Europe’s top leagues come to an end this weekend with no suspense about the potential winners.
Teams in La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 will play their final games with most players concerned about the upcoming World Cup, or their holiday plans. The Premier League and Bundesliga already wrapped up last weekend. The only surprise this season where league titles are concerned was the battle between Juventus and Napoli in the Serie A.
Whereas all the other competitions finished, or likely will finish, with double-digit leads for the leaders, Napoli made Juventus work for a seventh consecutive title. Elsewhere, Manchester City accumulated a historic 100 points with a 19-point lead over Manchester United in England and Bayern Munich finished 21 points ahead of Schalke in Germany. Barcelona has a 12-point lead with one game remaining in Spain while Paris Saint-Germain waltzed to a 15-point lead over Monaco in France with one unimportant game remaining.
For all their dominance domestically, these teams failed to meet expectations in Europe.
Manchester City were dark horse contenders for the Champions League, and a solid run in the competition was expected considering the talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. City’s early season form, and the fantastic play that came with it, heightened expectations that a good run would occur barring disaster. That disaster came in the form of a confident, energetic Liverpool team and City were brushed aside over two legs. There’s no need for Guardiola’s side to be too concerned though.
The Citizens still have a fantastic squad with depth and experience. Yaya Toure’s departure means a new midfield addition is likely and the arrival of a left-back will free up Fabian Delph play his more natural role. If he stays. One major question will be whether Guardiola makes the right decision when City reach that stage again. He hasn’t made much of a dent on this competition since his Barcelona days. Next season would be a good time to start.
Barcelona will end the season with a double but it certainly feels underwhelming.
The Blaugrana were bailed out time and again by Lionel Messi in games big and small. The loss of Neymar decreased the squad’s attacking verve and Ernesto Valverde’s approach didn’t help. That was clear in the embarrassing collapse against Roma in the Champions League. The former Athletic Bilbao manager essentially trotted out a supercharged version of his former Bilbao squads this season. The defensive solidity was a welcome change but it made Barcelona reliant on Messi’s magic against well-organized opposition.
The squad will likely see an overhaul as it seems Valverde had a hard time trusting Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes in midfield. Barcelona fans would certainly have no problem with the latter getting the boot. The major issue will be Andres Iniesta’s departure and, again, central defense. It’s possible that Valverde, if he stays, will fit Philippe Coutinho in that role but there is still a lack of overall depth in the squad. It also matters that there are few real difference makers on the bench unlike their rivals, Real Madrid. Valverde will have to change something next season beyond players. If he wants to remain solid and is as averse to the 4-3-3 as he seems then a 4-2-3-1 with Messi behind Suarez would be better than the 4-4-2 we saw so much of this season.
Bayern Munich sacked Carlo Ancelotti early in the season and they probably aren’t upset with the result. Had they matched Real Madrid’s clinical finishing in the Champions League semifinal then they would be looking at a possible treble. There will certainly be some major decisions to make over the summer. Jupp Heynckes’ stint at the club is one, and overhauling an ageing squad is another. Bayern still has no problems domestically with the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery but the wing duo no longer have a major impact in Europe. The overall depth of the squad is okay but making James Rodriquez a full-time member of the squad should be a priority. Another forward to back up, or possibly replace, Robert Lewandowski would be a good addition.
A large part of Bayern’s success next season will depend on who is at the helm. They should return to the latter stages of the Champions League but it will be a long road.
Juventus. No more Gianluigi Buffon means a new era begins. It was sad to see the legendary goalkeeper’s last European game end as it did, especially after what was almost a fantastic comeback. Europe still eludes the Old Lady though Maximiliano Allegri led the side to another double this season. The domestic success came with some ups and downs. By the way, if you haven’t watched the Juventus series on Netflix then do so. It’s fantastic. Allegri’s decisions in certain games nearly cost Juventus another Serie A title just as much as Napoli’s collapse won it for them. The core of the squad makes for a serious contender in Europe but fresh faces are needed in defense and midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain already have a new coach, as BBC reports Thomas Tuchel has taken over from Unai Emery. That was expected after the disappointing defeat to Real Madrid in the Round of 16. The league is a given for this squad with Tuchel in charge. The possibility of Neymar’s departure will be a major cause for concern though. The Brazilian left Barcelona to be a leading force in a Champions League contender but saw his side fail miserably without him. A replacement for Thiago Motta’s experience in midfield will be necessary but, barring any major departures, Tuchel has a lot to work with. His inexperience in the Champions League may be the one thing that works against the Parisians.
It’s definitely a weird ending to Guardiola’s reign at Bayern. Of course, he will still be ambitious and want to go out with a win but it feels like nobody, bar fans and his most ardent critics, will really care about him winning or losing the Cup final. Everybody’s already either looking at what Carlo Ancelotti will bring and the two new signings, Hummels and his awkward scenario playing vs soon-to-be teammates and how Guardiola will fare at Manchester City.
I do want Dortmund to win though to cap off a great season. Hope for a good game regardless. One of a few cup finals tomorrow, with the French Cup, FA Cup and Coppa Italia as well. Copa del Rey on Sunday. Still a nice weekend for club football.
Agreed. When Bayern can just spring into action and snap up players at will it continues to leave the rest of the Bundesliga behind. I don’t think many will have any argument about the price paid for Hummels despite the one year on his contract. Dortmund played their position well and Bayern get a world-class player. I certainly understand the author’s points about buying for potential and to ensure nobody else drives up the price in regards to the Sanches deal. It is still quite a lot for such a player and there’s no telling what his future may hold.
As a Pep fan, I wanted Bayern to win so critics wouldn’t have one thing to hold unto about his reign at the club. Good points throughout about what he’s done and the lack of a Champions League trophy shouldn’t tarnish that much.
I don’t get why this keeps happening to Borussia Dortmund. They need to do better in terms of handling contracts and/or release clauses or something, especially in relation to Bayern. Of all the other moves, Gotze and Lewandowski, Hummels is seemingly the most understandable because he’s going back to his hometown. What’s not understandable is his wanting to go back after his previous annoyance with Bayern after leaving and the fact that his team is very much capable of challenging them if he stayed. It’s not one of those cases where he won’t play, he definitely will but it’s still just weird. If Dortmund can get Gotze back, for cheap or really free, that softens the blow a bit but they don’t need help in attack.
It will be such a fascinating tactical battle between these two sides. Atletico may even be favorites considering what they did to Barcelona. It will be a tight tie from start to finish.
True. The latter stages of the Champions League are always a question of focus over everything else for Bayern Munich and that will definitely be the case again here. They should get through the group pretty easily but we’ll see what happens after that.
Good breakdown here of what Germany’s top teams need this summer.
Very, very interesting piece here.