Europe’s big three: What’s gone wrong?

Richard Hazeldine Richard Hazeldine

If you had predicted just three weeks ago that the coaches of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich would be under threat of losing their jobs two months into the new season then people would probably have thought you had lost your mind.

But that is the situation that Julen Lopetegui, Ernesto Valverde and Niko Kovac suddenly find themselves in as all three teams have embarked on disastrous runs of form.

FOX Sports Asia analyses what’s been going on in Germany and Spain.

Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich (Last four games: W0, D2, L2)

After a stellar start that saw Bayern win their first seven games under his tenure, things have gone pear-shaped pretty quickly for the Croat. The Bavarians have now drawn one and lost two in their last three Bundesliga games, while they could only manage a lacklustre home draw with Ajax in their most recent Champions League fixture.
Bayern staff put on a brave face during their visit to Oktoberfest at the weekend, but behind the scenes they must be very worried. Reports suggest that Kovac’s rotation policy has upset several senior members of the squad, and as Carlo Ancelotti found out to his peril, player power is a thing at the Allianz Arena.
Performances have also been poor, with last week’s 3-0 home defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach exposing serious problems on the pitch with shambolic defending for the third goal.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness has come out with a public show of support for Kovac, but if he can’t solve the apparent dressing room rift and improve performances after the international break then don’t be surprised if a change is made.

Julen Lopetegui, Real Madrid (Last four games: W0, D1, L3)

Things were always going to be tough for Madrid following the departure of both Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, although it’s safe to say fans didn’t expect them to be this tough. After a decent start to post-Ronaldo life, Madrid have suddenly slumped and slumped badly.
The goals have dried up – Madrid have not found the net in four games – and a shock defeat in Europe to CSKA Moscow has put the cat among the pigeons, with the new coach firmly in the firing line.
It is perhaps also a little unfair on Lopetegui given injuries to Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, that he doesn’t exactly have many top-quality options should he wish to freshen things up.
There has been a distinct lack of transfer activity at the Santiago Bernabeu in the last couple of seasons. While Danilo, James, Alvaro Morata, Mateo Kovacic and Ronaldo have all been allowed to leave, only Thibaut Courtois, Mariano and Vinicius Jr. have been signed, leaving the coach with scant options.
Another reason could be Lopetegui himself. Despite successful stints in charge of Spain’s U19s, U21s and an undefeated 20-game reign with the national team, Lopetegui has a mediocre record at club level, and has never won a domestic trophy, even during a two-year spell with Porto. Perhaps the Madrid job was a case of too much, too soon for the hard-working 52-year old?

Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona (Last five games: W1, D3, L1)

The final manager under pressure is Barca’s Valverde, and although the Blaugrana haven’t been performing quite as badly as the other two European giants, the affable 54-year old is still the subject of much speculation over his future.
Valverde seems unsure about his best line-up, especially in defence where he has chopped and changed his back four in almost every game, although he hasn’t been helped by some uncharacteristic errors from the normally reliable Gerard Pique. Given time Valverde will be hopeful that he can settle on his best line up. The question is will he be given that time?
When it comes down to the crunch, Valverde is perhaps a victim of his own success having lead Barca to a domestic double in his debut campaign while almost going the whole season undefeated .
That was always going to be a tough act to follow, but if he can deliver in Europe then all else may be forgiven. The recent win over Spurs at Wembley was a reminder that Barca still have what it takes to succeed in Europe. It is now down to Valverde to prove he can harness that quality and turn it into a Champions League trophy.

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