Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 29 February 2008

A level down in Europe

March is finally here and we're deep into the heart of the domestic season. Many of you will be happily supporting your team as they bumble along in the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga and so on, but we'd bet the shirts on our backs that you've probably forgotten all about the teams that were relegated last Summer.

So whatever happened to those teams that fell through the trapdoor and into the ignominy of second-tier soccer? Some People Are On The Pitch are about to tell you as we check out the forgotten men of Europe's big five leagues.

(Details correct as at February 29 2008)

England: Football League Championship
Relegated from Premier League in 2006/07: Sheffield United (18th), Charlton (19th) and Watford (20th)
Quite often you find that the teams who drop out of the English top flight every May are a member of 'The Yo-Yo Club' - that is to say they regularly go up and down from season to season between the Premier League and Championship. Think West Brom, Birmingham, Sunderland - that kind of thing.

Well last season proved to be the exception. Sheffield United and Watford were happily camped in the Championship for many years and Charlton were mainstays in the Premier League too for quite a while, so here were three names not used to relegation into the Championship as recent seasons go.

As it turns out, Charlton and Watford have made a decent fist of trying to get promotion back at the first attempt with both teams currently occupying positions in the play-off zone. Watford made the best start of anybody in the division, losing just one of their first thirteen games, but a six-week spell from the start of November 2007 that saw them lose five out of nine nearly undid all their good work. Luckily for them, they're currently on a seven-game unbeaten run and if they keep that up, they may well get the automatic promotion place they're currently battling with Bristol City and Stoke for.

Charlton have had similar good form, losing only a couple more games than Watford, but Sheffield United have found it nowhere near as easy as their two relegationees to keep their heads above water. Quite how much of a factor the Carlos Tevez affair has got to do with it, we don't know, but Sheffield United seem to be floundering at the moment down in 17th position.

Though they're unlikely to be relegated again, their main problem at the moment seems to be that they're drawing too many games. That in itself can be no bad thing, as long as their are plenty of wins to keep the points tally ever increasing. Sadly for The Blades that's not the case, but perhaps now that former manager Bryan Robson has parted company with the club, they can now look forward to a brighter future - albeit challenging for a return to the Premier League next year.

SPAOTP Prediction: Watford to be promoted, Charlton to enter the play-offs and Sheffield United to reach mid-table security.

Spain: Segunda División
Relegated from La Liga in 2006/07: Celta Vigo (18th), Real Sociedad (19th) and Gimnastic Tarragona (20th)
Of the three teams relegated last season, the big shock was undoubtedly Real Sociedad. Once a high-profile name in the Spanish top flight, Sociedad found themselves out of the Segunda División for the first time since the 1966/67 season. Former Fulham manager Chris Coleman was drafted in but Sociedad initially struggled in their attempt to bounce straight back, causing Coleman to resign in January 2008.

It's somewhat ironic but Coleman left just as his team were enjoying their best form of the season. True, Real Sociedad only won four of their first fourteen games, but they then lost only one of their next seven directly before Coleman left. Sociedad are currently fourth in the Segunda División table, just one place outside the promotion zone.

For the other two teams that dropped down a level with them, life isn't going quite so well. Celta Vigo are down in eighth but only four points behind Real Sociedad, while Gimnastic Tarragona are in danger of being relegated once again. They currently lie in 19th position, the last of the bottom four teams that will face the drop at the season's end if they remain where they are. The key to their survival may lie in their next three games, two of which are against fellow strugglers Las Palmas and Xerez while a tricky tie against fifth-placed Elche will push them to their limits.

SPAOTP Prediction: Real Sociedad to gain promotion with Celta Vigo just missing out, and Gimnastica to be relegated.

France: Ligue 2
Relegated from Ligue 1 in 2006/07: Troyes (18th), Sedan (19th) and Nantes (20th)
As in Spain, there was a real shock at the end of last season when a team regarded as one of the top clubs in the country were relegated. That team was Nantes, and the surprise was all the greater considering they were French champions as recently as 2001, just before the Lyon supremacy took hold.

Nantes had come close to being relegated at the end of the 2004/05 season but just held on. This time, there was only one outcome, and that was a return to Ligue 2 for the first time in 44 seasons. Hardly surprising given they'd gone through four coaches and numerous team line-ups during this last Ligue 1 campaign.

Their reaction to such catastrophe has been a good one as Nantes currently lie in second place in the table, just ahead of Troyes who also went down to Ligue 2 on the last day of last season. Troyes are no strangers to life outside the top flight, but since 2000 have just about held onto a place among the country's elite. The way things stand, they too could be heading straight back to Ligue 1 which is more than can be said for Sedan who are eighth at the moment and seem to be reverting to form as perpetual promotion candidates who aren't quite good enough.

SPAOTP Prediction: Nantes to finish runners-up, promoted with Troyes in 3rd. Sedan staying put for another season.

Germany: Bundesliga 2
Relegated from Bundesliga in 2006/07: Mainz (16th), Aachen (17th) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (20th)
Borussia Mönchengladbach aren't strangers to the Bundesliga 2, but they're not regulars there either. It's therefore fair to say that a few ripples were sent through German football when they, like Real Sociedad and Nantes failed to hold their seemingly unshakable place in the top division last season. That said, like their Spanish and French counterparts, they look to be making an immediate return for they're currently leading the table by four points.

Mainz were also relegated last season and they find themselves only five points behind Mönchengladbach in third place, while Aachen, the third team to drop out of the Bundesliga, are well off the pace in ninth.

Mönchengladbach are certainly the form team of the moment having only lost three of their 22 games, but what makes their success all the more remarkable is that they have one of the league's top scorers in Canadian Rob Friend.

Friend was drafted to Chicago Fire in 2003 but has since played his club football for Moss and Molde in Norway, and Heerenveen and Heracles Almelo in the Netherlands before joining the German club in 2007. Together with club captain Oliver Neuville, they're firing Mönchengladbach back to the top flight.

Alemannia Aachen, however, are known as regulars in Bundesliga and their form suggests that won't change this season but Mainz's future isn't so easy to predict. Though they recently beat Mönchengladbach 1-0 away from home, they've lost to 2nd-placed Greuther Fürth and also failed to beat lowly Carl Zeiss Jena or mid-table Koblenz and St.Pauli.

SPAOTP Prediction: Borussia Mönchengladbach to win Bundesliga 2, Mainz to be promoted, Aachen to remain mid-table.

Italy: Serie B
Relegated from Serie A in 2006/07: Chievo (18th), Ascoli (19th) and Messina (20th)
Finally to Serie B where Chievo are leading a march to reclaim their place in Serie A where their glorious six-season run came to an end in the summer. Having gained promotion in 2001/02, Chievo surprised many by not just surviving but also qualifying for European competition.

All that seems a distant memory now, but their future's looking bright despite the dirth of players that left before the start of the new season along with manager Luigi Del Neri. Chievo have lost only four of their 27 matches so far this season and are in a strong position although their lead is currently only a single point with three other teams, Bologna, Lecce and Albinoleffe very close behind.

For the other two relegated sides, Messina and Ascoli, promotion back to Serie A looks decidedly unlikely even at this stage of the season. Messina, who have only ever had five years in the top league before now, have leaked eleven goals in their last three matches and will be lucky to stay in the ninth position they currently occupy.

Ascoli are the stereotypical yo-yo club of Italy. Having just spent a couple of seasons in Serie A, they look set for a second season in Serie B but their mid-table position could change for better or worse in the coming weeks. Their current inconsisitency means a final table position is difficult to predict, but they were unbeaten in three at the time of going to press, so we have a sneaking suspicion they may be able to finish in the top half of the table this term.

SPAOTP Prediction: Chievo to gain promotion (though not necessarily as champions), Messina to finish in the bottom-half of the table and Ascoli to finish mid-table or slightly better.

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