We’re now well into the second half of the season with clubs across Europe seeking glory at home and abroad. From the Premier League to La Liga, Bundesliga to Ligue 1, Europe’s top clubs must sort a variety of issues to either ensure their campaign ends successfully or has enough of a basis to kick on next term.
ESPN FC’s club correspondents discuss the pressing problems that must be addressed …
Michael Carrick’s arrival at Old Trafford in 2006 coincided with the start of one of the most successful periods in Manchester United history. He won three titles in his first three seasons at the club, as well as the Champions League in 2008, and added a further two league triumphs in 2011 and 2013. Carrick, respected immensely by teammates, has become an influential part of Jose Mourinho’s team even at 35 — the club’s win percentage is 72 with him starting and drops to 50 without him — but he cannot go on forever. Mourinho has even admitted as much.
Carrick, due a testimonial to mark his stellar service at the club, has a contract until the end of the season. He deserves a new one but he will likely need to be phased out next term and an adequate replacement brought in.
United, though, have a patchy record in succession planning. Peter Schmeichel left in 1999 yet it took until 2005 to sign Edwin van der Sar (the likes of Massimo Taibi, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard failing along the way) while Paul Scholes even came out of retirement as the club struggled to replace his grace and guile. Elsewhere, the less said about David Moyes replacing Sir Alex Ferguson the better. United cannot afford another mistake as they look to find Carrick’s successor. — ESPN staff
Liverpool’s current form is alarming and it is as a result of teams finding a way to combat their attacking approach to a devastating effect.
Earlier in the season, opposing teams defended deep and compact against Jurgen Klopp’s side for the fear of a battering — a mark of respect. Now, Liverpool are coming up against sides who use the low block and the Reds appear to have no answers.
Liverpool are easy to beat at the moment. Teams can easily pick up three points by simply being defensively organised and potent on the counterattack. Liverpool and Klopp need to find solutions fast — perhaps a change of system is looming. — Glenn Price
There are plenty of pressing issues at Arsenal and they are all connected to Arsene Wenger’s future, which must be sorted out before the club sets a direction for next season.
Whether he’s staying or going, the club would be smart to demand an answer before the summer. Until he makes up his mind, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are unlikely to make a decision about their own contract extensions, which continues to create uncertainty around the club.
No one seems to know where Arsenal are heading after this campaign, and only Wenger can change that. — Mattias Karen
Chelsea will have some difficult decisions to make this summer. Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois both enter the final two years of their current contracts, having made clear at various points their shared desire to return to Spain. Atletico Madrid would love to bring Costa back, while rivals Real Madrid have not been shy about their interest in Courtois.
Chelsea know they cannot allow any of their key players to run their contracts down and gain leverage in any contract or transfer negotiation. If neither is willing to sign a long-term extension soon, the Premier League leaders could be forced to consider selling two of their stars for maximum value. — Liam Twomey
Tottenham have made tremendous strides under Mauricio Pochettino but there are still hurdles to overcome before they can truly be considered a force. Winning at Chelsea and finishing above Arsenal would be significant but the biggest is winning a trophy — any trophy.
Brian Clough said the most important factor in Nottingham Forest’s back-to-back European Cup wins was their triumph in the long-forgotten Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1977 because it taught his players what it felt like to win. Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane have all said recently that if Spurs win one trophy, more will follow.
The league title is Pochettino’s aim but he knows the FA Cup and Europa League are more realistic opportunities for silverware, given Chelsea’s lead. — Dan Kilpatrick
Manchester City have an issue finding a goalkeeper capable of meeting Pep Guardiola’s demands. Joe Hart was allowed to leave because his ball-playing skills weren’t good enough but replacement Claudio Bravo is beaten by virtually every shot he faces.
Now Willy Caballero has stepped in, but the Argentine is out of contract at the end of the summer and City need to find a long-term keeper.
Bravo is a serial winner with Chile and former club Barcelona and will be given another chance before the end of the season. He must rediscover his best form or City will bring in a new No. 1 in the summer. — Jonathan Smith
While Barcelona fans recently suggested an increasing concern was Lionel Messi’s contract situation, there are few doubts inside the club that the Argentine will sign a new deal.
A bigger worry is Luis Enrique’s future. His deal expires in June and he’s fuelled speculation he’ll walk away by refusing to comment on the chances of renewing his terms. The club, meanwhile, say they will begin talks with him in April.
But if there are any doubts about him staying, they need to begin thinking about replacements rather than waiting to be thrown in the deep end in the summer. — Sam Marsden
President Florentino Perez’s hopes for a €400 million renovation of the Bernabeu remain in limbo with political, social and financial questions still to be resolved. The project to modernise was announced in 2004, but challenges from local residents, club socios and even the European Commission have held it up.
The current plan includes the Bernabeu getting a futuristic silver “skin” and extendable roof, as well as a luxury hotel featuring rooms with pitch views. Also in the mix is a “surname” with a sale of naming rights to Abu Dhabi-based IPIC (International Petroleum Investment Company).
Work is cautiously scheduled to begin next summer, potentially after club presidential elections. However, experience suggests more challenges and hurdles will have to be overcome before the builders are finally called in. — Dermot Corrigan
A potential clash between the looming end of the Diego Simeone era and a fresh start in their new stadium is currently dominating thoughts at Atletico Madrid.
Despite various logistical barriers, Atletico are keen to start next season at the Wanda Metropolitano. However, there are concerns over the make-up of the team at that point.
The futures of certain stars, including Antoine Griezmann, Koke and Saul Niguez, looks tied to that of Simeone — who shortened his contract just last summer. A very inconsistent 2016-17 so far also means Champions League football is far from certain next term.
Failure to make that lucrative competition could have huge knock-on effects and put quite a downer on the whole stadium move. — Dermot Corrigan
Bayern legend Philipp Lahm’s retirement a year ahead of schedule will leave a large hole both on and off the pitch. Lahm, 33, totted up his 501st appearance on Tuesday and is gunning for a record-equalling eighth Bundesliga title. Consistency personified, Lahm has endured about five poor outings in his entire Bayern career, racking up 334 wins.
Bayern have already made plans for the loss of Lahm with the free transfer signing of Sebastian Rudy from Hoffenheim, and can also call on twice-capped Brazilian Rafinha as a solid back-up. Joshua Kimmich, 22, could fill the void too, but Bayern are better off using their rising star in midfield.
Realistically, none of these options are a patch on Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning captain. Away from the pitch, the Munich-born defender’s influence will be gravely missed too. He’s a club figurehead, a local lad and only fellow Bavarian Thomas Muller would remain of any repute. He’s not even guaranteed a start at the moment under Carlo Ancelotti. — Mark Lovell
Injuries: PSG are approaching their biggest match of the season against Barcelona in the Champions League next week and once again the French champions are sweating on the fitness of key players such as midfielder Marco Verratti, goalkeeper Kevin Trapp and playmaker Javier Pastore.
Les Parisiens‘ big game appetite is questionable at the best of times, particularly after Unai Emery’s men let a one-goal lead slip at home to Ligue 1 title rivals Monaco recently, but missing integral figures or not having them 100 percent fit impedes their chances against the Spaniards — and in the race for Le Championnat — even more.
PSG are trying to take as much care with the likes of Verratti, Trapp and Pastore as they can but all three need to feature against Bordeaux on Friday if they are to realistically start against Barcelona next Tuesday.
Given that this is not an isolated incident, the French giants might be left with no choice over the long term but to bring in new medical staff; something that has been mooted for some time now. — Jonathan Johnson
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