The UEFA Champions League is the Holy Grail of club football and few have stamped their name on the competition like Cristiano Ronaldo.
With La Liga and the Bundesliga kicking off this weekend, joining France’s Ligue 1 that started last weekend and Italy’s Serie A not far away, what better time to look forward to what’s ahead for the 2019/20 European football season.
For genuine football fans, sporting nerds and sporting hipsters alike, these four European leagues offer plenty every week. And this is what we’ve got to anticipate.
The usual influx of European players into the Premier League has continued into the new season, however the off-season saw more British players leave England to test themselves in some of Europe’s biggest leagues. This is also on the back of some successful campaigns by young English talent in the Bundesliga last season.
The biggest move is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey to Juventus, the Welshman trying to emulate Juve legend and compatriot John Charles as a rare British player at the Old Lady. Hopefully he can stay more injury-free in Italy, and he can get on with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and maverick coach Maurizio Sarri.
One of the bigger surprises of the transfer window was Spurs’ Kieran Trippier ending up at Atletico Madrid. Atletico have done quite the renovation of their squad for the new season, getting rid of some long-time warriors and bringing in some fresh players, along with the next football superstar in Joao Felix. Trippier could well have swapped a potential third place title challenger for another one in Spain.
New RB Leipzig pair Ethan Ampadu and Reece Oxford plus Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho are others to watch.
It’s hard to think that some of the biggest names in European football over the past five seasons are so unwanted by their current clubs, but for Neymar and Gareth Bale, that is the case heading into the new season.
Neymar at PSG seems the nastier of the two, especially after the welcome he received at their first day clash from his own fans. There’s no coming back from that. The club have made no secret of the fact they want to get rid of him.
The holder of the biggest transfer fee ever didn’t have the greatest 2018/19 season, possibly a hangover from the disappointing World Cup where he became more of a social media meme than anything. Kylian Mbappe shone so bright for PSG last season that they’ve decided the whole Neymar package is no longer for them.
The Brazilian appears to be off to either of the Spanish giants, Real Madrid or Barcelona – but a move would have to involve player swaps, and some creative payment plan. Barca look more likely.
The Gareth Bale saga at Real Madrid has been one of the bigger stories during the off-season.
Unwanted by new manager Zinedine Zidane, Bale has been shopped around Europe, with not even traditional moneybags like cash-chewing Manchester United willing to overspend on a big name player they barely need.
So nothing has happened, and Bale remains in Madrid. He was set to soak up the money in China before Real Madrid stopped the move, leaving him at Madrid with his massive wages and no game time.
The problem for both is that very few clubs can afford them, so how can they move without drastically cutting their own pay. And how can these clubs that bought them save face and recoup their massive transfer fee?
It’s not quite in the same league as Bale and Neymar, but the ongoing saga for Mauro Icardi at Inter Milan will be interesting too. The former Inter captain is unwanted at the club he loves, but Inter don’t want to sell him to Juventus, so there are reports Inter, Napoli and Roma are devising a transfer swap meet of players to ensure that Icardi doesn’t end up at the Italian champions.
One of the great football moments last season was watching Real Madrid getting flogged by Eibar 3-0, and it should have been six or more. Not to wish ill on Real Madrid, but it was one of those results you know will probably never happen again.
That’s what Real Madrid will be hoping for a lot of games from the 2018/19 seasons, as they consistently fell to much less fancied opposition. None of the three managers used could do anything about it.
So Real Madrid have done what they do best and appear to be been trying to spend their way out of trouble.
In comes long-term prospect Eden Hazard from Chelsea, then throw in the in-demand Éder Militão from Porto and Bundesliga goal-scoring wizard Luka Jovic who scored 27 in 48 matches last year for Eintracht Frankfurt.
There’ll be more to come, with either Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen a chance of joining if rumours are to be believed.
Zidane may regret returning at some point this season, but either way it will be interesting.
Sarri at Juventus
Looking through these four top-flight European divisions, it is hard to find any league that will have a different winner in 2019/20.
Although if I had to find a break in the big team domination chain this European season, it is Juventus.
You could rightly ask why anyone would back against a team that has won the national league title eight times in a row, but I have a theory or two.
Number one is that their potential biggest rival – Inter Milan – have strengthened on and off the field. Antonio Conte is in, along with Romelu Lukaku and a host of new players, which means they will no doubt be stronger than their fourth-placed finish last season.
Secondly, with the league becoming an annual formality and the Champions League still left unconquered since 1995, Juventus may put more focus on winning Europe’s biggest tournament than ever, as Ronaldo gets another year older.
Finally, there’s the new manager Maurizio Sarri, who plays to a certain style that may or may not match Juventus, and Juve usually only care about winning stuff not playing style.
Will his style suit the talent assembled? Will the players buy into his football philosophy? How does he deal with Ronaldo? There are so many questions still to be answered for Juventus.
Bayern vs Dortmund
Dortmund came so close last season to upsetting Bayern, but ultimately for all of their vigour, youth and great football, the footballing machine that is Bayern Munich eventually overpowered them.
Bayern have lost some big names over the off season, which could make them vulnerable if it weren’t for the incoming arrivals of Lucas Hernandez, Ivan Perisic and Benjamin Pavard. And they still have scoring machine Robert Lewandowski.
Dortmund have another season of experience, and have added a little more quality themselves with Mats Hummels and Thorgan Hazard among other quality German talents, so should be stronger than last season – and more prepared for the season long battle.
At a minimum, we should see a title battle, if not a breaking of Bayern’s stranglehold.
When will PSG choke in the Champions League?
Past behaviour is always the best way to predict future outcomes.
This is the main point of interest at the top of Ligue 1, as PSG are way too powerful for anyone else to mount a serious challenge – although Lyon’s form means they will at least keep pace with the Parisian giants early.
The side from Bergamo, just out of Milan, were the surprise packets of European football last season, finishing third in Serie A ahead of all the bigger clubs from Milan and Rome.
They were not only Serie A’s leading goal-scorers with 77 last season (seven more than Juventus), but were actually top of the table if it were taken from January 1, a solid four points clear.
Their stunning form has been rewarded with Champions League football this season, so it will be great to see this small Italian side in among the big teams on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Their style of football should delight the neutral.
Thankfully their side wasn’t torn apart by the bigger Serie A clubs, and with the addition of a little more depth and quality from last season, they could be a real surprise packet in the Champions League, depending on the draw.
They did a decent job a few seasons ago making the knockout stage of the Europa League with a weaker squad.
Adopt a club
A few seasons ago we came across Spanish minnows Eibar, and immediately fell in love with their story, style of play, and the fact that they were relatively unknown outside of La Liga purists and those from the Basque country.
We got lucky with supporting Eibar, as at their best they play a brand of football that is super exciting to watch.
Their best last season saw them thrash Real Madrid.
But while we are not suggesting that everyone should support Eibar, there is something to be said for having an additional team in Europe to support. And the less mainstream the better. Anyone can follow Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Choose just one from the major leagues across Europe, or even one per league.
Players to watch
Aside from the obvious names of Messi and Ronaldo, here are a few other names to keep an eye on.
João Félix (Atletico Madrid)
One of the most in-demand players in Europe settled for Atletico Madrid for plenty of Euros. He could have gone anywhere, but choosing Atletico gives him the chance to play every week and keep out of the limelight just a little. Atletico Madrid are a club to watch this season after a clean-out of their older players and a new injection of players to replace them.
Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
Followed on from his World Cup win with France in Russia in 2018 with an outstanding season in Ligue 1. He scored 33 goals and nine assists in just 29 games last season, essentially making Neymar an expensive player surplus to requirements. With even more improvement, he could easily become the best player in the world in 2019/20.
Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)
The 36-year-old striker was Serie A’s leading goal-scorer last season, with a magnificent return of 26 goals. As he appears to be getting better with age, that will surely mean some more of his magic this season. He did score a few penalties last season, but there were some real crackers in among them, and he is famed for producing quality over quantity, as the below YouTube video shows. Check out the humble eyebrow raise to the opposition goalkeeper, too.
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
The English youngster went to Dortmund to get some serious game time, and he did just that, as well impressing everyone in the Bundesliga last season. He finished the season with 13 goals and 19 assists in 43 games in all competitions for Dortmund. Will there be second-season syndrome, or will he create so much hype for himself that he can pick and choose his next destination, perhaps after a title win with Dortmund.
Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
A slightly obvious one, but after years of wanting a move to Real Madrid, he finally got his wish. But he arrives at a club that is coming off one of their worst seasons for quite a while. This is a perfect opportunity to turn it all around and be a hero at the Santiago Bernabéu forever.
TV coverage in Australia
All four big European leagues are on in Australia via BeIn Sports, which can be found as part the Fox Sports line-up – channels 513, 514 and 515 – with highlights shows every Monday.
Title winners: Barcelona
Top four: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Real Betis
Surprise: Eibar, Real Sociedad
Relegated: Real Valladolid, Osasuna, Leganes
Title winners: Borussia Dortmund
Top four: Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen
Surprise: Union Berlin
Disappointment: Borussia Monchengladbach
Relegated: Paderborn, Fortuna Dusseldorf
Title winners: PSG
Top four: PSG, Lyon, Lille, St Etienne
Relegated: Brest, Amiens
Title winners: Inter Milan
Top four: Inter Milan, Juventus, Napoli, Roma
Disappointment: AC Milan
Relegated: Brescia, SPAL, Fiorentina