United in training.

Has there been a European hangover this season?

Tuesday 29 September 2020 15:00

For the teams competing for the Champions League and Europa League last season, August was a draining month.

While other clubs could take a well-earned breather following the exertions and fixture congestion generated by Project Restart, already planning for the new campaign, those battling for silverware in the tournaments in Portugal and Germany had the most unusual of seasons extended even further.

Nothing to complain about there, it is fair to say there were no other options available and the thirst for a trophy is strong.

It is also churlish to be offering up excuses at this stage but there is evidence to at least suggest some strange results are occurring across the continent for most of the clubs engaged in European combat only a month ago. 

Hoffenheim humbled European champions Bayern Munich 4-1 at the weekend.

Paris Saint-Germain have more reason to complain than most as their Ligue 1 campaign started as early as 10 September, when they suffered a shock defeat to Lens. A consecutive loss followed, at home to Marseille, which is pretty unheard of for a team dominant in that division and who had reached the Champions League final in some style.

Three wins, all with clean sheets, have restored a degree of normality to proceedings, and they were missing some key players early on, but such a slow start was surely understandable.

PSG's opponents at the Estadio da Luz, Bayern Munich showed no signs of fatigue in annihilating Schalke 8-0 in their Bundesliga opener but their next league outing was a real surprise result for the Bavarian giants - a crushing 4-1 reverse at Hoffenheim.

As for the beaten Champions League semi-finalists, RB Leipzig have started encouragingly with four points from two Bundesliga games but Lyon are struggling in France, as they sit in 11th spot in the table with only one win from five matches.

The Spanish clubs have started La Liga later and would appear to be showing few ill effects from last term - Sevilla, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have all begun with victories. Similarly, Inter Milan won their first Serie A game, defeating Fiorentina 4-3 after a remarkable late turnaround. Yet Shakhtar Donetsk lost their Ukrainian Super Cup final to Dynamo Kiev and have started relatively poorly, securing their first win in five games by beating Olimpic Donetsk in their most recent fixture, on Sunday.

Furthermore, the famed intensity of the Premier League warrants closer scrutiny, which is obviously the best comparison for United.

Jamie Vardy hit a hat-trick as Manchester City shipped five goals at home on Sunday.

Three English sides were involved from the quarter-finals of the two European competitions - the Reds, Manchester City and Wolves.

After only one pre-season friendly, United looked off the pace when losing 3-1 to Crystal Palace in our opener, beaten by much sharper opponents. Any excuses were derided when City won 3-1 at Wolves a couple of days later, with a similar lack of preparation.

However, since then, the Blues have suffered an alarming 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City - the first time a Pep Guardiola side had ever conceded five goals. The very definition of an unusual result. And Wolves, so hard to beat since returning to the Premier League, were thrashed 4-0 against a West Ham team seeking their first points of the campaign. Another one you would never have seen coming.

It appears totally plausible that both Wolves and City, like United, are looking rusty and not yet up to speed. 

Even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have not been at our best, we have still managed two wins out of three games. You can bet the hard work is continuing in a bid to get the players match-fit on the training pitch but the reality might be for all the teams who had less time to prepare is that the absence of the usual pre-season camps, tours and friendlies have had a huge impact.

Of course, nobody wants to hear any excuses. We all know it's a results industry. I am sure Tottenham will, justifiably, be complaining about fatigue when they have two midweek matches in advance of Sunday's Premier League clash at Old Trafford.

As United found last term, clubs in the Europa League usually have less rest than their opponents.

There are other mitigating circumstances but the unexpected scorelines of late do hint that there is a bigger picture to consider. Let's hope United can soon get back to the rhythm and fluidity that we saw after lockdown last term.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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