Last month, I made a video looking at 7 of the most improved teams so far this season, in comparison to last season. Feel free to give that video a watch if you haven’t already, I’ll stick up a link to it in the video description, but the top comment on that video from ‘Y T’ and a natural follow-up is a look at the exact opposite.
For every rise in football there is an inevitable fall, and in this seven, we’re taking a look at some of the steepest declines from across the sport this season. In addition to the seven themselves, there will be some honourable mentions between first and second place.
Here are 7 of the biggest team declines this season:
We get off to a strong start in this seven with a somewhat surprising and significant regression. Lyon finished third in the Ligue 1 table last season, three points behind Lille in second and six ahead of St-Etienne in third. Over the summer, Lyon had some pretty notable departures, but they did reinvest a lot of that transfer revenue. Ferland Mendy and Tanguy Ndombele alone brought in €110 million, and left a huge gap in the Lyon side, with Nabil Fekir the other major departee.
To plug that gap, Lyon reinvested somewhere in the region of €115 million on six players, as well bringing in a further two on free transfers. Danish centre-back Joachim Andersen, Brazilian midfielders Thiago Mendes and Bruno Guimaraes, and former Arsenal attacking midfielder Jeff Reine-Adelaide represented the four heftiest purchases, and all have made little impact this season. Reine-Adelaide was the one threatening to light a spark in the Lyon side, only for the club to see him rupture his ACL and be ruled out for the rest of the season.
Lyon’s decision not to extend Bruno Genesio’s stay at the Parc Olympique now looks a dubious one at best, with firstly Sylvinho, and now Rudi Garcia only having lurched from one crisis to another. Supporters are angry, ultras have caused controversy, and players are reportedly seeking transfers. The one shining light for Lyon up until Christmas had been Memphis Depay, who scored 14 goals in 17 games, dragging Lyon to the Champions League round of 16, before suffering a season-ending ACL rupture as well. Now without their best player, Lyon are in danger of being massacred by Juventus in the Champions League, they are languishing in the bottom half of the Ligue 1 table, and they’ve now gone four league games without a victory.
The 2018-19 season was a historic campaign for Kilmarnock, as Steve Clarke guided the club to a third place finish. It was the club’s highest league finish since 1966, and a record points tally for the club in the top flight. A dramatic 2-1 win against Rangers on the final day of the season saw Killie secure qualification for the Europa League, which would be the first time the club had played European football in almost 20 years.
Unfortunately for Kilmarnock, Clarke’s work at Rugby Park attracted the interest of the Scotland national team, meaning their manager departed over the following pre-season. Angelo Alessio replaced him, and the Italians tenure got off to a dreadful start, as all Killie’s hard work to qualify for the Europa League was undone by a defeat to semi-professional Welsh outfit Connah’s Quay Nomads in the first qualifying round.
There were ten departures and eleven new arrivals at Rugby Park over the summer, and that lack of stability has hurt the club. Following a particularly dreadful December, Alessio was replaced by his assistant Alex Dyer, who now has the job of trying to salvage Killie’s season. Kilmarnock have already lost as many games this season as they did all last season, now down in seventh in the Scottish Premiership table. They finished 11 points behind second place Rangers last season, but are now a whopping 31 points behind Steven Gerrard’s side.
Staying in Britain, but heading around seven hours south of Kilmarnock, in fifth place we have Arsenal. This is fairly poor timing for Arsenal’s inclusion in this seven, since the Gunners recorded a 4-0 victory against Newcastle United at the weekend. The fact remains, however, that before that win, Arsenal were level on points with Newcastle in the bottom half of the Premier League table. Victory lifted them three points clear of the Magpies and into tenth place, level on points with Burnley but one place ahead of the Clarets due to their goal difference.
That’s a pretty significant drop-off, given that in Unai Emery’s debut campaign last season, the Gunners finished fifth in the Premier League and reached the Europa League final. Emery has since departed, replaced by former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta, who has become something of a draw specialist at the Emirates. Arsenal are still in the Europa League, but replicating their fifth place finish last season will require a major improvement in their form between now and May. The Gunners didn’t have too many seismic departures in the summer, aside from Aaron Ramsey perhaps, and they had one real marquee signing in the form of Nicolas Pepe. Pepe is growing into life in the Premier League following a slow start, meanwhile fellow arrival Gabriel Martinelli looks to be the real deal, and is aged only 18.
4. Werder Bremen
Werder Bremen have been a fairly consistent mid-table Bundesliga side for most of the last ten years, and they finished eighth in the German top flight last season, missing out on Europa League qualification to Eintracht Frankfurt by just one point. Over the summer, Werder’s top scorer in each of the last three seasons Max Kruse departed for Fenerbahce on a fee transfer. Niclas Füllkrug returned to the Weserstadion as his replacement, but following a bright start, Fullkrug suffered a cruciate ligament rupture in September which has ruled him out ever since.
As a result, Werder are the second lowest scorers in the division, and they’re hugely reliant on top scorer Milot Rashica for both goals and creativity. Without him, Werder Bremen would probably be cut adrift at the foot of the Bundesliga table already. As things stand, they are second bottom, one point ahead of Paderborn, and five shy of the safety of Mainz in 15th place.
It’s a bleak outlook for the 2004 Bundesliga champions, who haven’t been relegated since 1980. In addition to the second worst attack, they have the poorest defence in the Bundesliga this season, having conceded more goals than any other club. Their goal difference of -26 in the worst in the division, and Werder have lost their last four league games on the trot. It’s a far cry from just missing out on Europa League qualification, and Florian Khofeldt has a job on his hands keeping Werder in the top flight of German football.
Moving into the top three, we’re now talking about some pretty cataclysmic declines this season. In third are St-Etienne, who finished fourth in Ligue 1 last season, five points clear of Marseille, to confirm qualification for this season’s Europa League. Following an excellent season, St-Etienne were hit hard with the disappointing but not wholly surprising news that Jean-Louis Gasset would be leaving the club that summer. Gasset, who previously worked as Laurent Blanc’s assistant, decided to step back from the sport aged 65, and he was in turn replaced by his assistant Ghislain Printant.
Remy Cabella was another notable summer departure, although St-Etienne’s big money sale William Saliba immediately returned to the club on-loan from Arsenal. For followers of the Premier League who don’t follow Ligue 1, St-Etienne have a number of familiar faces, such as former Sunderland duo Yann M’Vila and Wahbi Khazri, and former Newcastle duo Matheui Debuchy and Yohan Cabaye.
St-Etienne have dropped from 4th last season to 16th this season at the time of recording, already having lost three more games this season than they did all last season. Printant was sacked in October and replaced by Claude Puel, but following a terrific first month, things have fallen apart again since December. St-Etienne are now 12 points off Lille in 4th, and only two ahead of Dijon in 18th and that relegation play-off spot.
It’s been a season of declines for clubs from Barcelona, and that is even more emphatically the case with RCD Espanyol than it is with their neighbours FC Barcelona. Espanyol recorded their highest league finish in 15 years last season, finishing 7th in La Liga, earning UEFA Europa League qualification. Former Espanyol B winger Rubi orchestrated that success, but he paid off his release clause in the summer so he could leave Espanyol to take the reigns at Real Betis.
Rubi took Espanyol’s top scorer Borja Iglesias with him for a fee of €28 million, meanwhile Mario Hermoso departed in a €25 million move to Atletico Madrid. In those three alone, Espanyol had lost their manager, their best forward, and their best defender, so a difficult season was perhaps somewhat inevitable. They did spend almost €40 million in the summer though, before adding club record signing of Raul de Tomas to their ranks for €20 million in January.
In Catalonia, de Tomas has been in fine form since the turn of the year. His goals have seen an upturn in Espanyol’s form recently, but there’s still a long way to go. At the time of recording, Espanyol are bottom of the La Liga table with the worst goal difference in the division. They’re already on their third manager of the season, and Wolves will hope to capitalise on Espanyol’s chaotic campaign in the round of 16 in the Europa League.
0. Honourable Mentions
I will very quickly give some honourable, or dishonourable, mentions to the likes of West Ham, Watford, Middlesbrough, Spartak Moscow, Mansfield Town, Fortuna Dusseldorf, PSV, Bolton and AC Milan. Elsewhere, both Manchester City and Barcelona have declined off the back of two outstanding league campaigns, but arguably not to the extent of the other sides in this seven.
Napoli’s decline this season in comparison to last may not be the greatest in terms of points or league position in this seven, but it is arguably the most shocking. Napoli have worked hard to establish themselves as a real force in Serie A over the last few seasons, finishing 2nd in 2015-16, third in 2016-17, second in 2017-18, and second in 2018-19. In the 2017-18 season in particular, Napoli racked up a mightily impressive 91 points, losing just three league games all season and finishing only four points behind Scudetto winners Juventus.
You can take absolutely nothing for granted in this sport though, and whilst Lazio and Inter Milan are having excellent seasons and giving Juve a real title challenge, Napoli’s consistency has fallen by the wayside as they are nowhere to be seen. The team from Naples spent some real money in the summer, bringing in the likes of Kostas Manolas for €36 million and Hirving Lozano for €42 million.
Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t get a tune out of his new charges though, and in December, the now Everton boss was dismissed. Gennaro Gattuso was his replacement, and results have picked up a little over the last month. Napoli’s players have been hit with a string of muscle injuries this season, but even taking that into account, their decline has been quite something. From runners-up last season, they now occupy eighth place, two places shy of a Europa League spot. Napoli are a whopping 24 points behind Juventus and 23 points behind Lazio, yet they’re only 11 points above the relegation zone and 18 above last place, having lost more games this season than they did in the entire 2017-18 and 2016-17 campaigns combined.