12 Days of Football 2018: Seven Sides-a-Sinking
Welcome to It's Round and It's White's second annual festival of football. Over a dozen days, we're bringing you the highs and lows of 2018. Nothing gets much lower than relegation. Parth Jhaveri has never been relegated himself [that he's telling] but he can sympathise. Here's his list of the seven most woeful sides from last season and this.
Paris Saint-Germain fancied a fifth straight title with Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria in their ranks, two seasons past. Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco felt it was time for a change. Les Monagasques stunned the favourites as a group of relative unknowns became budding global superstars.
From Kylian Mbappe to Tiemoune Bakayoko, Jardim's players shone. but the light that burns brightest often blinks out quickest. Monaco’s title victory and semi-final Champions League attracted attention. Monaco chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev was only too happy to sell his top stars for a healthy profit
After a slow start, Jardim rallied his new group to finish second in 2017/18 but another run on his players by wealthy clubs proved too much this term. Jardim was sacked mid-season after failing to groom the untested youngsters and achieve results. Thierry Henry took over Monaco in an attempt to salvage some pride and deliver better results. Three wins from 14 tell a different story.
The Arsenal legend has never been a first team manager. Saving a club with few senior players was an ambitious order to fill. Without a stable roster, the fluid movement and compact shape in are no longer evident. The youth players lack the maturity for a relegation fight. Monaco's survival is very much in doubt.
Leicester fans argue that Buddhist monks who blessed the King Power Stadium provided their improbable Premier League title. If eastern mystics held such power, Benevento fans must be disappointed their legendary witches failed to deliver in similar fashion. Legend has it the remote town was once a refuge for practitioners of magic and the club adopted a witch on a broom as their mascot. It's doubtful the full might of Hogwarts could have saved them, however.
After rising from the depths to reach Serie A for the first time in their existence, a Leicesterian epic in itself, the club couldn't find any traction in the top flight. In record-breaking fashion, the Witches lost their first 14 games in the league. Back-to-back promotions magically lifted the Witches into the stratosphere. Then, it appeared they had some magic in them after all. A spectacular draw against Milan came at the death, then two successive wins against Chievo and Sampdoria gave them a glimmer of hope but, despite signing Bacary Sagna in the winter window, manager Roberto de Zerbi couldn't sustain the momentum
The 14 straight defeats broke Manchester United’s unwanted ‘honour’ as holders of the longest losing run from the start of a season in European football with 12 consecutive defeats in 1930. Benevento are officially UEFA's worst team in history.
There's a first time for everything. Former European champions Hamburg’s status as the Bundesliga's last ever-present team is no more. It ended on 2017/18's final matchday. The club that nurtured Uwe Seeler, Rafael van der Vaart and Kevin Keegan now plays their football in 2.Bundesliga.
Despite beating Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1 in their last game, Hamburg needed Koln to defeat Wolfsburg to lift them into the relegation playoff place. The Billy Goats weren't up to the task; Wolfsburg ran out 4-1 winners.
On the final matchday, Hamburg fans let the players know the match's importance. The atmosphere was electric. The traditional Hamburg anthem was sung with the pathos of a cup final.
It worked. Hamburg scored 2 goals. Tears ran down some fans' eyes as they sang like their voices held the power to keep their club up. Then, just before the final whistle, explosions sounded.
A small group of HSV fans threw flares and other pyrotechnics onto the pitch, halting the match. This had been coming. Hamburg survived on the final day two seasons prior and in the relegation play-offs in 2015 and 2016. Certain fans believed that if Hamburg were to go out, it should be with a bang. The team's final moments in the top flight were spent with riot police crowding the pitch and the goalmouth afire.
Last season was an unmitigated disaster for the Basque club. Accustomed to competing in Europe and one of only three to never be relegated from La Liga, they finished 16th.
San Mames faithful anticipated corrections in the summer. Indeed, Eduardo Berizzo, a manager greatly respected in the Spanish top-flight, replaced Cuco Ziganda. Despite the club's cantera policy [Basque players only], several fresh faces arrived. Midfield duo Ander Capa and Dani Garcia joined from Eibar. Cristian Ganea signed. Most importantly, Yuri Berchiche joined from Paris Saint-Germain in a €20 million deal. The changes had no effect unless to make matters worse.
Berizzo was sacked after four months with two wins from 15. Gaizka Garitano was promoted to first-team manager. Garitano's three games in charge before the winter break yielded better results. Athletic rose to 17th with 16 points at the halfway mark. Hopeful as that might be, there's a long way to go before the club can breathe easier at escaping Hamburg's fate.
The Cottagers splashed €100 million to push their club beyond Premier League survival into mid-table security in their first season back. Clean up on aisle five. Fulham are second-bottom at the mid-season pole with 11 points and two wins in 19 matches. Only Huddersfield are worse.
Slavisa Jokanovic, architect of their splendid promotion push from the Championship, is gone. Enter the Tinkerman. Claudio Ranieri accepted the challenge to keep Fulham in the Premier League.
Jokanovic was convinced the attacking football that earned so many admirers in 2017/18 would work in the Premier League and was unwilling to change his philosophy. When you dig yourself in, make sure you're not standing in quicksand.
. Jokanovic encouraged his wingbacks to press forward and contribute to phases in the final third. His decidedly slow centre-halves were too isolated. Opponents played past the high press to run at a disorganised defence. Fulham conceded 43 goals in their first 19 games.
Ranieri values hard work, togetherness and a straightforward 4-4-2 formation more than anything else. After masterminding title success for Leicester and threatening the powers that be in Ligue 1 with Nantes, many expected the task to be child's play for the 67-year-old. And it may still be if he can clean up his dressing room during the January window. In the interim, however, the club is still being bullied by all comers.
The Stokelona revolution was just a fancy term that allowed Mark Hughes to conceal his poor tactics. Stoke finished 19th after an appalling season. it still beggars belief that Southampton hired the recently sacked Potters boss to keep them up and that he somehow managed it.
Stoke were so poor in the main because of their transfer policy. None of the big money signings from Gianelli Imbula to Kevin Wimmer and Saido Berahino played to the standard that would have carried the Potters into the Premier League's top ten. Meanwhile, the team sold leaders and workhorses Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan and Phil Bardsley. The squad was rudderless.
Mark Hughes will be remembered as the manager who promised stability but let the bottom fall out. When he was sacked, it was already too late and Paul Lambert didn't have the tools to hand to keep the team up.
Welcome to Mark Hughes, the sequel. There was a time, not too long ago, when the top six had little appetite to play Southampton. Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman saw to that. Even under Claude Puel, the Saints were a top-half side, even if the elements of adventure and danger were gone.
Mauricio Pellegrino attempted to revive the positivity but failed bitterly. Desperate the club turned to the improbably nicknamed Sparky. Hughes did just enough to keep the club in the top flight for another yearfaithfulbut it was more a case of their rivals being that much worse. Still, the board rewarded him with a contract extension. They quickly realised their mistake when the club sank into the drop zone and remained there through September, October and November.
On December 5th, the club hired former RB Leipzig boss Ralph Hassenhuttl following Hughes exit two days prior. His first match in charge was an uninspired 1-0 defeat to Cardiff. Since, however, he has beaten Arsenal and Huddersfield in succession before losing 2-1 to West Ham in a flurry of goals from the 50th minute through the hour.
Manchester City, who have lost two on the trot, almost qualifying them for this article, come next. The Saints are 16th, three points above the drop. It's a good cushion to have at the moment. Nevertheless, Hassenhuttl has players like Nathan Redmond back in form after their sluggish beginnings to the season. After sinking so drastically in the past 18 months, Southampton may well be on the rise.