By J Hutcherson (Aug 28, 2018) US Soccer Players – With all of the European big leagues now playing games that count and the group stage of the Champions League closing in, it’s worth asking a simple question. What’s worth our time this season across European soccer?
Since it’s almost impossible to correctly predict a Leicester City scenario, let’s set aside the shocking surprises. Instead, I’m going to focus on the five things I believe could happen and why they’re worth our time.
PSG or Juventus make the Champions League final
Why not start with the obvious? PSG and Juventus spend on superstars, put the super in super club, and set the standard over the last two transfer windows. That both did it at the expense of the two La Liga giants sets the story. It’s no longer Barcelona and Real Madrid restocking their world all-star lineups. It’s PSG and Juventus buying key players and causing both Barca and Real to have to reconsider their approach. This season that should pay off for one or the other of them. Depending on the draw, it could end up with them playing each other, finally shutting out the La Liga run of finalists turned champions.
No La Liga team advances to the Champions League or Europa League finals
2012-13 was the last time no La Liga team advanced to the Champions League or the Europa League final. Since then, a Spanish club has played in all five of the Champions League finals and four out of five of the Europa League finals. They’ve won all nine of those, setting a frankly ridiculous standard. Why pick against that streak continuing? Real Madrid is in no shape for a four-peat and Barcelona and Atletico Madrid aren’t the threats they once were. That’s not an empty statement, unfairly marginalizing two champions. Atletico being in the position to win last season’s Europa League was a disappointment. Better to exit in the knockout rounds of the Champions League than to end up dropping to the Europa League. This season, the pressure is on the top three in the Champions League, and that’s the sole focus. How far it gets them is the question, but the basic expectation is out of the group stage. Picking Real or Barca as finalists is easy enough, but there’s not as many good reasons as there were this time last season. With that in mind, assuming Sevilla advances later this week in the Europa League playoff round, they would join Villarreal and Real Betis in the group stage. Any of them could end up a favorite in the knockout round.
No London club finishes in the top four in the Premier League
Is this already a knock against a quality Spurs team? Maybe, but it’s also a season where they’re riding on no summer spending and eventually switching stadiums. There’s plenty of room for excuses should they end up out of the top four. As for the rest, Arsenal pulling it together under new management is certainly a possibility. This is still a club that knows how to play through issues, but that ended up being the biggest knock against their former manager. Arsenal pushing into the top four late in the season but not really competing is an old narrative. All we’re suggesting is this is the season where it doesn’t quite work out for either of the North London clubs. Chelsea also has issues with questions over ownership and direction. A stumble wouldn’t be a surprise. Throwing in the rest of the London Premier League teams is a gimme.
Manchester City will not repeat as Premier League champions
We haven’t had a successful title defense since Manchester United’s three-peatfrom 2006-07 through 2008-09. Manchester City has the motivation, the coach, and the squad but we know that might not be enough. City’s star turn as the latest team profiled on Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing series might convince you that they take things very seriously, but that’s the expectation at their level. So does Liverpool, the pundit’s favorite to press City for the title this season and our’s to. There’s something special about this version of Liverpool, on full display when their attack starts their moves in their own defensive end. What Liverpool is already doing is fun to watch, something that brings in the neutral and gets past the idea of tactics for their own sake. It makes them an easy pick because that’s the kind of soccer most of us prefer to see rewarded.
Bayern Munich wins the Bundesliga title
We’re going to end with the obvious as well. Seven titles in a row is going to happen and with it further pressure on the entirety of the Bundesliga. The problem with a mono-league is that eventually it disincentivizes everybody else. Why spend as much as they could if the clubs further down the table sees a significant gulf between them and the domestic title, much less competing in Europe? Right now, the Bundesliga is the most vulnerable league to slide out of the top four in the UEFA coefficient ranking. That’s the scary story even Bayern Munich recognizes. They also benefit from a strong domestic league where they’re not the runaway winners.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson:
- UEFA and its Super Cup
- Manchester United’s Mourinho already managing expectations
- Juventus makes its moves
- The Champions League changes all over again
Logo courtesy of Juventus