Del Rey, while Juventus secured their 13th Coppa Italia. Paris Saint Germain managed a trophy overhaul, winning the domestic quadruple yet again, winning the Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue, and the Trophee des Champions, along with the league title. Manchester City procured the Carabao Cup, though they failed to get past the 5th round in the FA Cup. Bayern was the only league winner that could not get its hands on the domestic cup, losing the DFB Pokal cup finals to Eintracht Frankfurt, despite being touted as overwhelming favorites.
However, one aspect all these teams shared was their failure to win the Champions League. While Bayern and Juventus fell to eventual champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively, Manchester City fell to Liverpool in the quarter-finals as well. Barca, which probably suffered the most unexpected setback out of these 5 teams, blew a substantial home lead to be blanked away to Roma and exited in the quarter-final stage for the third year running. PSG, never in the fight against Real Madrid (again!) after a first-leg defeat and an injury to star signing Neymar Jr., were on their way out in Round of 16 itself. Below is an analysis of what went wrong for these teams this time around in Europe’s most fierce and elite club competition:
Expectations are always high when a team like Barca with players like Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and others take the field. Their domestic success this season also added to fans’ belief that the team could go the distance in the Champions League. However, Barca exited in the most spectacular fashion. After taking a 4-1 home lead to Roma, the Blaugrana defense and midfield fell apart, while the attackers drew a blank, and the team ended up losing 3-0, allowing Roma to progress to the semi-final on away goals. A sense of negative nostalgia prevailed as the loss brought back memories of the 4-0 defeat to PSG in Paris, which they overturned in ‘La Remontada’ in the home leg and the 3-0 reverse away to Juventus, which ended their Champions League journey in the 2016-17 season. Whether it was over-confidence, too much focus on maintaining an unbeaten domestic success or simply Roma’s brilliance (maybe even all three!), Barca were unable to give Andres Iniesta the perfect, fairytale treble-winning farewell season, while fans clamped down on Ernesto Valverde, who joined Barca as a manager only at the start of the 2017-18 season, when the team lost to Levante in the league, ending their hopes of becoming the new “Invincibles” as well, though he did accomplish a domestic double in his first season with the Catalan giants.
2. Bayern Munich:
Bayern has consistently underperformed in the Champions League ever since their treble-winning 2012-13 season under Jupp Heynckes. When the manager returned to the club, expectations hit a new high as fans felt he could lead the team to their 6th Champions League. Their performances in the league also drew a lot of attention as they made a quick shift from the counter-attacking policy Carlo Ancelotti followed to a more balanced strategy under Heynckes. But recurring injuries at crucial times to players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben and a season-long one to Manuel Neuer meant they could win just the Bundesliga title this season. In the Champions League, Bayern was pitted up against Real Madrid, a dream match-up and it is fair to say many felt Bayern had a better chance against the Spanish giants in this season than in previous seasons. However, some poor refereeing decisions, an unforgivable blunder by stand-in keeper Sven Ulreich and sudden bursts of brilliance from Real saw Bayern bow out in the semi-finals.
3. Manchester City:
Pep Guardiola has definitely turned things around at Manchester City in the 2017-18 season. With plenty of big-money signings in the transfer windows, the team was brilliant throughout in the Premier League. The city possessed an incredible amount of talent in attack and midfield, with the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and the ever dependable Sergio Aguero and David Silva all firing them to the league title. However, the one team that tormented them was Liverpool. Despite winning 5-0 at home, City lost 4-3 at Anfield and then was blanked in the Champions League quarter-finals as their defense crumbled under the pressure from the triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, and the suddenly effective Liverpool backline. Guardiola took Europe by storm when he was at Barcelona, but he has failed to win the Champions League with both Bayern Munich and now Manchester City. Nobody can deny the tactical genius he is, but questions do arise about his efficiency despite being brilliant domestically. Manchester City needs to get their defense to be a little less vulnerable to quality attacking talent because they are going to get plenty of it in Europe and in England.
Juventus had a brilliant run last season. They wrapped up the league title and the cup and also made it to their second Champions League final in 3 seasons before Real Madrid beat them – a disappointment again after the loss to Barca in the 2015 Final. This season, the team was clearly out to get revenge, but a certain Cristiano Ronaldo put up a commanding display along with his teammates to allow Madrid to take a 3-0 lead back home. But, Juventus, despite its aging squad, pulled back 3 goals at the Bernabeu to take the game to a stunning final 15-20 minutes. However, this is where the age factor and Allegri’s tactical flaw came to the fore. Instead of going for the killer 4th goal that would have gone a long way in securing their spot in the semi-finals, Juventus chose to defend their lead and were left distraught when Gianluigi Buffon was sent off after arguing for a debatable foul in the box by Medhi Benatia and the resulting penalty was blasted in by Ronaldo to secure Madrid a semi-final date with Bayern. But, Juventus and Allegri can certainly be proud of the performance they put up as the team displayed resilience and put up a dominant display against the 13-time European champions. However, they still have to work on their transfer business to find talented younger players to replace the likes of Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and the others if they want to be among Europe’s elite again.
These teams have endured several hard-hitting lessons this season, but will no doubt, be in the reckoning for the Champions League title again in the 2018-19 season. With some minute changes in the team structure, confidence levels, mentality, and degrees of dependency, these teams will be ones to watch out for come August 2018.