One storyline to watch in the Top Five European Leagues as the 2021/22 season commences in the coming weeks…
Well, it is nearly here. Just as it seems the previous season ended yesterday, we are merely weeks, if not days, away from the start of the 2021/22 season across Europe. The 2020/21 season was incredible across the continent, with multiple new champions and two title races going down to the final day of the season. Will we get the same level of excitement in 2021/22?
Well, maybe not.
But there is still quite a bit to keep an eye on, and I am here to give you one particular angle for each of the “Top Five” Leagues that you should keep an eye on for this upcoming season.
Premier League: We know who the top four are, but who is #5?
I think the summer transfer window has pretty well secured the idea that there is a top class of teams in the Premier League this season. It seems pretty obvious that the top four teams (Chelsea, United, City, Liverpool) are a class above the rest, and while Liverpool might be the most precariously positioned of those four, it would not surprise me in the slightest if the top four at the end of the season is some combination of those four teams. It has all of the makings of an incredible title race.
But who will finish fifth?
The battle for the final European places will be heated this season. Leicester City, fresh off finishing in 5th last season, seem to be the favorites. Their addition of Patson Daka could be a shrewd one, but a major injury to Wesley Fofana leaves them a little vulnerable at the back. Aston Villa, despite losing star forward Jack Grealish, have done enough in the summer window to be in this conversation. West Ham cannot be counted out either, and Leeds could certainly be strong enough to push for one of those places. Tottenham, should off the pitch matters not derail them, certainly have the talent. While there are concerns for both teams, it is possible that Arsenal and Everton emerge as dark horse candidates for those positions as well. While none of these teams will be in the title race, it does feel wide open when it comes to the middle of the table. I think the gap between 6th and 10th at the end of the season will not be that large.
La Liga: Can Atléti repeat? And what about the others outside of the big teams?
For what could be the first time in absolute ages, it appears Atlético Madrid are the favorites to win La Liga going into the season.
Diego Simeone’s team finally overcame the challenges of La Liga’s big two to win the league last season, with several thrilling comebacks along the way allowing Atléti to be crowned champions on the final day of the season. While Real Madrid remain a strong side, the discord behind the scenes has weakened them, leading to the departure of manager Zinedine Zidane and re-appointment of Carlo Ancelotti, the departure of Raphaël Varane and captain Sergio Ramos, and the financial difficulties at the club leading to the second successive summer without any major transfers into the team (aside from the free transfer signing of David Alaba). While the core of the Real Madrid team is still quite good, they are clearly aging and are not as good of a team as they were last season. And Barcelona…well…yeah.
While Atléti also did not have much money to spend in the window, they were still able to make a major signing in ex-Udinese midfielder Rodrigo De Paul. The entirety of the title-winning core remained at the club, and there are still some rumors around the acquisition of Spain youth team star Rafa Mir and Inter forward Lautaro Martínez. Atléti are going into the season as clearly the strongest team in the league on paper, but can they handle the pressure of being favorites?
Elsewhere, keep an eye on Sevilla and Villarreal. Sevilla were quietly in the title race last season, and they have so far held on to their key talents while adding an experienced forward in Erik Lamela from Tottenham and an exciting young right back in Gonzalo Montiel from River Plate. Even if they do end up losing Jules Koundé, you would fancy a team this capable at recruiting to replace him. Villarreal, fresh off of their first major trophy in their club’s history in the Europa League last season, gave an incredible account of themselves in a penalty shootout loss to Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. An already talented Yellow Submarine team has retained the likes of Dani Parejo, Gerard Moreno, and Samuel Chukwueze while also adding experienced center back Aïssa Mandi from Real Betis and exciting young striker Boulaye Dia from Reims. The partnership of Dia and Moreno looked very potent in the Super Cup, so look out for those two to cause some surprises in La Liga and in the Champions League.
Bundesliga: Marco Rose’s Borussia Dortmund and Jesse Marsch’s RB Leipzig
I do not think it will be a shock to anyone if Bayern once again win the Bundesliga this season. The Bavarians’ iron-strong grip on the Meisterschale does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon, but the potential challengers this season could at least make things interesting. Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have new managers, with one bringing in a new, fresh philosophy and one very much bringing in a “return to your roots” mentality.
Dortmund are still going to be pretty good, even after losing Jadon Sancho. Håland will still be there, he will still score plenty of goals. Donyell Malen has joined from PSV and looks set to enjoy a strong first season in Marco Rose’s high-energy attack. While losing Sancho is significant, I like the potential of what a good man-manager like Rose can do with Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brant, and Jude Bellingham. This Dortmund team has the potential to be very exciting, and it may not be enough to win the league, but it will be enough to potentially keep things interesting.
RB Leipzig are returning to their Red Bull system roots with American ex-RB Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch, someone who was very much raised through the Red Bull coaching philosophy. The losses of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté will hurt their defense, but bringing in young Croatian star Josko Gvardiol should help fill that void. They also added André Silva, who was the best striker in the league last season outside of Bayern and Dortmund. Adding an incredibly ruthless finisher like Silva into a team that already generates plenty of goalscoring chances and wants to play in that high tempo, Red Bull style will only lead to good things for Leipzig. I question whether their defense is strong enough right now to be true contenders, but they will most definitely be fun to watch and could be dangerous in Europe.
Serie A: The Miracle of Bergamo?
There is a lot of upheaval going on in Serie A this summer.
Inter, the reigning champions, have lost their manager and two of their best players, with further transfer rumors surrounding the rest of their team and more questions than answers facing new manager Simone Inzaghi. Juventus, fresh off of losing their title streak and just narrowly making it back into the Champions League, will also have a new manager, with old friend Max Allegri coming in to replace Andrea Pirlo. Napoli, Roma, and Lazio will all have new managers as well, while AC Milan will have to live with the departures of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Çalhanoglu, two of their best players last season.
Meanwhile, up in Bergamo, little old Atalanta is going on with their lives fairly quietly, and boy do they look dangerous. Yes, they lost Cristian Romero, the best center back in Serie A last season, to Spurs. They have done well to replace him, though, and I think Merih Demiral and Matteo Lovato will both do well to fill the void that Romero left. And that is all they lost. The main stars of the team last season are still there, and they have even added a quality goalkeeper in ex-Udinese shot-stopper Juan Musso. This team, as they have been the last few years, is very good.
Can they win the league?
Well, I do not hate their chances. If there was ever a chance for Atalanta to win the Scudetto, it is this season. Will they do it? I have no idea, but I am very excited to find out.
Ligue 1: A new generation of stars?
Yeah, Messi happened. I think it is safe to assume we all know who is going to win Ligue 1.
But in the “League of Talents”, there is always some young stars to be on the lookout for, even if PSG do end up winning the league by 50 bajillion points. Monaco look to be the closest realistic challenger to the Parisians, and their team is led by reigning Ligue 1 Young Player of the Season Aurélien Tchouaméni and now complemented by AZ Alkmaar’s prodigal striker Myron Boadu. Lyon’s academy is always known for producing stars, and the more experienced Maxence Caqueret and Rayan Cherki will be joined this season by new promotees Castello Lukeba and Malo Gusto. Marseille have brought in rising stars in Gerson and Konrad De La Fuente. Nice have their own stars in Amine Gouiri, Hichem Boudaoui, Khephren Thuram, and Jean-Clair Todibo.
I know, this is sort of clutching at straws here. PSG are going to win the league, it probably will not be close. But here me out here…
The big draw of Ligue 1 is the amount of young talent that is there. This talent pooled together creates a load of dynamic and direct attacking teams. Sometimes they come together and form brilliant stories, like Lille winning the league last season, but sometimes they have to settle for second best behind the Parisian behemoth. But maybe the most exciting prospect is that the next star, who could end up becoming the next big thing in world football, is someone that we do not even know yet. Players like Kylian Mbappé and Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard were simply kids with a dream when they were given a chance in Ligue 1, and they took that chance with both hands to blossom and become the superstars they are now. And you would get to see the origin of the next great football star. I find that quite exciting.
And yeah, there you go. League football is back, and there is seemingly something to look out for in every league. While we may not have the title races that we had last year, there is enough across the board for me to be sufficiently excited about this 2021-22 season.
Oh, and we are about a year away from the World Cup, which is always exciting.
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