At the start of each season, soccer fans go into the campaign with a certain degree of expectation, as do the managers, players and boardrooms. Consequently, it is inevitable that some teams will overachieve and some will underachieve. For example, Southampton were touted as possible relegation candidates back in August, having sold many of their most valuable assets, but ended up spending much of the season in the Champions League places and ultimately finishing seventh.
For every success story though, there is one of failure. So great is the pressure on clubs these days that we have come to accept managers and coaches getting the axe only months into their new job. In truth, it is ridiculous that managers are given so little time to implement their philosophies on the game. Brian Clough used to say that if a chairman sacked the manager, he should leave too, as it was his decision to appoint them in the first place.
Added pressure often comes after a busy or lucrative transfer window, a promising previous season or the return of long-term absentees. All these elements can lead to heightened expectations. In some cases, these expectations create a feel-good factor around a club which can help results, but they can also create unwanted pressure. These teams, all from the major top flight leagues, were expected to have much more successful seasons than they have ultimately had. Here are the top 10 underachieving soccer teams this season:
10 Hull City
Steve Bruce did a remarkable job in his first two seasons as Hull City manager. Promotion in his first season was followed by the club's first ever FA Cup final and their highest ever finish in the Premier League. A summer of investment followed as European football, also a first for the East Yorkshire side, had to be accounted for. The season began as it was to go on; an early exit from the Europa League and big-money signing Robert Snodgrass getting injured for the season on the season's opening day. A talented Hull City squad showed signs of promise along the way, but regularly failed to beat the sides in around them and after a 1-1 draw on the final day, they were relegated to the Championship.
9 Manchester City
Although Manchester City finished second in the division, few in the blue side of Manchester would disagree that the season has been a disappointment. Having won the title last season, there was little transfer activity by Manuel Pellegrini. As they stood still, Chelsea did not, and the Londoners ran away with the title this season. Finishing with a considerable eight point gap, Chelsea never seemed challenged by the Sky Blues and ran out seemingly comfortable champions. Further disappointment came in the cup competitions; crashing out of Europe at the hands of Barcelona and losing in the domestic cups to the more modest oppositions of Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle respectively. It remains to be seen whether Pellegrini will remain as Man City manager, but they will certainly be hoping for better next season.
Similarly to Man City, Roma are going to finish the season in second place. Generally outsiders to the big three; Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan, a second place finish would normally be seen as a great success in the capital, but there is an air of disappointment about it on this occasion. After considerable summer transfer activity, recruiting the likes of Juan Iturbe, Urby Immanuelson, Seydou Keita and Ashley Cole, Roma were expected to be the side who could challenge Juve's monopoly on Serie A. They have never looked prime to doing so. Only four points above Lazio, Roma are 16 points behind the champions Juventus. Perhaps the expectations on Roma to challenge Juve were too great, but if the club expected to do so, they have certainly failed.
Roberto Martinez enjoyed a hugely promising first season in charge of Everton. Challenging for the Champions League and playing a vibrant, passing-based, attacking style of place, things were looking rosy for the Toffees. In his second season, with youngsters like John Stones and Ross Barkley further developed, even greater things were expected of the Spaniard, and further optimism was sparked by the signing of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal for $43 million. It has not proved the case. A late surge has made the situation look a little better on the blue side of Merseyside, as Everton finished 11th. The fact remains, in February, the club were in a relegation battle, and although it was always expected that they'd have too much quality to drop, it is a startling underachievement from one of the brightest teams of the previous campaign.
Hamburg, or Hamburger SV, have the remarkable feat of being the only side in the Bundesliga to have never been relegated. Former European powerhouses, they have regularly challenged at the top of the league. A steady decline seems to have taken place in recent years, and after a terrible season last time out, this year was supposed to be a year of bouncing back. If anything, it has been even more disastrous. An 8-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in February humiliated this once great club, and they have finished the season in the relegation playoff places. A two-leg tie against Karlsruher SC will determine whether Hamburg are relegated for the first time in their history, which really would compound a miserable season.
5 Inter Milan
Inter Milan finished in fifth place last season, a terrible campaign by the club's high standards. Bouncing back was the aim, falling further has proven the reality. Treble winners under Jose Mourinho only five years ago, Inter have fallen in quite spectacular fashion. A weaker than normal squad still features the likes of Lukas Podolski, Nemanja Vidic and Rodrigo Palacio, but has done little to halt Inter's steep decline. With one game of the Serie A season left to play, Inter sit in eighth place, behind Genoa and Sampdoria, and not qualifying for a European competition for the first time in over a decade.
An impressive campaign by Lille saw them finish in third place, behind only the financial powerhouses of Monaco and PSG last season. With a relatively young squad, it was hoped the French outsiders would push on further this season, but they have been unable to do so. Not only are they way off the top teams, almost 30 points behind PSG in fact, they have also dropped below sides of similar or lesser stature than themselves. Languishing in eight place, Lyon, Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux and Montpellier have all leapfrogged them since last season as the side have massively underachieved. Ultimately, they finished closer in terms of points to relegation than they did to title winners PSG.
3 Borussia Dortmund
They may have restored some pride at the back end of the season, but it has to be said, Jurgen Klopp's last season at Borussia Dortmund was a huge letdown. From title challengers to relegation candidates, Dortmund spent the vast majority of the season in the bottom five before finally finding some form. As late as February they were still among the relegation fodder of the Bundesliga, despite maintaining a respectable Champions League campaign, only going out to eventual finalists Juventus. Dortmund rediscovered their old selves around March time and have put together an impressive run since then, finishing the season in seventh. Although their decent end to the season masks the disappointment somewhat, from second to seventh is a considerable drop for the supposed title challenger, who finished a whopping 33 points behind Bayern Munich.
2 AC Milan
It is no secret that both Milan clubs have hugely underachieved not just this year but over the last few, and both quite rightly make this list. European giants and the second most successful club in Champions League history behind only Real Madrid, AC Milan are undoubtedly one of Europe's traditional powerhouses. Domestic and European success is considered a given at the Italian giants, but their steep decline has run rather similarly alongside their crosstown rivals. Inter's eighth place finish is shocking, AC Milan's 10th placed finish is even more so. Wedged exactly half way down the Serie A table, AC Milan are now closer to relegated sides like Cesena and Parma than they are to the league champions Juventus. Underachievement on a mammoth scale by one of Europe's greatest clubs.
Liverpool ended the season in a catastrophic fashion, with a devastating 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Stoke in what was Steven Gerrard's last game for the club. Whilst the defeat was undoubtedly the most damning of the season, it has been a campaign full of disappointment for the Reds. Having lost the considerable talents of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and strike partner Daniel Sturridge to injury, Liverpool lost the most prolific strike force in the Premier League last season. The club re-invested the money made on Suarez, plus more, to ensure the club maintained its rise.
Despite having cash to burn and the lure of Champions League football, Rodgers' signings have been largely disappointing. Dejan Lovren, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli and Adam Lallana were all expensive acquisitions, who despite having age on their side, appear to have been poor deals. Rickie Lambert has failed to impact whilst Emre Can and Alberto Moreno have been fairly steady. Liverpool finished the season in sixth place, a four position drop on last season, and the heat is certainly on Brendan Rodgers, who finished only six points better off than his old club Swansea.