After a summer full of withdrawal symptoms, the soccer season is back, and all of Europe, teams will be kicking off the new campaign over the next couple of weeks. In order to prepare us for 10 months of intense action, Commentary Box Sports previews three of the top divisions in Europe – Italy, Spain and Germany.
Italy – Serie A
Runners Up: Napoli
Newly promoted: Sassulolo, Hellas Verona, Livorno
Although Italian football isn’t quite what it was a few years ago – amid match fixing scandals and departures of the world’s top talent – this years’ Serie A season is likely to be very exciting indeed.
Juventus, previously a pillar of European football and club of choice for such luminaries as Nedved, Thuram, Inzaghi and Baggio have gone through something of a transition period over the last few years following their involvement in a match fixing scandal that saw them relegated to Serie B. La Vecchia Signora fought bravely to get back into the top division, and their fruits were rewarded last season with the Serie A title to complete back-to-back league triumphs. Juventus are obviously looking to stay at the top of the pile and have strengthened well this summer, adding Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente to their forward line as they bid to become a European force once more.
Napoli will have other ideas about that though, and having strengthened their team considerably with the £32m signing of Gonzalo Higuain as well as the acquisition of talented tactician Rafa Benitez, Napoli will be looking to build on their steady progress to wrest the title from Juve.
Fiorentina have also strengthened, grabbing German striker Mario Gomez for just £13m. Gomez is a prolific goalscorer, and Fiorentina will hope that his acquisition will aid them in the title race. For their part, Roma have invested wisely in Kevin Strootman and will hope that their veteran striker Francesco Totti can fire them to glory. Lest we forget them, AC Milan cannot be written off either as with Mario Balotelli anything – read literally anything – is possible.
We can expect to see an exciting season in Italy, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see an Italian team or two reach the latter stages of the Champions League this time around.
Spain – La Liga
Runners Up: Real Madrid
Newly promoted: Elche, Villareal and Almeria
Spain rather lost its European crown to Germany last season, as Madrid and Barca both failed in their Champions League attempts, and the response from the two top teams in Spain has been fairly cataclysmic. Barcelona have managed to secure the services of prodigious Brazlian talent Neymar in a £50m deal from Santos, and Catalan mouths must be watering about the prospect of Neymar forging a double act with three times World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
The Catalans have been hamstrung slightly by the unfortunate departure of Tita Vilanova, who was forced to resign on health grounds after leading the club to yet another La Liga title. Gerardo Martino is the man in the hotseat now, and having done all of his managing in South America, the challenge of the Spanish league could well prove to be a steep learning curve for the Argentinean.
Looking to benefit from any bedding in period that Barca may require is Real Madrid, who struggled last season as infighting and bad press culminated in Jose Mourinho departing the Galacticos to join former club Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti is in charge now, and Madrid fans are hoping that his pragmatic and calm management style will pay dividends with what is a tremendously talented group of players.
Real have strengthened too, with Spanish playmaker Isco and midfielder Illaramendi joining the white ranks. There is of course talk of one more addition to the Madrid squad, with Madrid president Florentino Perez making eyes at Tottenham’s Gareth Bale all summer, and that deal may still happen as we head towards deadline day. Whether Bale joins or not, it’s clear that Madrid will be a force to be reckoned with this year.
La Liga is generally something of a two-horse race, and that is not expected to change this season, with most other clubs losing their prized assets as opposed to acquiring new ones. Soldado has departed Valencia for Spurs, Navas and Negredo have joined Man City from Sevilla and Falcao left Athletico Madrid for Monaco, suggesting that the notion of first or second place being awarded to a team other than Barca and Madrid is fanciful.
What we can legitimately hope for though, is a decent title race. Martino will need time to adapt at the Nou Camp, whilst Ancelotti is likely to acclimatise to his post at the Bernabeu much more quickly. Both teams will hope that their efforts in the transfer market will improve their performances in Europe. It’s going to be a good year to be a Spanish football fan.
Germany – Bundesliga
Holders: Bayern Munich
Runners Up: Borussia Dortmund
Newly promoted: Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Braunschweig
Last season, Germany were the undisputed kings of Europe, with Bayern Munich defeating close rivals Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League title. German fans will be hoping for a repeat performance this year as the rest of Europe plays catch up.
Bayern were simply phenomenal last year, winning the league and cup in addition to their European triumph. However, this season is almost certainly going to be different to last in that the man who masterminded that treble triumph Jupp Heynckes is no longer at the club. The 68-year old is likely to have retired for good now, so which coach is now at the best team in Europe? None other than arguably the best coach in Europe of course. That man is of course Pep Guardiola, and the ex-Barcelona boss has a whole lot of pressure on him following Munich’s incredible season. Heynckes success has set a standard, and Guardiola must now try and live up to it.
The Spaniard seems to be doing a pretty fine job of it so far, acquiring the signature of highly rated midfielder Thiago Alcantara from old club Barcelona as well as pinching one of Dortmund’s main assets, playmaker Mario Gotze. Bayern were incredible last season and if Guardiola can add his possession football stamp onto the German champions, they’ll be a very difficult team to beat in the Bundesliga next season.
The team with the best chance of stopping the Bayern juggernaut is of course Borussia Dortmund, and Jurgen Klopp has added intelligently to his squad with the acquisition of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Saint-Etienne. Sadly for Klopp, with the strength in depth that Bayern possess, Dortmund are only like to trump the champions if something goes horribly wrong, but nevertheless, if that does happen, Klopp’s team are best placed to take advantage of it.
The race for the Bundesliga has become something of a duopoly, but there will still be a fierce race for the Champions League spots, with Leverkusen and Schalke likely to be up there alongside Wolfsberg, Frankfurt and Bremen.
Once again, the intrigue will be at the top of the table and in the European encounters. If Bayern had gone out earlier in the Champions League last season, Dortmund would have been odds on to win it; and this shows the strength of the two top German clubs who will both be after European glory again this year. It promises to be a fierce season, and with Germany rising in prominence exponentially, a good season for the German clubs could pave the way for…whisper it…a German World Cup triumph next summer.