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.
My piece for the Boot Room on Juventus’ chances in the Champions League
Juventus are one step closer to returning to the top of the European hierarchy.
The Old Lady travel to France to play Monaco in the first leg of the semifinals on Wednesday in what will be an intriguing encounter.
Juventus have had a good few weeks since their impressive defeat of Barcelona at the quarterfinal stage. Their lead in the Serie A currently stands at nine points with four games remaining, thanks to Roma’s loss to Lazio on Sunday. Massimiliona Allegri’s men would also have been pleased to learn that Monaco, and not Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid, were their semifinal opponents. The French side are impressive and potent in the attack, as Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund will attest, but they are the least experienced of the Champions League semifinalists.
Juventus know they will still face a tough test but will be confident after nullifying the trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez over two legs. That’s not to say the thought of facing either Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid would’ve had hearts skipping a beat. The Old Lady would have faced any of the semifinalists confident of reaching the final.
This Juventus side has to be considered the favorite to win the Champions League from this point on.
If the attacking prowess Il Bianconeri showed in the first leg against Barcelona wasn’t enough then the defensive masterclass at the Nou Camp should’ve vanquished any doubts. Of the four finalists, only Juventus has no questions marks over their path to the semifinals. Whether it be dubious defending, poor refereeing, weaker opponents or otherwise, Monaco and both Madrid sides haven’t been fully tested.
Juventus have gone about their Champions League campaign effectively, having topped their group while only conceding two goals in 10 games thus far. They made little fuss in dealing with Porto in the Round of 16 and upped their game against Barcelona. The confidence they showcased in those two legs are indicative of a side convinced they have what it takes to win the competition.
Juventus need not focus on the perceived luck of others though.
Allegri continues to enhance his reputation as a tactician and did so again earlier this season. The switch from the usual 3-5-2 system to a well-balanced 4-2-3-1 setup has put Il Bianconeri on the path to a treble. In each third of the pitch Juventus can match, or surpass, the main strengths of their fellow semifinalists.
With Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as organizers and leaders at the back Juventus are a fortress defensively. The varied talents of Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic in the two midfield roles mean Allegri’s side can control a game and withstand a physical battle. The front four of Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzuki, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain has a solid mix of speed, creativity, work-rate and clinical finishing. Juventus’ odds of a treble look very good with this group provided there are no serious injuries between now and the season’s end.
With the Serie A title virtually wrapped up, Juventus can focus fully on their two-legged encounter with Monaco even with the derby against Torino this weekend and the trip to Roma after the second leg. Monaco have a three point lead and a game in hand in Ligue 1 but the young side will be tested mentally in such an important time in the season. Interestingly enough, Juventus has a recent history with all three sides.
The Old Lady played these teams at various stages of the 2014/15 Champions League season on the way to final against Barcelona. Juventus lost and tied against Atletico in the group stages and finished behind the Spanish side in their group. A tightly contested tie against Monaco ended with 1-0 aggregate win while Real Madrid were beaten 3-2 on aggregate without a loss. Allegri’s side can take solace in the fact that only Monaco has undergone similarly significant changes in terms of playing style and personnel and the Italians will have two legs to overcome them.
Juventus have all the tools at their disposal to conquer their remaining rivals who all have flaws despite their strengths. Monaco’s potent attack leaves them wide open defensively. Atletico have the defensive resilience and tenacity to match the Old Lady but they don’t have the firepower of Juventus. Real Madrid have shown an ability to win all sorts of games while playing poorly but their defense is suspect and if Cristiano Ronaldo is marshaled properly, as you expect with the likes of Chiellini and Bonucci, then they will struggle. One wouldn’t bet against Allegri finding a solution to any problems these opponents will pose.
Juventus aren’t clear favorites but are certainly the strongest side remaining in the Champions League. Barring a freak accident or poor decisions from referees they should be in the final. Their experience two seasons ago will serve as motivation to hoist silverware the club hasn’t seen for over two decades. The Italian side has an air of destiny about them and Buffon’s quest for the one major club trophy to elude him can galvanize the legendary goalkeeper and his teammates.
Juventus’ resurgence from the days of the Calciopoli scandal will finally be complete with a European title in hand.
Could two players over 30 help Juventus reach the next level? The two in question can. Alves and Mascherano could have a similar impact to Patrice Evra for Juventus. As the author notes, there are specific roles each will fill and they can do so to great effect. Having to more leaders/winners in the dressing room would help too. I think Juventus may still need another attacking addition but if these moves happen they are on the way to another good summer.
Juventus can, and will, attract high-level talent but I don’t completely agree withe thought that an upgrade in attack is needed. Alvaro Morata’s performances against Bayern in the second leg suggests there’s more to come and with him Dybala and Mandzukic they have a good group to choose from. There’s also Simone Zaza who has room to improve. Then there’s the abundance of talent in midfield that can chip in with goals etc. That aside, there may be few players available they can target to upgrade the attack. Maybe James Rodriguez?
The next step for Juventus is Europe. It really was unthinkable that they’d win league so emphatically after that poor start. All the replacements worked out really well. The mix of experience, talent and potential in this team is frightening. I can definitely see Pogba staying, which will have a huge impact on potential arrivals etc.
They showed that against a Manchester City side that has been impressive domestically. Could kickstart their season. Juventus is stil the toast of the Serie A and should be solid in Europe again.
Agreed across the board. This is shaping up to be a very interesting Serie A season. Hopefully all the contenders perform.
Very interesting start to the Serie A and some good pieces below about Milan and Juventus in particular. I think will have the hardest time of all the big teams, even with the return of Balotelli. They need some experience in defense. Still lot’s of time to go though.
I’m not sure it’s that big of an issue. As the author said, Kwadwo Asamoah would go back to midfield to replace Vidal. Pirlo was the only other midfield departure and Khedira, although a different player is there. The injuries are an issue now but I think with a No. 10 they’ll be alright.
It’s definitely strange to see Juventus willing to let three top players go in one summer after such progression last season. As the author says, it’s a wonder where the goals will come from. Perhaps the addition of a No. 10 will help them a lot but there’s no telling. Maybe Asamoah gets moved back into midfield? Who knows.