Unhappy league champions face questions despite success
Background photo: RichJ1209
Europe's top five domestic leagues all were won by defending champions this season. Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus each reaffirmed their domestic dominance. Despite these victories, none can look upon their campaigns as the successes they envisioned. Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Ajax are to blame but let's focus on the common problem which is Champions League failure.
In the wake of their ouster, Juventus and manager Max Allegri parted ways. Save for City, where Pep Guardiola remains firmly in command, it won't come as a surprise if more heads roll. With the resources at their disposal, more was expected of each boss but especially Ernesto Valverde and Thomas Tuchel.
This campaign was Valverde's second chance. The Barcelona board went to great pains to insure he had everything needed to bring the Champions League trophy back to Camp Nou. Arthur Melo arrived as a new Xavi Hernandez in the making. Arturo Vidal was signed to add grit and attitude to the artistry. Kevin-Prince Boateng joined too, insurance for the fading Luis Suarez. The Blaugrana still didn't have the resolve to dispatch Liverpool in the semifinal after taking a three-goal lead in the first leg.
The former Athletic Bilbao gaffer faced the real possibility of the sack despite achieving a second domestic double in as many years. He won't feel so hard done by now, though, after Valencia dusted off Barca 2-1 despite a late goal from Lionel Messi.
In his first season, Tuchel failed to continue PSG's cup success, losing both the Coupe de la League and Coupe de France. His only trophy came with the annual stroll through Ligue 1. To be fair to the German, Neymar broke his foot just in time for the knockout rounds for the second year running. Unlike Barcelona, the PSG board can't say it's given the German everything he needs to succeed. On the other hand, Kylian Mbappe's meteoric rise might convince them they have and that hiring the fifth new manager since taking over the club eight years ago.
Like Tuchel, Niko Kovac was in his debut season at Bayern Munich. It was a marriage without a honeymoon. Bayern started poorly, veterans discontent with the changes the Croatian was hired to effect, young players uncertain of their roles. As champions tend to do, however, they found their way and came on strong in the late-going. Collapse at home to Liverpool in the Champions League after a tactical masterclass at Anfield ended with vultures circling over the Allianz Arena. An emphatic 3-0 victory over RB Leipzig yesterday in the DFB Pokal delivered a domestic double and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's endorsement.
Of course, Niko remains coach. That has never been the subject of discussion.
Uh-huh. Sure. Regardless, Kovac faces pressure to deliver in Europe next season even though Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben won't wear Die Roten again.
As noted, Max Allegri no longer calls the shots from the Juventus dugout. Not only did the man who delivered five of the Old Lady's eight consecutive Scudettos fall short in the Champions League, he allowed the Coppa d'Italia to slip from his grasp as well. His successor remains a mystery although the club has ruled out Jose Mourinho. Whoever takes charge will be expected to take the club to the UEFA winner's podium with an ageing squad.
Only Guardiola has his superiors' patience. Among the three bosses not in their first seasons, he is the only one who can show improvement on his previous campaign. City didn't run away with the Premier League like they did in 2017/18, forced to stare down Liverpool all the way to the wire, but they did complete an unprecedented domestic treble.
The Etihad's oil-rich owners are banking on the third time paying for all after Pep stumbled twice in the knockout rounds. They truly have given him everything he needs and wants to succeed except the good fortune that money can't buy. It was VAR that robbed them of a semifinal appearance when technology caught Sergio Aguero offside on what almost certainly would have been the tie against Tottenham's decisive goal.
In fact, his work makes him the favourite to succeed Allegri at Juventus, as ridiculous as that sounds. Surely, it would take more than one season to transform the Bianconeri from a defensive to attacking juggernaut and the club simply don't have the time. The window is closing on their best stars. In addition, Guardiola is currently surrounded by people he trusts and more financial resources than Juve can provide. Why would he abandon them?
Further change is coming among Europe's top champions. Just don't expect too much in Manchester.