Stickied Battle of the Bottle-Jobs: 5 Teams Which Crack Under Pressure

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Some teams just cannot catch a break, and for whatever reason, continually freeze on the biggest stage of all. Here are five teams with solid previous for being 'bottle jobs', and with little sign of that ending any time soon.

Tottenham Hotspur

It says a lot about a club when “Spursy” enters football's common vernacular, but the team that coined the very phrase is well deserving of it. While the club managed to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League yet again this year, few are willing to back the Lilywhites for glory, especially after a 1-0 home defeat to RB Leipzig in the home leg of their Round-of-16 tie.

There is no question that the sight of them in last season’s final was undoubtedly surreal. Yet, despite dominating swathes of the second half, they were unable to break through a stern Liverpool rearguard.

Speaking of the Champions League, the latest Premier League Predictions show that the existing faith in Tottenham's ability to finish in the top four is more fragile than ever. Furthermore, with Son Heung-Min now out for the season, their chances of lifting the FA Cup also appear to have taken a major hit.

Last year's Champions League final was, however, merely the latest of several gilt-edged chances to end what is currently a twelve-year trophy drought. In the spring of 2018, many were backing Tottenham to negotiate a semi-final with Manchester United, going into it as the form side, and doing so practically as the ‘home’ side too, having used Wembley as their adopted home in 2017/18. However, United’s superior pedigree for trophies gave them a supernatural boost, and it was the Red Devils who would run out 2-1 winners.

Anyone can lose cup finals and semis on quasi-home turf, but if ever there was a more prominent examples of Spurs being ‘Spursy’, it was in the 2016/17 campaign. Tottenham built on their near-miss for second place in 2016 by finishing as runners up behind Chelsea. Sadly for them though, Chelsea chose that campaign to finish on 93 points and come close to equalling what was then the Premier League record of 95.

Sometimes, ‘daring to do’ is simply not enough, and Tottenham’s final tally of 86 in 2017 – quite agonisingly – would have been enough for the title in a sizeable majority of the preceding 21 Premier League seasons of the 38-game era.

Leeds United

White flags have been a recurring theme for Leeds United since the start of the new Millennium. At the precise moment Big Ben rang in the year 2000, Leeds were sat proudly atop the Premier League table. Under David O’Leary, a squad containing some exceptional young talents – most notably Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Bridges – was looking primed to steal Manchester United’s crown.

It was, of course, not to last. Just as Manchester United had done to Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea in preceding years, they sped past the wannabe champions and retained the crown by a then-record 18-point margin. While that itself was a bona-fide ‘bottle job’ on Leeds’ part, they did at least enjoy a wonderous odyssey in the Champions League after finishing third.

The Whites would, however, bow out at the semi-final stage. On paper, Leeds had the easiest draw, facing Valencia in lieu of fellow semi-finalists Real Madrid and eventual winners Bayern Munich. A 0-0 draw in the first leg at Elland Road represented a decent result, with Leeds potentially able to exploit the away goals rule in the second leg.

A score draw was all the Whites needed, but Valencia ran out 3-0 winners. That, combined with Leeds financially-suicidal failure to re-enter the Champions League on the final day of the 2000/01 Premier League season, set the club on a downward spiral from which they have yet to recover.

Leeds have since endured a lost promotion playoff final, and only last season managed to throw away a 1-0 advantage from their semi-final first leg, losing 4-2 to Derby at Elland Road and missing out on a promotion showdown with Aston Villa.

Everton

The ‘Toffees’ have won nine league titles, five F.A Cups and one unforgettable UEFA Cup Winners Cup. That is an impressive tally by any top-flight standard – the trouble is, the last of those trophies was lifted in 1995, a whole 25 years ago. To put that into context, John Major was the UK prime minister and most of this month’s Brit Award winners were not even born.

Flashpoint results since their last trophy win have given Everton an inexplicable ‘loser’ mentality that is out of line with the club’s strongest periods of the post-war 20th century under Harry Catterick and Howard Kendall. Over the past dozen years alone, Everton have lost two EFL Cup semi finals, two F.A Cup semi-finals and one final, with the latter seeing Louis Saha’s record-breaking first minute goal eventually rendered moot by a much fitter Chelsea squad with far greater depth and resources.

The year previously, in 2008, Everton lost a vital penalty shootout against Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup Round-of-16. They were flying in the league, and looking like favourites to beat Liverpool to fourth place, and put in a display for the ages to draw 2-2 with Fiorentina on aggregate. The lost penalty shootout was a major psychological dent, and league form slumped, with a defeat at Anfield just two weeks later all but finishing their charge for the top-four.

Had that shootout swung the other way, Everton would have unquestionably been amongst the favourites to lift the trophy. Like the other online forums of huge clubs with similarly barren trophy rooms always say: “It is the hope that kills you”.

New England Revolution

Across the Atlantic, a dishonourable mention must go to New England Revolution of the MLS, even though they were amongst the original charter clubs that made up the inaugural MLS season of 1996. Gallingly for them, Revolution is the only one of the five charter clubs never to have rebranded or relocated that is yet to win the MLS Cup.

Revolution have made the most MLS Cup final appearances of any team without winning, finishing as runners up on five occasions between 2002 and 2014. They have experienced the pain of finishing second in a variety of ways too, with the first of those lost finals being decided via a golden goal.

Consecutive finals in 2005 and 2006 respectively yielded losses in extra time (1-0) and via a penalty shootout, and so too was their most recent final settled in extra time, with Robbie Keane winning it 2-1 for LA Galaxy.

PSG

Last, and by all means the most shocking inclusion in this list, is PSG.

To give credit where due, there can be no denying that PSG’s domestic numbers are impressive. They currently lead the Ligue 1 table by ten points, averaging 2.68 from their first 25 league games of the campaign, and losing just once in their previous 31 home league games prior to their February clash with Bordeaux.

Regardless, the club’s sheer expenditure vs the team’s European attainments – or lack thereof – makes them certified bottle jobs, at least when faced with real competition.

The first leg of PSG’s Champions League Round-of-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund was a case in hand, with a 2-1 defeat at Westfalenstadion illustrating fully that PSG are still far from the finished article when it comes to negotiating tricky trips abroad in the knockout stage.

There are arguably no greater examples of PSG bottling a European campaign than their 6-1 drubbing at Barcelona in the 2016/17 knockout phase. It was a capitulation of unprecedented disgrace, coming after a first leg won 4-0 at Parc Des Princes, and stands as PSG’s biggest opportunity missed yet.

That said, their capitulation to Manchester United at the same stage last year comes extremely close. Though controversy overshadowed their 3-1 home defeat to United, after a first leg won 2-0 at Old Trafford, it was yet another inexplicable display of bottling.

While that has clearly not affected PSG’s domestic form, a squad containing the likes of Icardi, Neymar and Mbappe – the latter of which was a World Cup winner at just 19 years old – should be doing much better.
 

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