Clive Ke-Sumbu | Football Editor | Monday 8 August 2016 | GMT 16:00 | email@example.com
With the 2016/17 football season imminently approaching, I can assure you as a fellow football fan that we’re going to be entertained like never before. There are so many questions that need to be answered, but the most important being: who will win the ultimate domestic prize in Europe’s top five leagues (the Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, La Liga and Premier League)?
La Liga – Spain
With my predictions for Ligue 1 and Serie A sorted in last week’s article, we now look to La Liga. What was meant to be an unassailable road to the title for Barcelona turned into one of the tightest title races since Atletico Madrid’s championship winning campaign just two seasons before. Despite the resurgence of Real Madrid under the guidance of club legend Zinedine Zidane and Luis Enrique’s men faltering towards the latter stages of the season, Barcelona still managed to preserve their place at the top of the table.
Barcelona is still the team to beat with a potential fourth La Liga title in five years. With that in mind, it clearly demonstrates the sheer talent that is possessed at Barcelona. Lionel Messi was integral to Barcelona’s success last season, Luis Suarez was indispensable and Neymar’s quality shone throughout. La Liga’s top scorer last season, Suarez, received many plaudits and I believe he will be as threatening (if not frightfully more) in front of goal with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in midfield in the forthcoming season. Thus Barcelona is my favourite to win La Liga 2016/17.
However, you palpably cannot disregard the threat of the current Kings of Europe, Real Madrid. Like the 2014 final, Real Madrid was able to defeat their city neighbours Atletico, to win the UEFA Champions League, defeating the likes of Manchester City and executing an impressive comeback against Wolfsburg along the way to the 2016 final. Both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed a successful Euro 2016 campaign with the latter going on to win the competition for his country as captain. It is clear that Ronaldo is the favourite to win the Ballon D’or and you only have to look at the 2nd leg against Wolfsburg in the Champions League last season to observe his attacking prowess and quality as a goal scorer. With that in mind, Barcelona must be wary of their rich rivals, but the question remains as to whether Real Madrid can replicate their Champions League form in La Liga (a title they haven’t won since 2012).
Looking at recent transfer activity, Barcelona have looked to strengthen their defence with the signings of Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne. It is clear that Enrique intends to ensure that Barcelona become a formidable force at the back in the long run. The signing of one of Valencia’s standout players, Andre Gomes, was also a good move. In contrast, Real Madrid have only re-signed Álvaro Morata, which was always going to happen given his two successful campaigns at Juventus and exploits at Euro 2016. Unfortunately, that alone isn’t enough to convince me that they can pip Barcelona to the title.
Overall, although the transfer window is not due to close for a few weeks yet, Barcelona are still my favourites to win the league and in order for that to be made difficult, Real Madrid need to add more competition in defensive midfield to compete with the recent breakthrough of Casemiro. He has probably done enough from last season to secure a place in the starting 11, but if he is to get an injury they do not have another midfielder who is as defensive minded and robust as him. And while I haven’t mentioned them as much, their city rivals Atletico Madrid (possessing the Euro 2016 Golden Ball winner Antoine Griezmann), will look to once again break the Barcelona stronghold on the Spanish title.
Can Barcelona cement their dominance with a hat trick of La Liga titles? Can Zidane’s men thwart Barcelona’s title challenge? Can Diego Simeone’s men gate-crash the party as they did in 2014? I can’t wait to find out the answers.
Bundesliga – Germany
The Bundesliga has been a straightforward competition for Bayern Munich under the guidance of Pep Guardiola. In the last three years, Bayern Munich lost just nine league games and with a new manager at the helm (Carlo Ancelotti), it looks to continue that way as we edge closer to the upcoming season. The previous season, Bayern Munich finished ten points ahead of Borussia Dortmund with only two losses and also triumphed in the DFB Polka final over Dortmund, making it a fourth successive domestic double, with Bayern being the first German club to do so. Moreover, with World Cup winner Mario Götze (who scored the winner in the 2014 World Cup final) only being able to cement his place on the bench, his return to Dortmund during this transfer window only exemplifies the depth and strength of Bayern Munich’s squad.
Yet whilst Bayern Munich’s heroics were evident to see, Dortmund also had a great season and was definitely Bayern’s closest rival to the Bundesliga title. Suffering from the demise of the season prior to the last, they were determined not to slip up and wanted to ensure they kept pressure on Bayern. But this was soon too big of job to do as Dortmund lost their place at the top by late September and would never overtake Bayern again. Sadly, the league table standings do not reflect the quality of Dortmund’s players. One of those players was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He was lethal upfront, amassing 25 league goals at the end of the season. He is definitely one of my favourites to be top scorer in the league come the end of the forthcoming season. Interestingly, another team that may have a chance in the title race is Bayer 04 Leverkusen. With their prolific goal scorer Javier Hernandez netting 17 league goals, he will be looked upon to help spur a title charge against the Bavarians.
With that in mind, the transfer activity in this league has been full of drama, with Aubameyang being constantly linked with a move away from Signal Iduna Park. Dortmund has already lost their Bundesliga’s Players’ Player of the Year, Henrik Mikhitaryan as well as İlkay Gündoğan and Mats Hummels. However, with the signing of Ousmane Dembélé, they possess a talent that is likely to exceed the exploits of Mikhitaryan, and at 19 he has a lot of time to develop himself.
It is unlikely Dortmund is going to be able mount a massive title challenge due to the loss of many key players. The most notable being their once-thought loyal captain, Mats Hummels, who moved to their fierce title rivals Bayern, strengthening Bayern’s defence. With that in mind, Bayern now possess Germany’s first choice defenders as well as young talent Renato Sanches from Benfica, who at 19 had a successful Euro 2016, going on to win the competition. It is clear that Bayern in this transfer window have made shrewd signings and have conducted their business really early, even before the window opened. I just can’t see any other team winning Bundesliga now.
Overall, Bayern Munich is my favourite to win the league in the forthcoming season. With one of the most decorated managers in football in Ancelotti, Bayern Munich is in safe hands. Can Dortmund do enough to hold on to Aubameyang? Can Dortmund mount a title challenge against the Bavarian squad with the loss of their key players? Can anyone really stop Bayern?
Barclays Premier League – England
Whilst my predictions in other leagues were not complicated, the Barclays Premier League is undoubtedly the most difficult to predict. You only have to reflect on the events that unfolded last season to really understand the disparity between the bookies predictions and reality. The recently dethroned champions, Chelsea, were the favourites going into last season in stark contrast to relegation favourites Leicester City who were placed at 1000/1 to win the league. Last season has evidently given the bookies a bitter lesson, with many having to dig deeper into their finances than normal to pay for the lucky winners who gambled on Leicester. But moving on, it is clear that this season will be very intriguing as the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Jürgen Klopp are all put against each other in the Premier League.
In relation to transfer window activity, it looks like Manchester United will be a potent force to be reckoned with based on the acquisition of Ligue 1 top scorer, Ibrahimović, and last season’s Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Year, Henrik Mikhitaryan, for a mere £26.3 million. Both being shrewd signings and under the guidance of the manager with the highest win rate in the Premier League, Manchester United is my favourite to win the 2016/17 title.
However, to disregard the chances of any of the other Premier League clubs would be naïve. Manchester City, under the guidance of Guardiola, has managed to secure the services of Nolito, İlkay Gündoğan, Leroy Sane and Marlos Moreno. They certainly look the biggest threat of thwarting Mourinho to a second league title in three years.
However, although both Manchester clubs are clearly the favourites to win the title, you cannot rule out smaller sides coming through as Leicester did last season. With the departure of N’Golo Kante from Leicester to fellow title rivals Chelsea, it will be difficult for Leicester to maintain the same level of performance they produced with Kante. But the recent acquisitions of Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy will certainly dampen Leicester’s recent loss.
Last season just goes to show that an outsider for the title can conquer the Premier League. If it happens again this season, I wonder whether it could be Sunderland under newly appointed David Moyes or maybe Liverpool ending their winless streak for a league title? Oh yeah and maybe Arsenal (*cough* should Wenger resign by December *cough*) could win it too?
Overall, despite the likelihood of any team winning the Premier League, Manchester United seems the most credible. With Mourinho at the helm, Manchester United is likely to conjure up more positive results than last year and will definitely become more attractive than the boring football presented under Louis Van Gaal. But with the unpredictability of this league, we shouldn’t really rule out any of the teams who finished in the top seven of last season. The rollercoaster of emotion awaits its eager passengers…
This season looks to be the best one yet. Are you ready for it? Bring it on!