Firstly, for the non-German speakers, Abstiegskampf means relegation battle. In this case I have separated it to put more emphasis on the fight (Kampf) bit. Hope that will become even clearer as this goes on.
After Bayern Munich showed us that it is possible to go out of a competition with a bang, here are my top 5 teams from across Europe who went down with something less than a whimper...
Number 5: Schalke 04, Europa League
The more eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I am a fan of FC Schalke when it comes to German clubs, but that I have a bit of a love/ hate/ love relationship with them after the last season's... experiences.... Anyway, the Königsblau hit their nadir when they were eliminated from the Europa League by Shakhtar Donetsk despite a hopeful 0-0 draw in the away leg. They returned to Germany and gave all their fans real hope of qualifying, then rolled over and pathetically lost 3-0 with barely a single attack. One of the most embarrassing exits I've had the pleasure of witnessing, it revealed in one match how painful choosing a team can be, but also that honourable defeat is certainly something the hated rivals in Schwarzgelb do better after losing to Liverpool in the same competition.
Number 4: VfB Stuttgart, Bundesliga
The inspiration for the title comes from my experience at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart on Saturday afternoon, where I saw more passion and fight in the ultra's pitch invasion than in 85 of the 90 minutes from the Stuttgart team. With relegation not officially confirmed but a tricky visit to Wolfsburg next weekend and a team who look uncreative going forward and very leaky defensively will certainly not give their fans hope. They have limped from safe mid-table to a hammering 6-2 defeat to fellow struggers Werder Bremen last Monday and now... Well now they are almost down. I will have to rewrite them into the greatest escapes of all time if they stay up though...
Number 3: Netherlands, Euro 2016 Qualifying
Not qualifying for the biggest European competition is always embarrassing, but with it being expanded to include the footballing powerhouses of Albania and Northern Ireland you know you've done gone messed up... This really needs no explanation. The Dutch didn't even have a difficult group but were woeful and ended up getting what they deserved: a summer on the beach. Wait...
Number 2: Manchester City, Champions League
Many called this the most pathetic semi-final exit ever but I think of worse. I think... Anyway, Manchester City proved just how right they are for Pep Guardiola by playing incredibly negative football and barely mustered an attack, much less a shot on target, against Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid. Limping out 1-0 on aggregate without ever really trying to get forward will have upset fans who were rightly excited to be at that stage in the first place. What makes this more concerning is that they might not make it into the Champions League for next season and the fans are hardly proving to be a loyal bunch following the collapse of their season. The full extent of their demise will become clear by next weekend if Manchester United can steal 4th place and win the FA Cup.
Number 1: Aston Villa, Premier League
What more needs to be said about the train wreck that was Aston Villa this season? From Joleon Lescott's thoughtless tweets through one of the worst teams assembled in Premier League history and onto the most clueless leadership in England (and trust me, there is plenty of competition there), Aston Villa fans have seen their club crash from the heights of Europe to the depths of the Championship without even having the excuse of being broke. They have simply invested badly, recruited badly and, lastly but certainly not least important, played badly. A Blackpool style slide through the leagues is not unlikely but with a size, history and importance as impressive as that of the Birmingham club the owners and board should be ashamed of how far the club has fallen.
This is where it all begins. Our resident analysts study the unrecognised players and examine the matches that are of interest across Europe.