It seems it’s tough at the top. One of the strangest facts from last season in Europe – a year when the likes of Sampdoria and Tottenham Hotspur finally delivered on long-held promise domestically, when Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid put basket-case status behind them to win a European trophy, and a fairytale for Fulham, Portsmouth and Blackpool led the charge for romantics everywhere – was the state of panic affecting the most successful teams from the three biggest leagues.

Whereas Real Madrid always had millions upon millions, and now have Jose Mourinho, to tweak their side and take it from second to first, it was the sharp declines of Juventus and Liverpool, both crashing out early in the Champions League before terrible domestic campaigns saw them finish in seventh, which really caught the eye. Ciro Ferrara, the rookie manager of the Old Lady, has long gone, replaced temporarily by Alberto Zaccheroni before Luigi Delneri abandoned Sampdoria for Italy’s most famous name, and now Rafael Benitez, Liverpool’s beleaguered manager, has joined Ferrara in the job queue (though seemingly not for long, if interest from Inter is followed up with an offer). However, whilst Juve fans can look to the future with hope and a chance to regain former glories, the abyss appears to be opening up under The Reds.

The central issue with Liverpool is their ownership problems: with the loathed American pair of George Gillett and Tom Hicks wildly over-valuing their stakes in the club – they are looking for at least £600M as opposed to the £350M valuation from Royal Bank of Scotland – and the much-needed sale thus looks a long way off. The old saying of two men owning a house and the house having a leaky roof rings true here, as neither owner is prepared to back down or invest, leaving the rotten heart of a £350M debt to build up and loom over the city in much the way the anticipated stadium at Stanley Park was meant to be doing by now.

Such chronic debts have now hit the club on the pitch, with inter-squad tensions and the directors’ lack of confidence in Benitez being reciprocated, dragging the focus away from rebuilding the team and contributing to their disappointing tumble down the table. With even less money now coming in after they were effectively relegated to Europe’s second tier, and with big-spending Manchester City to overhaul before they get near Spurs and fourth place, the quasi-promotion looks quite quixotic.

If anything, the increasingly forlorn figure of Benitez had poisoned the relationship with leading players, with the crown jewels of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard less than devastated by his departure. Torres and Gerrard, as well as the few quality support-acts like Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano, are all decent bets to leave if things do not improve drastically soon – this means a big manager such as Roy Hodgson, Martin O’Neill or Guus Hiddink, as well as some transfer funds – and if these don’t materialise, it could only be the start of a steep decline for England’s most successful club, a title that may be in peril. Level on 18 league titles with Manchester United, but with remote prospects of retaking a clear lead sometime soon, the Liver Bird is in line for a mauling from a resurgent Red Devil.

While Liverpool are down on the ropes, waiting to be finished off, the Old Lady of Juventus, beaten black and blue by Inter since the Calciopoli scandal, could be about to get a second wind. Unlike Liverpool, who are plagued by money problems, Juve can still rely on the fortune of the Agnelli dynasty to bankroll their rebuilding; whereas Stanley Park remains a mere paper project, the hated Stadio delle Alpi will be torn down, and a newer stadium will be revamped, refreshed and ready for ‘The Zebras’ to return to their old stomping ground in two seasons; and with a permanent and proven manager already signed up to spearhead the rebuilding project, the bianconeri can look at the red mist over the Mersey with a sigh of relief.

Juventus still need to overhaul the squad, which may be of a better pedigree than Liverpool’s, but is in the main too old – its rustiness is illustrated by the fact that they still rely on the old guard of David Trezeguet (32), Nicola Legrottaglie (33), Mauro Camoranesi (33), Hasan Salihamidzic (33), Vincenzo Iaquinta (30), Fabio Grosso (32) and the talismanic captain Alessandro Del Piero, even if he is doing a fine Ryan Giggs impression by going strong at approaching 36. However, a young nucleus of talent built around Giorgio Chiellini, Felipe Melo and Diego, with the additional experience of Gianluigi Buffon, who at 32 is approaching a goalkeeper’s prime, provides Delneri with a strong base to challenge the upper reaches of Serie A, especially with both Milan clubs losing their coaches. Just as Milan bounced back to from fifth to finish third this season just ended, and just as Juventus rose from Serie B to runners-up in two years, the possibilities for a swift recuperation are high.

There is something perverse about how Portsmouth, who finished rock bottom, nearly went bust and will struggle next season in the rough and tumble of the Championship, ended the season with more humour and good-feeling amongst the fans than Liverpool, who reached a European semi-final and finished a comfortable seventh, a position most Premier League clubs would consider a resounding success. Essentially, it’s about how the higher they rise, the harder they fall, and The Reds, sinking ever deeper into the red, fans reddened with anger and the owners red-faced, have fallen as hard as any other top club in recent times, even when comparing them to scandal-hit Juventus. As they enter the third decade since they last won the league, they may soon find out that however tough it is at the top, it’s much tougher not being able to reach it.