Friday October 30th, 2015

A fascinating weekend of European football is nearly upon us, but for some in positions of great power, it could be a Halloween horror show. "The Special One" Jose Mourinho faces "The Normal One" Jurgen Klopp after Chelsea's latest setback, a League Cup exit. Louis van Gaal is sick and tired of questions about Wayne Rooney, but the England striker remains in the crosshairs for Manchester United given his recent club form.

Out-of-form strikers outside of England, a title-winning manager and much more crack our top 10 of those facing the pressure across Europe as the winter nights draw in and another Champions League matchday looms on the horizon. Behold, our latest Pressure Power Rankings:

Pressure Power Rankings
Who faces the most heat across Europe?
  • 10
    10IFK Norrkoping
    Swedish club
    With one game left of the season to play, there are three teams who can still win the title in Sweden. Norrkoping (pronounced, Ner-Shopping) is the favorite, one point clear at the top but with a tricky away tie at last year’s champion, Malmo. Breathing down its neck and one point back is IFK Gothenburg, which leap-frogged into second with a dramatic 2-1 away win at AIK, which is now third and two points back–but could still win if other results go its way.
    The Gothenburg hero was 19-year-old forward Gustav Engvall, who has scored six goals in his last four games. Gothenburg has been top for most of the season but Norrkoping has timed its run of form to perfection, winning nine of its last 10 games. The forward pairing of Alhaji Kamara and Emir Kujovic has combined for nine of its last 10 goals. One more win and Norrkoping will clinch a first title since 1992.

  • 9
    9Alexandre Lacazette
    Lyon forward
    The Lyon striker has scored two goals in nine games, far from the return of 27 goals that he scored last season to lead Ligue 1. He was “hurt and disappointed” when Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas revealed that his new contract over the summer increased his annual salary to €4.5m. “He never disclosed anyone else’s salary, so why did he do that to me?” Lacazette said to L’Equipe.
    One can only imagine the France international’s response to Aulas’s latest comments, this time to Le Progress. “He needs to assume the form that his financial status demands. He is a little below his best and he knows it.” Lyon goes to bottom of the table Troyes this weekend–the ideal opponent for an out-of-form striker.

  • 8
    8Julian Nagelsmann
    Hoffenheim U-19 manager
    There’s never much focus on Hoffenheim’s youth teams, but that might change after this week’s announcement that the club is undergoing a coaching shake-up. Out goes Marcus Gidsol (who wasn't doing that badly) and in comes Huub Stevens until the end of the season. At that point, Hoffenheim will appoint Nagelsmann, current Under-19 boss and only 28 years old, as head coach. He was 25 and assistant boss to Franz Kramer when the pair avoided relegation in the top flight in 2013.
    The man who Tim Weise nicknamed "Baby Mourinho" then coached Hoffenheim to the Under-19 league title in 2013, and to runner-up in 2015. It is second in the table eight games into this season. Bayern wanted to recruit him this summer, and sporting director Alexander Rosen’s succession planning seems like reward for his loyalty. Nagelsmann played down the obvious story that he will be the youngest Bundesliga coach in history and, like an old dog, said the most important game was the next one. That’s against Greuther Furth's U-19s.

  • 7
    7Tom Fox
    Aston Villa CEO
    Fox is not a striker, nor a coach; in fact he’s more important than both, as he’s the chief executive of Aston Villa and is in the process of recruiting a successor to Tim Sherwood, fired after last week’s defeat to Swansea. This will be Fox’s second coaching appointment in 15 months. Sherwood, you could argue, worked last season, keeping the club away from relegation and reaching the FA Cup final.
    Remi Garde, formerly of Lyon, is the favorite while other French bosses including Christophe Galtier (Saint-Etienne) and Jocelyn Gourvennec (Guingamp) have been mooted as possibilities.
    Villa did much of its transfer business in France over the summer, and Fox clearly wants a coach to get the best out of them. With the prize for Premier League survival even greater once next season’s TV deal kicks in, the American, working with another of his appointments, rookie sporting director Hendrik Almstadt, cannot afford to get this one wrong.

  • 6
    6Diego Costa
    Chelsea forward
    The fiery Spanish international has history with Liverpool, a club he claimed to have turned down joining one year before he moved to Chelsea. He was banned for three games after a stamp on Emre Can in a tempestuous meeting between these teams in January, and could have been sent off twice after clashes with Martin Skrtel in a fixture last November.
    Costa has only scored twice for the Blues in the league this season, and faces a fitness test but is expected to start against Skrtel with a broken rib. His bullying style is unplayable when he is on form, but when he is not, (i.e. this season) he comes across as a petulant child with no sense of fair play. Skrtel will be looking forward to the challenge.

  • 5
    5Nicolas Nkoulou
    Marseille defender
    The French club turned down a €10 million offer from Lyon over the summer, with president Vincent Labrune saying that the defender was the difference between finishing third and seventh in Ligue 1. Nkoulou wanted to go and at the moment, Marseille is down in 16th place.
    “What is the problem with Nkoulou?” asked France Football this week. “He is the symbol of a team in decline and the embodiment of a defense in distress.”
    He has played alongside three different center backs this season and was relegated to the bench in last week’s Europa League loss at Sporting Braga. He is 25, his contract is up next summer and his price is dropping fast.

  • 4
    4Nuno Espirito Santo
    Valencia manager
    These are tense times in Valencia, which faces a critical week with a derby against Levante followed by a must-win Champions League tie against Gent before a trip to in-form Celta Vigo before the international break. It could be decisive for its coach , who won over the fans by finishing fourth and reaching the Champions League last season, but this campaign has been called a stooge for agent Jorge Mendes and new owner Peter Lim.
    Most of the summer budget was spent on making permanent the loans of Mendes players like Andre Gomes and Rodrigo Moreno, and last week’s loss at Atletico Madrid showed the gulf that Valencia has to make up to replicate fourth again. Fans have called for Nuno to leave, as he is their lightning-rod for the frustration at the Lim/Mendes partnership. A derby win will at least get them off his back, even if it is only temporarily.

  • 3
    3Wayne Rooney
    Manchester United forward
    Was it such a surprise that the Manchester United captain missed his team’s first penalty in its League Cup defeat to Middlesbrough this week? Such has been Rooney’s form this season, maybe not.
    Coach Louis van Gaal is fed up with questions about his skipper: “I am sick of them,” he said. Rooney continues to have van Gaal’s support and is picked at center forward ahead of Anthony Martial, who is shunted out wide to accommodate him. Martial looks more dangerous playing centrally, but for now, van Gaal is not playing him there.
    Rooney could drop out of the firing line, either by playing as a No. 10 or even with a spell on the bench. At the moment he looks like a player trying too hard. His former teammate Paul Scholes suggested that van Gaal’s style of play was not helpful to Rooney either.
    “The hardest thing to coach is scoring goals and creativity,” he told the BBC. “I was at the derby on Sunday and Rooney’s movement was brilliant but when he’s playing in that team there’s no one prepared to pass to him. I think after 20 minutes you’d be tearing your hair out.”

  • 2
    2Massimiliano Allegri
    Juventus manager
    This is the season that everyone expected Juventus to have last year, when Allegri was first appointed. The fact that it’s happening after he won the Serie A title and reached the Champions League final will give him some grace period but you sense not for too much longer. Juventus lost its fifth game of the season in midweek, to Sassuolo, and Sunday faces high-flying Turin rival Torino. Juventus will be without Giorgio Chiellini, sent off on Wednesday after looking, according to Gazzetta, “one tenth of the player that has amassed over 400 appearances.” 
    The midfield pair of Stefano Sturaro and Mario Lemina was criticized as poor imitations of Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio, while Allgeri’s reluctance to start with Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala up front looks peculiar.
    “Mario Mandzukic has become a sight for sore eyes,” wrote Gazzetta. “He looks like a fish out of water in this Juventus set-up.”
    Allegri has kept Juventus ‘in retiro’–a training-camp–this week to focus on the Turin game. It’s the first for Juventus since the days of Luigi De Neri back in 2010. Allegri is being proactive in his efforts to improve results: he will revert to a 4-3-3 system. But will it be Mandzukic or Dybala who starts with Morata and Juan Cuadrado?

  • 1
    1Jose Mourinho
    Chelsea manager
    Another two defeats in the last week, even if by Mourinho’s logic, a Cup loss on penalties at Stoke does not constitute a defeat. But it has been a bad week for the Portuguese manager, who saw star player Eden Hazard miss the decisive penalty against Stoke (now five misses from his last 10 penalties, not quite the similarity with Messi and Ronaldo that Mourinho had in mind), and then his club was hit with a legal case for constructive dismissal from former team physio Eva Carneiro, following her departure from the club after Mourinho criticized her after the opening-day of the season draw with Swansea (how long ago does that feel now?).
    Chelsea has slightly improved performances in the last two games and after Saturday’s tie against Liverpool, Chelsea has a more comfortable run of games (including Norwich, Bournemouth, Leicester, Sunderland and Watford). Still, Liverpool will be desperate to push Mourinho over the edge; he has been a hate figure for the Reds ever since the 2005 Carling Cup final, and few have forgotten Chelsea’s role in Liverpool’s collapse in 2014, when a mostly reserve side won at Anfield to dent its title hopes.

GALLERY: The many faces of Jose Mourinho

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