Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said before the start of the season that this would be the “most demanding and difficult season” in the history of German football.
And those words are certainly ringing true, not just for clubs in Germany, but all across Europe. The likes of Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester City, Juventus, PSG and Borussia Dortmund are all struggling to play with the consistency fans have come to expect from them over the years.
And they certainly aren’t the only ones, with a number of big clubs in Europe seeing inconsistency in performances in what has undoubtedly been a chaotic season so far.
Liverpool, who had earned the nickname Mentalitätsmonster for their ability to find a way to win in just about any situation, have only managed to score one goal in games against West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton.
Their fearsome attack suddenly looks tame. Chelsea seem to be in freefall at the moment, while Manchester City are only just finding their feet after a poor start to the season.
Even Paris St. Germain are struggling in the Ligue 1, a league which they usually win with their eyes closed.
The Parisians currently find themselves three points off the top of the table, having recently sacked Thomas Tuchel and hired ex-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Barcelona and Juventus are enduring similarly turbulent times, with the two European giants finding themselves seven points off the pace in their respective leagues.
Playing every three days
It is fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a big role in the struggle of the top clubs. The 2019/20 season only ended in August, and less than one month later, the 2020/21 season got underway.
The majority of teams that played in the latter stages of the Champions League last season had to make do without pre-season preparations.
With the European Championships set to begin in June 2021, leagues had no choice but to begin the season in September, so teams could fulfil all their fixtures by the end of May.
Since so many teams across Europe are struggling financially, they did not have any choice but to agree to the congested fixture list so the TV money could keep pouring in.
As a result, some of the teams playing in European competitions have had to play as many as ten games over a 31-day period.
The packed schedule has certainly taken its toll, with exhaustion spreading through all of Europe’s top leagues.
Some of the biggest teams now look like a shadow of their former selves. The likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich have been forced to abandon their high-tempo, quick pressing football in recent weeks and now look vulnerable in nearly every game they play.
With games coming thick and fast, managers are also unable to make tactical tweaks on the training ground.
It is near impossible for coaches to alter tactics or fix some of the issues on the training pitch with players now spending more time in the recovery rooms to prepare themselves for the toll of the next game.
A lack of crowd to spur teams on
Teams with big stadiums have especially failed to find their footing this season with no fans there to cheer them on.
Manchester United have already lost three games at home this season, which is more than they did in the entirety of last season.
Borussia Dortmund, home of the famous Yellow Wall, have also struggled in the absence of fans in stadiums.
The German giants suffered three straight defeats at home, including a 5-1 loss to newly-promoted Stuttgart in December.
BVB sporting director Michael Zorc spoke about the impact of not having fans in the Westfalenstadion.
“It’s a huge miss for us when the Yellow Wall isn’t there when we don’t have 80,000 fans here. Because playing with fans is like playing while using an emergency power generator!”
Teams that play once a week are taking advantage
The likes of Aston Villa, Southampton, Olympique Lyonnais and Union Berlin have been the big winners of the season so far.
What do they have in common? All four teams are not involved in European football. As a result, all these sides are punching above their weight and pulling off big shocks this season.
We have not even reached the half-way stage of the season, but teams are already limping towards the finish line.
Big teams are struggling and players are being run into the ground. But the season goes on, even as COVID-19 continues to surge across Europe. And the games won’t stop unless the TV money suddenly stops pouring in.