By J Hutcherson (Oct 9, 2018) US Soccer Players - Call it the panic of the super clubs, with the 2018-19 season already turning into something few expected. Check the league standings in Spain and England and that tells the story. Sevilla is top of the table in La Liga, with the usual suspects slotting in at 2nd through 4th. It's Real Madrid in 4th-place, losing for the second time over the weekend. In England, goal difference separates Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool at the top of the table but none of them are convincing anybody that the title is already theirs.
"And Arsenal is two points behind too, right?," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. "They’ve won six games in a row so it looks like they are in a good shape. We played City today, we can have three points, or one point or no points and we have one so that’s fine. If somebody would have told me after eight matchdays we would have had 20 points, I would say with pretty much any fixture list I’d have said ‘yes’, but with that fixture list I’d have said ‘I’ll buy it, let’s start on the ninth matchday’.
In leagues not exactly known for parity and with huge financial differences in play, what exactly is going on? The simple answer is nothing, that it's too soon to judge anything about the European seasons because they've barely begun. Everything right now is salvageable, including the group standings in the Champions League.
"We're on a bad run, but we have to stay positive," Real Madrid's Raphael Varane said. "It was a disappointing result today. We started the game well, with the right attitude, but they punished us at the end. Now we have to focus on the positives, stick together, believe we can get through this and give it everything we've got. Out on the pitch there are good and bad moments, but we have to stay united. It is a challenging spell, but we should not down tools at all because we can turn this around. There is a lot of quality in this group, enough to change this situation. We just need a little more confidence and to get those results, but we will crack it with hard work."
That's the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from an Alaves player following yet another loss to Real Madrid. Flipping that particular script doesn't sound right, mostly because it's Real Madrid.
Eventually, super clubs act on disappointment. That too might be an issue already this season. The Jose Mourinho situation at Manchester United has already gotten more than enough press, but it raises the problem of super clubs wanting to employ super coaches. There are only so many. Dropping one for another hasn't gotten any easier. The emerging talent from Germany is now at Liverpool and PSG. Zinedine Zidane will end up linked with every prestige job opening in soccer. Coaches looking to take that next step probably won't be doing it at a club like Manchester United.
It's still early, but that might be playing into what we're watching. Ideas grow old even at super club levels. Tactics that worked with one elite group of players may not with another. While world soccer embraces the press, there are only so many teams capable of doing it well. What we may be seeing are multiple teams trying to hold on through a tactical transition. That's nothing new, but normally it's the super clubs leading that transformation. Now, it's enough super clubs struggling to suggest a trend.
Should this continue, it lines up a series of issues for all involved. How to spend tops that table, with clubs having no choice but to reconsider what they're doing with their money. It's the plural that's the issue. If it's multiple clubs, the brand names of Europe, that creates an issue across leagues. As much fun as it might be for fans of other teams finally getting a look at unlikely success, European soccer orients itself around the super clubs. The latest Champions League revisions are about the super clubs. Those same clubs hold the strongest bargaining position in European soccer simply because they have the power to redo European soccer. If they finally take that option, everything changes across the board.
Yes, it's the super league scenario, one normally associated with the super clubs in a position of strength. How about the same scenario but in a position of desperation? Things change, and that may not necessarily mean the same super clubs in the same position of power. Avoiding that might turn into the game behind the game, with the existing hierarchy maneuvering to stay there. What's almost a certainty is that the current super clubs maintain the leverage in European club soccer. For how long is the question they should already be asking each other.
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 email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- MLS in October
- AFC and Telstar play in the Cup
- Another season of Champions League questions
- Learning to like the Nations League
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