With the European seasons just about at the halfway mark, there seems to be one overriding theme. Every one of the big boys (except Barcelona) is generally stinking it up. Some more so, some less so, admittedly.
But one thing is pretty clear: If you go around the top leagues and ask yourself who's playing consistently well, you'll find that very few fit the bill and, if they do, they're more likely to be Hoffenheims and Hulls rather than the traditional giants.
First off, a definition. Playing well does not mean simply getting results. You can win games by having better individuals, by running into opponents who are playing worse than you are or by simply being lucky. Or, indeed, some combination of the above.
Nor does playing well necessarily mean playing entertaining soccer (though the reverse is usually true). Some teams just aren't built to entertain and create dozens of chances.
With those criteria in mind, let's take a quick tour around Europe, shall we?
In La Liga, Barcelona is the obvious exception. Real Madrid has served up a genuine nightmare, getting beaten home and away by an unimpressive Juventus and losing four of its last five domestically.
Liverpool leads the way in the Premier League, despite drawing its last three home games against the likes of Hull, West Ham and Fulham. The
Manchester United looks a pale imitation of the fearsome attacking force that swept to the Premier League and Champions League double last season.
How about Serie A? Mourinho's Inter Milan may be in first place, but it has looked neither efficient nor entertaining. He has tried three different formations, and the two wingers he signed over the summer (
Over at Juventus,
Over at Bayern Munich,
Lyon is, once again, top of the table in France, just like in the previous seven seasons -- except
What else? How about FC Porto? Two points off the pace in Portugal after winning five of the last six titles (including the last three in a row). PSV Eindhoven, winners of the last four Dutch league titles? Fourth place in the Eredivisie, nine points behind, and bounced straight out of the Champions League.
I don't know if there's any good reason for all this, any logic which explains why Europe's elites have been -- top to bottom -- so bad this season. But I'm open to ideas. In the meantime, thank goodness for Barça.