European football: A season of upsets

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
May 8th, 2004 • 11:18 pm

The season is not entirely over yet, but the verdict is already in: This is definitely a year of major upsets.

In England, Arsenal’s deserved grip on the title is not a big surprise, but Manchester United is having a dreadful run in the closing stages (3 defeats, 1 draw, and 1 victory in their last 5 games), and their 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Old Trafford yesterday was not enough to prevent Chelsea from clinching the second spot in the league. Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty, and was very fortunate to be gifted a goal by the Chelsea keeper in the closing stages of the game. At this stage, I am not sure I would bet against lowly Milwall causing a bit of a surprise in the FA Cup final! (Apart from beating Arsenal in the semi-final, Manchester United have not exactly impressed in that competition either.) And Chelsea, even though they finish second, will end the season without any trophies, which is sure to be a disappointment with all the money that was poured into the club by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovic.

In Germany, Manchester United counterparts Bayern Munich are having a similarly disappointing season, with a home loss 1-3 to Werder Bremen that gifts the title to Bremen. Bayern haven’t won anything this season, and it’s only the second time this has happened since 1996.

In Spain, Real Madrid have just lost at home yet again (!), and they too are now facing a season without any trophies — which is probably even more shocking than the situation in England or Germany.

In Italy, the final table is not as surprising, but with AC Milan clinching the title with 4 games left to play, and all the usual suspects in the top 6 spots, but the point gap between first-place AC Milan (79) and third-place Juventus (63) is still rather shocking.

In European competitions, no one could have predicted the two finals that we are going to have: Monaco – FC Porto in the Champions’ League, and Marseille – Valencia in the UEFA Cup. This is a tremendous achievement for French clubs, and I don’t think anyone can deny that Monaco and Marseille fully deserve to be there. More importantly, however, all the big names are missing this year: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan…

The only major European league where things are still very tense is the French league. After being at the top with a comfortable lead for most of the season, Monaco have slipped in recent weeks, probably in part because of their on-going involvement in the Champions’ League, but they are still very much in the running, and today’s home game against Marseille will be crucial. Olympique Lyon were not exactly impressive yesterday at Metz and were quite fortunate to clinch all three points after having been thoroughly dominated in the entire first half by a team that’s not yet out of relegation trouble.

All in all, this season in Europe definitely has a “changing of the guard” feel. This will need to be confirmed over the next few years, of course, but it has been refreshing to see the giants tumble and (relatively) humble teams taking over. It’ll be interesting to see whether this trend will have any impact on the Euro 2004 competition coming in a month or so, where each major national team will feature a mix of players coming from the tumbling giants and players coming from teams on the rise.

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