Europe in Shambles

Sunan and Ahmed write about the good, the bad, and the ugly in European soccer this season.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

With January just around the corner, the midway point of European soccer seasons is here. As is expected during the midseason, debates about which teams are underperforming and which teams are performing better than expected are beginning to get heated. Here’s what we think:

The Good

Borussia Dortmund:

Borussia Dortmund sit at the top of the Bundesliga at the time of writing. Even if Bayern have a successful second half of the season, we just can’t see Dortmund choking on this one.

There’s something about this year’s Dortmund team: they play with purpose and press their opponents high up the pitch, an effective strategy given their youthful core, with time and stamina on their side. As soon as they win the ball back, they have the players they need in advanced positions, ready to attack in seconds.

If you watch a Dortmund game, you see just how much of a threat they are on the counter. For much of this season, American wonderkid Christian Pulisic has been injured, with Jadon Sancho taking his place. The skillful winger has played so well (five goals and eight assists in 19 games) that Pulisic will have to earn back his spot. Marco Reus is back to his best after a career ravaged with injury, but the creative German is looking to leave injury in the past. Paco Alcacer has been instrumental off the bench, scoring key goals throughout the season and earning the top spot on the Bundesliga scoring charts. Their attacking prowess is impressive, but any team is only as good as their defense, and Dortmund have been stellar this season. After shaky defending last season, Lucien Favre has definitely worked with his backline in training. He realized they were struggling to defend set pieces so he bought center-back Dan-Axel Zagadou, a towering presence at 6’ 5”, into the starting line-up.

Dortmund’s best player, though, is definitely right-back Achraf Hakimi. Sure, the aforementioned attackers score the goals, but Hakimi is the transition between defense and attack. He wins the ball, runs at players, plays perfect crosses to teammates, and even chips in with a goal here and there. His form will have Real Madrid ruing letting the Moroccan go on loan.


Did we expect any less? When a team goes out and signs a man who is in the conversation to be the greatest of all time, the team will inevitably get better. Of course, this man just happens to be the metahuman that is Cristiano Ronaldo. As it has been throughout its history, Juventus’s defensive backline has been among Europe’s best, conceding few goals, executing those patented timely aggressive challenges, and holding down the fort with only three at the back with the full-backs playing more like wing-backs. Miralem Pjanic’s development into a top-tier midfielder, the addition of defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi, and the unstoppable rise of Paulo Dybala have allowed Juventus to control the midfield and maintain forward pressure.

But it has ultimately been the addition of Ronaldo to the front attacking line that looks to push Juventus over the top and into the European throne. Ronaldo and Mandzukic have created one of the deadliest one-two punch strike partnerships in Europe, with Mandzukic acting as a class number nine target man and Ronaldo doing what he has done throughout his entire career: scoring with the right foot, left foot, head, and any other part of the body in any position in the attacking third. After a slow start, Ronaldo and Mandzukic have taken everything Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa, and Paulo Dybala has fed them and turned them into goals and points on a matchday basis. But Juventus have been winning the Serie A in Italy for consecutive seasons now before Ronaldo got there. Juventus have been on the brink of winning the UEFA Champions League for years now, often falling short to Ronaldo’s former team, Real Madrid. But with Ronaldo crossing enemy lines, Juventus as of right now seems poised to lift the famous old trophy in Madrid in June.

The Bad

Real Madrid:

The “Royal Whites” have not played like the kings of Europe so far this year. As the current champions of Europe until the next winner is crowned in June, Madrid have not neared the high standards they set for themselves last year. Ronaldo’s departure was a huge loss, with the Portuguese winger scoring most of Madrid’s goals last season. But the team’s problem is far bigger.

Madrid have the firepower with Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema, and Mariano Diaz more than capable of scoring goals. The team just can’t seem to score goals. They don’t have a pep in their step, and that can only be explained by the loss of Ronaldo’s locker room presence. Ronaldo was a respected figure in the locker room, with everyone looking up to him. When Madrid conceded goals last season, he would rally the troops and provide the emotional push for his teammates. But without that, the players seem like they don’t have a reason to play. They aren’t creative in attack and are poor in defense. They need a leader to step up and whip them back into shape or this season will only go down hill. Now we’re not saying that Madrid are doomed. They have shown glimpses of their potential, with Bale and Benzema scoring, but they are leaking goals, and their victories are too narrow. Sergio Ramos needs to control the backline and make sure they work on their weaknesses in training because weaker teams are creating too many chances against them.


Bayern Munich, the record champions of Germany, the death star of the Bundesliga, have looked like a shell of themselves so far this year. Coming into the season, the addition of promising young midfielder Leon Goretzka, who Bayern purchased from Schalke on a pre-contract, and the return of world-class keeper Manuel Neuer had the Bavarian-hopeful believing a treble would not be out of reach. Early wins in the super-cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim, Leverkusen, and Schalke in the Bundesliga, and Benfica in the UCL (all in convincing fashion), had Nico Kovacic’s men riding high early into his first season of coaching the record champions.

Then Bayern began to stumble. The defending German champions dropped points in underwhelming ties against Augsburg (Bundesliga) and Ajax (UCL), and were simply outclassed by Monchengladbach in a 3-0 thrashing. This allowed for German rivals Borussia Dortmund to take top position on the Bundesliga table. Matters only worsened for the defending champions when they squandered two leads against Dortmund away from home, allowing Dortmund to extend the gap between the two by seven points with a 3-2 despite a good performance from Robert Lewandowski. The following matchday didn’t fare much better for Bayern, as they tied at home 3-3 with Fortuna Dusseldorf, a recently promoted team, choking away two two-goal leads. The problem for Bayern has not been going forward; world-class attacking players like Lewandowski and James Rodriguez have produced goals in these underwhelming performances.

But Bayern’s defense is pitiful to be generous. Neuer has not been the same after his foot/leg injury and the year layoff; he looks to have fallen off from the greatest keeper in the world to simply above average. Jerome Boateng doesn’t have a sense of where he is on the pitch and is failing to follow through on tackles, with some of his worst displays being against Dortmund and Dusseldorf. And worst for last, Niklas Sule. Niklas Sule is playing like a tugboat on the pitch. He looks slow, confused, and probably couldn’t man-mark a tree right now if asked. As for Niko Kovac, he hasn’t exactly done much to address these problems either. Kovac has utterly failed to adjust his tactics to patch up the hole going through the center of his defense. Unfortunately for him, for a club with a history of championships and as high standards as Bayern, a sacking might be in order for Kovac if he doesn’t salvage this self-destructing death star with its vulnerable point smack dab in the middle of his last line of defense.

And the Ugly


Monaco came into this season with high hopes of challenging French champions Paris Saint Germain. With the acquisition of Aleksandr Golovin, the Russian who took the World Cup by storm last summer as well as high potential players all over France under the tutelage of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, the club looked strong, but at this point, that has all fallen apart. At this point, they find themselves knocked out of the Champion League, getting just one point from five games. They sit in the relegation zone in Ligue 1, two points away from safety. Henry pulled off some sort of miracle to still be in a job with the team in shambles. Henry is not totally at fault, however, with injuries plaguing squad. Much of the starting lineup is injured, and many players are forced to play out of position. With such bad luck, Monaco can only hope to escape relegation and use the summer to regroup and build up again.

Manchester United:

Coming into the season, the Red Devils were all looking forward to Jose Mourinho’s historically magical third season. The chosen one spoke highly of his previous success managing clubs like Chelsea and Real Madrid in his third season, both of which he won the league with. But Manchester United’s season has been disappointing thus far, to say the least. The reds look anemic, struggling to salvage points from teams from middle and lower levels of the Premier League Table. West Ham put a 3-1 scoreline on that exemplified their frustrations against lesser opponents willing to be more patient that they are. As for facing higher level opponents, United fans should be hitting the panic button. Tottenham embarrassed the Red Devils at the Theater of Dreams in Manchester with a 3-0 scoreline. United was then lucky to scrape a point away from Chelsea. But it was all summed up in the horrible performance against cross-town rivals Manchester City that colored Manchester blue for what seems to be years to come, as City look to be in prime position to win the title, currently 16 points above United. The only thing saving Mourinho’s job right now is a win against Juventus in the UCL, in which he excessively gloated for a man whose team sits in seventh place right now, to say the least. With the Premier League virtually out of reach and their Champions League chances looking slim, United are wasting a talented roster, especially midfielder Paul Pogba. It is a shame for a club as historically great as Manchester United that their greatest achievement in the Premier League this season is a comeback win against Newcastle.