Early season analysis: Can top teams recover from a bad start?
Early season analysis: Can top teams recover from a bad start?

Early season analysis: Can top teams recover from a bad start?

There are several major clubs across the ‘big five’ European leagues that are enduring a difficult start to the season, but how much trouble are they in?

We’ve looked back at the previous 10 seasons to understand what counts as a bad start.

Who is struggling this season?

Some of the biggest clubs in Europe are finding things tough in their domestic leagues this season.

In the Premier League, Chelsea and Liverpool have started slowly, with the Blues having sacked Thomas Tuchel and the Reds needing to “reinvent themselves” – according to manager Jurgen Klopp – after a string of poor displays culminated in a 4-1 thrashing by Napoli in the Champions League.

Both sit outside the European places having played six games, with Chelsea seventh and Liverpool eighth.

Across the past 10 seasons, around a quarter of teams with nine (Liverpool) or 10 (Chelsea) points from the opening six matches go on to qualify automatically for Europe.

Over in La Liga, Sevilla have won just one of their opening six games for a total of five points, while Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad are also outside the European spots.

Meanwhile, Italian giants Inter and Juventus are stuttering domestically, with both trailing the top six in Serie A at the first international break.

In Germany, Leverkusen and Leipzig are playing in the Champions League but have managed just three wins in 14 Bundesliga games between them.

While a third of teams in the past decade have finished in the top six from Leipzig’s position after seven matches, no side has gone on to qualify for Europe with Leverkusen’s current points tally.

In France, Kasper Schmeichel’s new club Nice have won just two of eight Ligue 1 games this term and are faced with repeating their unlikely feat from 2012-13, when they qualified for Europe on the back of eight points from this stage.

Will they recover?

Automatic qualification for Europe varies across the big five leagues.

The top four in England, Spain, Italy and Germany qualify for the Champions League, while entry is limited to the top three in France.

Europa League and Conference League spots are allocated to teams based on their league finish or cup success.

Using average performance by the last automatic qualifier across the past 10 years, we’ve looked at the likelihood of top teams from the previous season recovering from a poor start.

The success rate is 50 per cent or better in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, but it falls below half in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.

Among teams that suffered the biggest falls from grace, Italian side Parma were the only ones that went on to be relegated in 2014-15.

Just one season after finishing in the top six, the two-time UEFA Cup winners finished bottom having declared bankruptcy, and were refounded the following year in Serie D.

Elsewhere, Monaco suffered a significant demise in 2018-19, narrowly avoiding a relegation play-off in 17th having ended as runners-up in the previous year, while Newcastle ended 16th in 2013-14 having finished fifth under Alan Pardew in the season before.

Eintracht Frankfurt showed that it’s not all about league form, however, as they won the Europa League despite struggling to an 11th-place finish in the Bundesliga.

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