The New Year is in full swing, but we’re still in the middle of most elite club seasons, which means now is the perfect time for teams to energetically pursue some resolutions for 2016. The narratives ongoing are manifold as clubs vie for silverware, pride and points, and the excitement is certainly continuing to rise from week to week.
Across the board fire, passion and desire all play huge parts in helping teams achieve their matchday objectives as clubs look to stay in touch. However, sometimes things don't exactly go according to plan even with these characteristics in place - even for the most strong and talented of squads. It can be a perplexing and frustrating experience for fans and players alike when things don't click on the field of play, especially when there are few clear-cut reasons behind it all.
Sometimes, it can lead to vocal protests, angry hoards of fans and a massive blow to the players' collective confidence. It's nothing new to see big names flop or underperform as there have been some notable examples down through the years. Who could forget the way Blackburn Rovers spectacularly failed to deliver following their Premier League triumph in the 1994/95 campaign?
Before every new season starts, there are predictions and conjecture aplenty from pundits and fans across the board as to how events will pan out, but arguably the most intriguing thread from all of this guesswork are the big teams who underwhelm.
Whether it has been the iconic institutions who have always boasted a history of being beacons of football brilliance or the teams who have only recently risen as "top dogs" there have been a plethora of sides who have fallen below their usual mark.
Intrigued to find out who has been included in our feature? Scroll on down to read the full list.
15 VfL Wolfsburg
To kick-start our list, let’s take a look at Vfl Wolfsburg who have been so far off the pace this season, it’s been a bit of a head-scratcher. Reflecting back on the summer of 2015, the players, fans and backroom staff were basking in the positivity of their runner-up spot in the German Bundesliga. Sure, they finished 10 points behind the winners Bayern Munich, but they were never going to catch Die Roten.
Now, they’re struggling badly outside the Champions League places, even with Julian Draxler, Bas Dost, Andre Schurrle and others, and they have had to contend themselves with some really patchy form. In truth, there’s little hope they’ll emulate what they achieved last year. What they would give to have a player of Edin Dzeko’s ability again.
14 SK Galatasaray
Since the end of October, Galatasaray have been on a pretty poor run. In short, they’ve not been performing to the standards they should be reaching. Already, the Lions are well off the pace domestically and have found it tough to keep up with the top two - they've already conceded the same amount of goals as 15th place Genclerbirligi.
Eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages, it really hasn’t gone according to plan for the Turkish Super Lig club in the big events. Boasting such world-class names as Wesley Sneijder, Lukas Podolski and Burak Yilmaz they were expected to put up more of a fight across the board.
13 S.S. Lazio
Lazio are the first of two clubs from Rome, Italy to feature on our list as they have been far from inspiring in the Serie A throughout the 2015/16 campaign. To put that more bluntly – at best they have been inconsistent, at worst they have been a shambles, especially when one remembers how good they were last season.
In short, they finished just one point off second place in the league in 2015 and played some pretty attractive football along the way. The fans are obviously not happy (and that’s putting it mildly) because they recently expressed their exasperation and intense frustration at the team’s poor form by leaving 10 bags of manure outside the training ground. Talk about a dirty protest.
12 Valencia CF
The arrival of Gary Neville into the dugouts at the Mestalla Stadium has excited quite a lot of people, none less than Manchester United fans keen to see how the former Red Devil fares in a top-level managerial role. However, it’s obviously the Valencia fans who are watching his foray into management with the most interest, as well as bated breath and a large amount of intrigue.
Los Che have not been experiencing the best campaign at all and they're currently going through a spell of real mediocrity. They recently went through the whole of December without a single league win (they lost once and drew three times). Even though they managed to wrangle a point off Real Madrid at the turn of the New Year, it’s clear there remains a whole lot of improvements to be made for the team who deservedly finished one point behind third-placed Atletico Madrid in 2015.
11 AS Roma
If there was one season that AS Roma should have been pushing harder than ever for the league title, it should have been this one. Much like in England, Italy’s elite league is in a state of chaos, and nothing is really going according to plan for anybody. It seems as if it will be the least inconsistent team who take home the Scudetto this time around and not the most consistent.
They’ve not lain claim to the Serie A crown since 2001, and it doesn’t look like it will happen this year either because they’ve just not been on point often enough and have failed to sparkle with enough conviction. Frankly, they have baffled pundits and journalists alike because their squad is good enough to consider a Champions League place a guarantee, but it’s simply not working out that way.
10 Manchester City
So, they’re one of the favorites for the Premier League title and have a League Cup final to look forward to, but Manchester City have been far from their best this term. The Citizens have not swept through the league like many anticipated they would, and they’ve not played with their usual flair. What's more they've relied on Sergio Aguero a bit too much at times.
There had been pressure on Manuel Pellegrini to play attractive football, and that certainly made the task even more taxing for him, and now that Pep Guardiola has been confirmed as the next manager, he'll want to leave the club with a bang.. So far, they’ve been flat in a number of key games. Against Liverpool, they folded; against Leicester they looked deflated; when they visited north London, they were beaten by Arsenal; they were also outplayed by Stoke City. Things need to change quickly if they’re to capture some silverware.
It has been an interesting season for Liverpool fans so far. Having watched Brendan Rodgers get sacked, fans of the Reds saw themselves get a very early Christmas present when Jurgen Klopp was unveiled as the new manager. Since then, the fire and heart has returned to their play, but it’s clear the club is still going through a transitional period as they have had real trouble finding the back of the net.
It’s been unappetizing for the die-hard red half of Merseyside watching their team battle in mid-table because the club is an iconic institution, they have won the Champions League five times and they have always been an uber-recognizable fabric in the make-up of English football. The proactive and endearing Klopp will get them firing consistently again but for now it’s safe to say Liverpool have definitely underwhelmed, especially in the net-rattling department. Perhaps a League Cup trophy will turn things around once and for all.
The transformation Southampton have undergone in recent months has been in direct contrast to the one they enjoyed during the 2014/15 campaign. When they were once the league’s triumphant underdogs come to steal points from the best and push for a UEFA Champions League place, they have quickly become a team who seem to have lost traction and are incapable of maintaining some much-needed motivation.
Their squad is brimming with brilliance and they have some wonderful goal-scorers amongst their ranks. Sadly, though, Ronald Koeman has found it tough to get their mojo going again, and the Saints have seen their form disappoint on a number of occasions, despite the odd moment of magic. To quantify: at the end of January last year, they were fourth and had lost just six games. They’ve already lost eight times. Perhaps new signing Charlie Austin can re-boot their magic.
7 Real Madrid
Under Rafael Benitez, Real Madrid stumbled from match to match both domestically and in Europe, and although they picked up some huge victories against the minnows and didn’t lose sight of the top two enough to be ruled out of the La Liga title chase, they were far from frightening force they’ve historically been, and they were no match for their direct rivals in direct combat (they’re 4-0 defeat to Barcelona the best proof of that). The Spaniard’s recent sacking underlines just how deep the real problems lie, however.
Now that Zinedine Zidane has entered the fray, there is real hope that Los Blancos can emerge as a Spanish superpower once more, but opinion remains divided on just how positive their future can be, especially with a very restrictive transfer ban looming. The future is uncertain, but what’s clear from the recent past is that Madrid have been regularly been poor by their own high standards and the fans, who have already expressed serious discontent, will expect a hell of a lot better moving forward.
6 Queens Park Rangers
Sure, they were relegated from the Premier League last season, but Queens Park Rangers’ drastic form has not been the least bit expected. Getting sucked back down into the Championship is normally a draining experience for most teams, but the “Rs” are a big London club and many anticipated that they would come good again and challenge for the promotion spots.
That hasn’t happened and they’ve been on a rather terrible run of form ever since the start of the current season. They’ve lost far more games than they have won. Possessing a pretty strong squad with the likes of Rob Green and Junior Hoilett has made their capitulation all the more baffling.
5 AC Milan
Try to argue that AC Milan are no longer one of the biggest clubs in world football and you’ll be laughed out of the room by many of their loyal supporters, and yet they have been unable to back that claim up with the right type of performances on the pitch. Once a superpower of European football who won the Champions League seven times, they have really fallen by the wayside in recent seasons and are nowhere near the sort of team they used to be.
Competing against their fierce inner-city rivals Inter Milan in the Derby della Madonnina is still something they will continue to do, but it is the Nerazzurri who are in top form and not the Rossoneri. They lack magic and spark (the one big positive has been the performances of 16-year-old wunderkind Gianluigi Donnarumma) and should count themselves incredibly lucky to nab even a Europa League spot. They have one foot in the Coppa Italia final but it's hard to imagine them winning it against Juventus.
4 Olympique Lyonnais
Considering they finished in second place in the French Ligue 1 last season, it’s been surprising to see Lyon wallow so disappointingly. All in all, they lost seven league matches last season, and they have already lost more than that mid-way through the campaign which is proof of just how far the once mighty have tumbled. Let’s not forget, this is the same club who once won seven league crowns in a row from 2001 to 2008.
Now, Les Gones are struggling to compete against the likes of Angers, Montpellier and Nice and were even hammered 5-1 by reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain. There’s a long and arduous road to capturing silverware ahead of them and it will take an almighty war chest to get them rolling again.
Going by their Ligue 1 performances and how they dipped dramatically from 2014 to 2015, Marseille are certainly worthy of their place on our list. Let’s out this into context for people; after 20 league matches last season Les Phoceens were second in the table with 41 points, well in contention to fight hard for the championship trophy. This time around, they’re languishing near mid-table.
Of course, they lost plenty of senior players during the summer window as well as seeing their manager get the axe not long into the current season. However, they should not have been as uninspiring as they are. The likes of minnows Angers, Caennes and Nice have totally outperformed them, which fortifies the notion that they really have been below par even considering the raft of changes. After all, they have Michy Batshuayi, Remy Cabella and Abu Diaby so they really should be doing better.
Whether you liked Jose Mourinho or not, it was interesting watching the “Special One” attempting to cope during his final months at Chelsea. Bereft of any method or madness to cajole his team into playing winning football, the Blues eventually slipped closer and closer to the relegation zone with the Portuguese supremo seemingly earmarked for the sack weeks before the axe eventually came down. Although they had won the league title just months previously, they were quickly left scrambling around for any semblance of form and a few goals.
The deterioration was a marked, rapid one and it underlined just how manic the Premier League has become in recent months. Nobody is safe, not even the top dogs. Seeing them crumble from untouchable champions to relegation battlers was a shocking spectacle but it certainly made for entertaining viewing for so many people (except their fans). Guus Hiddink has restored some balance, but there is still a long way for them to go.
1 Manchester United
It’s no secret that Manchester United have been absolutely abysmal this season. Under Louis van Gaal, they look bereft of attacking ideas, stagnant in their play and incredibly underwhelming in contrast to what people have come to expect from such an iconic club. With Wayne Rooney misfiring, their big-money signings failing to inspire and the fans becoming increasingly frustrated with the direction of the club, things have been far from rosy at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils are 13-time Premier League winners, but it looks as though a drastic overhaul needs to be completed before they can dream of hitting those heights again. They can't even dream of Pep Guardiola entering the fray to get things clicking again as he is set to join their noisy neighbours next season. For now, they'll have to hope their recent 3-0 win against Stoke City is the start of a new beginning