The 2014-15 European soccer seasons were, for the most part, largely unsurprising. Barcelona, thought to be in a “crisis mode” as of a year ago, made their way back to the top of the Spanish La Liga. Juventus continued to apologetically reign over Serie A for yet another season, and that trend does not appear to be ending anytime soon. Jose Mourinho resumed his role as the “Special One” in helping guide Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League table. Oh yeah. Bayern Munich also hopped, skipped and jumped to yet another Bundesliga crown.
At the other end of the spectrum were the sides that found ways to let their supporters down at points during campaigns. That includes multiple Serie A clubs that failed to meet high expectations had for them as of last August, and also a couple of Premier League teams that were unable to make life too difficult for Chelsea in the month of May. Last but certainly not least are the Spanish giants that have, over the years, made history with money spent on transfer fees. Cash that was spent by the team did the club little good for the 2014-15 campaign.
10 Bayern Munich
Hear me out before you scoff at this suggestion. Of course Bayern Munich cruised to yet another Bundesliga title. That is exactly what is supposed to happen these days considering the state of German soccer. Bayern fell to Borussia Dortmund in the 2014 DFL-Supercup. The league champs were eliminated from the DFB-Pokal by Dortmund in the semifinal round of that competition. Barcelona cruised to an easy triumph over Bayern in the semifinal stages of the Champions League. The harsh truth of the matter is that winning the league is only worth so much to Bayern as of 2014-15.
9 Newcastle United
It is a lovely story that Newcastle United were able to avoid catastrophe and a drop down to the Championship, but this team is not supposed to have to hold off the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Burnley and Hull City. Alan Pardew seems to be the smartest man in the room heading into the summer months, as the disgraced former Newcastle boss guided Crystal Palace to a tenth-place finish while Newcastle needed a victory on the final day of the campaign to remain in the Premier League for at least another campaign. Will Pardew continue to outperform his prior employer in the future? Time will tell.
Roma were very busy during the 2014 summer transfer window with the hopes of challenge Juventus for Serie A supremacy. Premier League castoff Ashley Cole joined the club on a free hoping to find new life to an evaporating career, as did Seydou Keita and Urby Emanuelson. Roma also splashed the cash in purchasing Juan Iturbe, a move that has been criticized by some after the fact. While Roma did well to finish second in the Serie A and earn Champions League football in the process, the club failed to keep pace with Juve up through the spring months. The race was over long before May, with Juventus finishing 17 points clear of Roma.
Where you would put Marseille in this list would depend on how realistic and lofty your expectations were for the club at the end of summer 2014. Eccentric boss Marcelo Bielsa, one who has proven himself capable of producing figurative fireworks on and off the pitch, had a young and talented squad at his disposal, but a roller coaster ride of a campaign saw Marseille unable to march up the table to a Champions League spot by season's end. Rumors have since emerged that Bielsa could be eying a switch to the Premier League, but nothing of the sort has occurred as of the posting of this piece.
6 AC Milan
It was about five years ago that Serie A was the league to follow and sides such as AC Milan were capable of winning the Champions League. That now seems like a different lifetime following yet another lackluster campaign from the club. Milan finished tenth in the Serie A table and an agonizing 35 points off of the pace set by league winners Juventus. Supporters of the team showed their displeasure with the state of the once proud club during March when they staged protests that occurred inside of the San Siro during a match. Ouch.
The hope not that long ago was that manager Rafa Benitez would lead a revolution of sorts at Napoli. While Benitez did manage to guide the club to Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana glory during his stint with the team, Napoli did not flirt with winning the Serie A crown. Benitez's run with Napoli ended with a whimper rather than a roar, as his side finished fifth and out of Champions League qualification. Despite a disappointing conclusion to his run in Italy, Benitez was nevertheless hired to be manager of Real Madrid. Life is confusing at times.
4 Manchester City
One can only realistically be so hard on Manchester City heading into the summer of 2015. The club is, after all, averaging one Premier League title per every two seasons played. With that said, an organization that has the amount of funds offered by City Football Group is never supposed to end a season trophyless, but that is exactly what happened over at City by the time the final Sunday of May had appeared. Manager Manuel Pellegrini seems safe in his seat for now – if only because no suitable replacement is out there at the moment – but that won't be the case if his side again fails to win any hardware next season.
3 Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund were not all that long ago title contenders in the Bundesliga and a team capable of making a significant run in Europe. The club had a horrific start to the season back in the second half of 2014, so much so that Dortmund were dead last in the league table and appearing to be headed towards relegation. Players, at one point, had to publicly ask forgiveness of fans in attendance. Manager Jurgen Klopp and company eventually managed to right the ship and climb into the safety zone of the Bundesliga table, but the club now has way more questions than answers with Klopp looking for his next challenge outside of Germany.
I am as guilty as the next guy in that I was one of many to proclaim a year ago that Liverpool were “back” following their return to the Champions League under Brendan Rodgers. It turns out that Mario Balotelli is not a suitable replacement for Luis Suarez, after all. While Suarez enjoyed a renaissance playing in Spain and ultimately in the Champions League Final, Balotelli had a nightmare season for the Premier League outfit. Liverpool were quickly bounced right out of Champions League play, and the Reds finished sixth in the league table behind, among others, the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
1 Real Madrid
One could purchase a Major League Soccer franchise with the transfer fees that you would fetch for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid also brought in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos following the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Despite all of that talent, Real not only finished below rivals Barcelona in the La Liga table. What was the best club in the world as of last June ended the season trophyless. That one disappointing season resulted in manager Carlo Ancelotti being shown the door just a year after he was a Real hero. Rafa Benitez has now been brought in to save the day. What could possibly go wrong after that hire?