The good, the bad and the shocking in European football so far in 2016-17

October 9, 2016 2:07 pm
As domestic nears completion of its second full month of the 2016-17 season, James Horncastle reviews the campaign so far on the continent.

The Good

Atletico Madrid | 1st, La Liga
After Atletico Madrid lost two Champions League finals in three years and shortened his contract, it was fair to wonder if manager Diego Simeone had taken this team as far as he could and whether he could still motivate them. Atleti, however, seem to be going forward, not backward. Their style remains the same, but they are now more expansive, making more passes and attempting more shots. Simeone is taking the hand brake off in midfield, playing Saul, Yannick Carrasco, Koke and Nico Gaitan.
Bayern Munich | 1st, Bundesliga
The high standards established by Pep Guardiola have led some in Munich to already argue that Bayern are regressing under Carlo Ancelotti, despite taking 16 points from a possible 18 in the Bundesliga. Disjointed and not entirely convincing against Schalke, Hamburg nor in the Champions League group-stage loss to Atletico, the intensity of old isn’t there, which is frightening, considering they still started the year with eight straight wins and seven clean sheets.
Monaco | 2nd, Ligue 1
It’s been one extreme to the other at Monaco: lavish spenders three years ago (€160 million) and fire sellers ever since (bringing in £263m), they restored some balance over the summer. Monaco kept their best players, principally Bernardo Silva, their elegant playmaker, and shrewdly rebuilt the defence. Wins against Paris Saint-Germain and away to Tottenham mean they should be taken seriously.

Atletico Madrid have rebounded from another heartbreaking Champions League final defeat to lead La Liga.

AC Milan | 6th, Serie A
Many feared the worst for Milan this season. They spent peanuts in the summer. New manager Vincenzo Montella has had to make do with what he has and adapt his style to fit the personnel, and his young team is doing better than expected. Gigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Davide Calabria, Mattia de Sciglio, Manuel Locatelli, Suso and M’baye Niang all are 23 or under. Unbeaten in four games, the team is showing character, and Montella has sorted out the defence.

The Bad

Valencia | 18th, La Liga
Since Peter Lim bought Valencia two years ago, the club has had six different coaches, including Voro as caretaker. It’s hard amid all that instability for a culture and a structure to remain intact, even more so when the turnover of players is so high. Valencia lost their captain and top scorer Paco Alcacer, star midfielders Andre Gomes and Sofiane Feghouli and centre-back Shkodran Mustafi (replaced by Eliaquim Mangala) in the summer. Incoming manager Cesare Prandelli has a huge job on his hands.
Hamburg | 18th, Bundesliga
The Dinosaur isn’t facing extinction, but its top-flight survival is under threat once again. A little like Aston Villa in England last year, they have been circling the drain for a while now and are not too big to go down. The managers change — Bruno Labbadia became the eighth coaching casualty since he was last fired by the club in 2010 — but tellingly, the results remain the same, pointing awkwardly to chronic mismanagement upstairs.
Marseille | 14th, Ligue 1
The completion of Frank McCourt’s takeover can’t come soon enough. When you look at the players Marseille have lost in the past year — Steve Mandanda, Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet, Michy Batshuayi and Andre-Pierre Gignac — it’s not hard to understand why they are struggling. Manager Franck Passi is out of his depth and looks likely to become passe very soon.

Bafetimbi Gomis’ Marseille has struggled this season, and lie a lowly 14th in Ligue 1.

Crotone | 20th, Serie A
You have to go all the way back to 1995 to find a team with a solitary point after seven games in Serie A (Padova). It was always going to be a struggle for Crotone after they lost their manager, Ivan Juric, and top scorer, Ante Budimir, in the summer. Playing their home games 400 kilometres away in Pescara doesn’t help, and off-the-pitch problems threaten to make life even more complicated.

The Shocks

Barcelona | 4th, La Liga
Relative to what we expect from Barcelona, defeats to Celta Vigo (for the second time in two seasons), newly promoted Alaves and the need to come back from behind against Borussia Monchengladbach have all raised eyebrows. Much of the blame falls on Luis Enrique’s shoulders. Excessive rotation and getting his tactics wrong have all played more of a role than Lionel Messi’s absence through injury since the draw with Atleti.
Paris Saint-Germain | 3rd, Ligue 1
The worst start to a season in the Qatari era, PSG are adjusting to a new coach and to life without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There has been a fallout with Hatem Ben Arfa and tension between Unai Emery and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after defeats to Monaco, a title contender, and Toulouse, a talented young side.
Schalke | 16th, Bundesliga
It wasn’t supposed to be like this after the shrewd appointments of Christian Heidel as Schalke’s new director of sport and Markus Weinzierl as head coach. The season started with five straight defeats, as a technically gifted team assembled by Heidel initially struggled to adapt to Weinzierl’s reactive midfield pressing game. With time, however, they should come good.
Internazionale | 9th, Serie A
Embarrassed by Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Sparta Prague in , Inter have gone behind in eight of their nine games this season, losing four of them. To be fair to boss Frank de Boer, he only started work 10 days before the start of the campaign, and the Nerazzurri‘s position in Serie A feels like a false one. Inter’s performances have been better than their results suggest, and a victory in the Derby d’Italia gave an idea of what this team is capable of.

Mauro Icardi’s Inter sit just ninth in Serie A and have trailed in eight of nine games this season.

The Surprises

Las Palmas | 7th, La Liga
More famous in recent years as the part of the Canary Islands that produced Juan Carlos Valeron, Vitolo and David Silva, promoted Las Palmas were briefly top for the first time in 38 years, managed to upset crisis-stricken Valencia on opening night and held European champions Real Madrid to a draw. Only Barcelona have scored more goals in La Liga this season.
RB Leipzig | 5th, Bundesliga
Haters are going to hate the club Red Bull billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz gave wings to seven years ago. However, Leipzig’s strategy, as masterminded by Ralf Rangnick, has been impeccable. And their 1-0 league win over Borussia Dortmund made a big statement. RB have made the best-ever start in the Bundesliga by a promoted club and could even challenge for a Champions League place.
Nice | 1st, Ligue 1
Top of Ligue 1, Nice continue to improve. They lost their manager Claude Puel and best player in Ben Arfa in the summer. But the transition has been handled brilliantly. A spine of Dante, Younes Belhanda and Mario Balotelli looks decent enough for Lucien Favre to repeat what he achieved at Gladbach and get this team into the Champions League.
Chievo | 5th, Serie A
Their strikers have scored just twice, and the teams in the relegation zone are the only sides to average fewer shots per game, but Chievo find themselves a single point behind second-place Napoli. They shocked Inter at the Bentegodi. Efficient and tactically astute, the Flying Donkeys are not Negative Nellies; coach Rolando Maran hands out bonuses for a successful dribble.
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