2023 was a glorious year for some football clubs (especially Manchester City) while more enjoyed major signs of improvement (Liverpool, Arsenal, Girona, Aston Villa, Bayer Leverkusen) as others plunged towards mediocrity (Chelsea). It was another calendar year full of thrills and the second half of the 2023-24 season promises even more twists.
As 2024 begins, the FootballCastle evaluate the targets of your favourite club with what they hope to do in this calendar year.
Compared to recent years, it was a positive one for Barcelona who won the Spanish top-flight for the first time in four seasons. Xavi was able to successfully guide his team to the title triumph with the best defensive record in the league and finished ten points ahead of Real Madrid.
This season, they find themselves seven points behind top spot after the first 18 La Liga matches although they advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time in three years. Barcelona have had their fair share of injuries throughout the 2023-24 campaign which makes a title defence all the more unlikely.
Xavi’s job is under scrutiny considering the mixed results but the Barca legend has had to contend with deficiencies in his squad mainly in the striking position. Robert Lewandowski is a goal machine but he is not getting any younger and there are few alternative options behind him.
Although the Brazilian youngster, Vitor Roque, is expected to arrive in January the 18-year-old would need time to settle without the pressure to perform straight away. The effects of Sergio Busquets’ departure have also been keenly felt as they miss a player with the defensive nous to screen the defence and start attacks.
Despite the short-term signing of Oriol Romeu, Club president Joan Laporta has confirmed that Barca will look to acquire a midfielder in the January transfer window. Hence, the Blaugranas will be hoping for a revived 2024 where they can cover the holes in their squad and steal a march on league rivals.
The Red Devils have lost nine times in 20 Premier League games so far this season and their alarming form also sees them out of the UEFA Champions League group stages.
Despite it being a year that produced their first trophy since 2017, the second half of 2023 was less than ideal for Manchester United as they struggled in Erik ten Hag’s second season.
Injuries and suspensions have not been kind to United as Lisandro Martínez, Mason Mount, Christian Eriksen, Casemiro, Kobbie Mainoo, Tyrell Malacia, Amad Diallo, Raphaël Varane, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have all had to deal with spells out injured. Hence, Ten Hag has been unable to build chemistry within his preferred team.
With their ownership situation finally being sorted with the announcement of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of up to 25% shares in the club. There is so much to look forward to in 2024 from a United perspective as they aim to rebuild the footballing structure.
While the future of several players and Ten Hag himself will be up in the air in 2024, United must avoid on-pitch disasters such as the 7-0 thrashing at Anfield, their joint-heaviest defeat.
After winning only the Copa del Rey in 2023, Los Blancos endured a subdued year by their own standards as Barcelona’s title win combined with Karim Benzema’s exit threatened to throw them further behind their rivals.
However, the signing of Jude Bellingham has brought the feel-good factor back to Santiago Bernabéu as his transformative impact has been felt both on and off the pitch. With 17 goals and five assists in only 21 matches, the 20-year-old has already produced a year’s worth of clutch moments and what 2024 has in store is anyone’s guess.
Bellingham’s influence has now made La Liga as marketable as it was during the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi era, not least with that iconic celebration. The Galacticos would therefore be hoping to see a few key players return from injury to aid their title credentials.
Carlo Ancelotti’s contract extension till 2026 also puts an end to months of speculation concerning his immediate future and he can now focus on the adjustments needed to the first team. Chief among those adjustments being a protracted acquisition of Kylian Mbappe.
The Blues are the ones hoping for the most to happen for them next year after a nightmare 2023. The first full year of Todd Boehly & Clearlake Capital’s ownership was the club’s worst in recent history as they only won six Premier League home games all year.
Chelsea scored a record-low 38 goals in the whole of last season and finished in the bottom half of the top flight for the first time in 27 years. There have been marked improvements to their overall play this term, yet Mauricio Pochettino’s side are in tenth position halfway through their first campaign without European football since 2016–17.
Chelsea lost the most Premier League games in 2023 (19) with only Almeria, Werder Bremen and Empoli losing more in Europe’s top five leagues. They find themselves closer to the relegation zone than the top four in a malaise that has now gone on for 12 full months.
Going into 2024, the Blues are desperate for better fortunes on the injury front coupled with some gems in the transfer market. Even Santa Claus might have received a few striker requests from West London over Christmas.
The comeback kings of Europe were brilliant over the past 12 months as Jürgen Klopp’s smart tweaking of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s position to an inverted full-back role worked wonders for the side. There was greater balance defensively as Liverpool were also able to assert their relentless attacking game on opponents.
Although they ended last season just outside the top four spots, the Reds have been back to their old selves this term as they finish the year on top of the Premier League table. Liverpool have gained 18 points from losing positions so far which is a huge testament to their resilience, there is a lot to be positive about going into 2024.
Meanwhile, they’ve drawn six games already – many of which should have been wins – and the Merseysiders must find their killer instincts to ward off title challenges from Arsenal and Manchester City. A tally of 42 points from 19 games is nevertheless the fourth-most points Liverpool have ever managed halfway through a season.
Liverpool have completed their fourth best first half of a Premier League season.— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) December 26, 2023
Klopp has five of the top six. pic.twitter.com/LSqynrjyId
The second half of the 2023/24 campaign should be even better for Liverpool but they would hope Mohamed Salah returns from the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations fit and healthy.
The year was a mixed one for the Gunners faithful who finally returned to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2016-17. However, they did so by leading the Premier League table for most of the season but collected just 12 points from their final nine matches to ultimately concede the title to Manchester City.
This late-season collapse set a record for the most time spent on top of the table without actually winning the league. Yet Arsenal have a gauge of their incredible potential and they will be hoping to right some wrongs in the New Year.
As they plot to lift the title they last won in 2004, Mikel Arteta has notably bolstered his squad with Declan Rice joining for a club-record fee of £100 million. Arsenal were also able to beat City for the first time since December 2015 as they qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League as Group B winners.
The Gunners have been top of the English top-flight table on Christmas Day for two consecutive years and nothing would feel better than to finally end their title drought exactly 20 years since The Invincibles.
The Nerazzurri had a memorable 2023 in which they started by winning the Supercoppa Italiana with a 3−0 victory over rivals AC Milan in Saudi Arabia. The strong performances under Simone Inzaghi culminated in a run to the Champions League final against Manchester City where they lost to a second-half goal from Rodri.
The second half of the year has seen fundamental improvements as they boast the best defensive record in Europe and sit top of the Serie A standings going into 2024. Upfront, Inter still have a fearsome striking duo of Marcus Thuram and Lautaro Martínez who have struck up a wonderful relationship.
The Frenchman has racked up eight goals and ten assists in all competitions with five league assists for Martínez already. Inzaghi has a squad that fits his system and they must now ward off Juventus in the race for the Scudetto.
The next 12 months are likely to be very memorable for Inter Milan.
The Old Lady suffered in the early part of 2023 when they were deducted 15 points by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) as punishment for capital gain violations which was later reduced to 10 points.
Furthermore, UEFA ejected Juventus from its competitions for one year and handed them a €20 million fine as the club violated UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, making it their first campaign without UEFA competitions since 2011–12. They now find themselves in a situation whereby players must be offloaded in order to balance the books
Nevertheless, the 2023/24 season has seen them surge into the Serie A title race and they ended the year with a 1-0 win over Roma to stay within two points of frontrunners Inter Milan going into 2024. Although that position may flatter them, Juve will hope to rise to the challenge and also avoid having to sell one of their prized assets in Dusan Vlahovic or Federico Chiesa.