Football is back! To be more specific, European football is back! I honestly can’t believe it’s been two months since Vini Jr. slotted the ball past Allison to win Real Madrid their 14th UEFA Champions League title.
Within that period, we’ve had UEFA European Nations League Group Stage matches, AFCON qualifiers, the African Women Cup of Nations, and as of the time this article is being written, pre-season qualifiers.
However, let’s be honest; nothing can touch the euphoria of weekly football action. As interesting as international matches are, you’d be hard-pressed to locate a fan that would pick a Germany vs England match over a Bayern Munich vs Man. City fixture. It’s just really what it is.
Therefore, in anticipation of the respective Match Day Ones, I’ve decided to have a go at predicting the top four finishers in Europe’s Big-Five leagues. Here we go:
English Premier League
- Manchester City
We all agree with Man. City’s placement, right? To be honest, no team looks capable of unseating the Cityzens. Of all four major players they’ve lost so far—Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, and Oleksandr Zinchenko—three have been effectively replaced—by Julian Alvarez, Erling-Braut Haaland, and Calvin Phillips. That’s aside from other possible transfer-ins and the brilliance of the Bald Fraud, Pep Guardiola.
As for Liverpool, recent purchases mean Mane’s exit will not be felt as much. On paper, their front line might be the most exciting to watch with Carvalho and Darwin ‘Pre-Season Stepper’ Nunez joining up with Jota, Luiz, Salah, and just maybe, Firmino. It’s a bit surprising that no midfield purchases were made (Milner and Henderson again?). Perhaps, Klopp has other ideas.
Tottenham’s placement on this list might seem fishy unless you’ve been following the team all through the preseason and have realized just how much potential they have. The combination of Son and Kane—the Premier League’s highest-scoring partnership—with new boy, Dejan Kulusesvski and Brazilians, Richalison and Lucas, are sure to give quite a few goalkeepers nightmares. Also, there’s a Yves Bissouma-bolstered midfield potentially free of deadweights like Tangui Ndombele and Harry Winks, and a better-looking defense courtesy of Conte’s signature rigid system. Third place sounds about right.
- Manchester United
Yes, Manchester United will finish in a UCL spot! Am I a bit biased in my selection? Maybe. Do I really believe they could finish fourth? 100%! The greatest disservice anyone could do themselves right now is to look down on the boys from Carrington. With the arrivals of Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro ‘the Butcher’ Martinez, the backline looks a lot more secure. There exists also the possibility of two more acquisitions with one in the attack and the other in the middle of the park. Watch out!
La Liga Santander
Outlier: Real Betis
- Real Madrid
Other things being equal, Los Blancos will lift their 36th La Liga title on or before the 4th of June, 2023. Although not as certain as City’s sweep—so much for the toughest league in the world—, their victory looks to be the most probable outcome. The Mbappe saga notwithstanding, Real Madrid has one hell of a squad with Ballon D’or favourite, Karim Benzema leading the front line, the best midfield in the world, and an experienced defensive set-up although another left-back to support Ferland Mendy is still needed. No team comes close in terms of balance.
Asides from my darling United, this is the side whose matches I look forward to. In a bewildering turn of events, the Catalan giants went from being broke to having one of the most impressive transfer windows in recent history, purchasing Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, retaining Dembele, Araujo, and de Jong, and causing plenty of Blue tears worldwide. Sadly, even the best attack in Europe—on paper—will be unable to unseat the current champions. Copa del Rey, perhaps?
- Athletico Madrid
Fun Fact: Diego Simeone is the highest-paid coach in the world; funny, right? That’s by the way. Following a poor title defence, one would expect Atleticò to have had a busy summer so far. Contrarily, they’ve spent only twenty (20) million Euros so far. To their credit, players like Luis Suarez and Vrsaljko are now off the books. And combined with the quality of players like Joao Felix and Rodrigo de Paul, Simeone might pull enough strings to finish third.
- A- Sevilla
For Sevilla, despite losing two of their most important players (Jules Kounde to Barça and Diego Carlos to Aston Villa), Lopetugui could still secure a UCL spot come season’s end. Remember that last season, they were equal with Madrid for the fewest losses (4).
As for Villareal, if their last season’s performance was anything to go by, they have the edge over Copa Del Rey-winning Betis. Injuries just have to be at a minimum (specifically in attack). I’m especially looking forward to Arnault Danjuma’s season for the Yellow Submarines.
- Inter Milan
Of all five leagues, this was the toughest to make a selection from. It took a few days, but after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve had to go with Inter in the first place. They’ve got Inzaghi. Chelsea loanee, Romelu Lukaku will join up with Lauturo Martinez, Edin Dzeko, and fellow new signing, Joaquin Correa. In defence, they somehow managed to retain Skriniar, Baston, and de Vrij, ensuring solidity. Two of the league’s best number tens are also now at the club, in the persons of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and former AC Milan star, Halkan Calhanoglu; this will ensure more creativity for last campaign’s highest-scoring team (84 goals).
The giants of Turin are finally looking set on the path to a rebuild. With the exits of players like Bèrnardeschi, Giorgio Chiellini, and Paulo Dybala, and recent good-looking reinforcements like Paul Pogba, Dennis Zakaria, and Dusan Vlahovic, Juve have almost no excuse for finishing outside the top two. Income from the sale of Matthijs de Ligt to Bayern Munich could be used to purchase a solid centre-back and a quality winger.
- AC Milan
“Milan o Milan, where will you finish? Between the Old Lady and the Biancocelesti”. Just so we’re clear, no one chants that. Milan simply does not have the sauce required for a title defence. It is just what it is. Recruitment has been surprisingly slow for a team aiming for the Scudetto; Divock Origi’s arrival on a free transfer is their biggest pull so far. On the flip side, I’m excited to watch my favourite left-back in the world, Theo Hernandez, play again.
Rounding up the top four is the less popular side of Rome, Lazio. Honestly, picking this side was a hard choice to make. You have Napoli who finished fourth last season, a revitalized Roma, and Gasperini’s Atalanta. However, one thing Lazio has above these three is stability—the sort of stability required for a stretch of thirty-eight games.
Outlier: Eintracht Frankfurt
- Bayern Munich
If in 2022, you still do not know who the Bundesliga title belongs to, you’re either one of two things; new to football or willfully ignorant. Without a shadow of a doubt, I’m certain that Bayern would claim that title come Match Day 34. The Bavarian Giants have basically assembled a Champions League-winning side whose side quest is the Bundesliga. Lewandowski out? In came Sadio Mane and Mathys Tel. For Niklaus Sule? Matthijs de Ligt. For the auxiliary man, Tolisso? The highly-rated Ryan Gravenberch. Basically, it’s game, set, match. Perhaps, sometime in January, they might head down to Schalke 04 or Freiburg to complete their yearly intra-league player harvest.
“SO, WHAT IF WE LOST HAALAND? NO BIG DEAL” is the kind of statement I imagine so many Dortmund fans have made since the Norwegian’s exit. Although, not out of pain but annoyance. At this point, it’s like a biennial practice to lose brilliant attacking talent. Sancho, Pulisic, Mkhitaryan, Dembele, Aubameyang, Gotze, and Lewandowski serve as examples of previous losses. However, with some of their recent signings, it appears as if they’ve learned from Bayern how to poach competitors. It’s left to see what Terzic’s men will accomplish outside the league.
- RB Leipzig
Do you want fast-paced counter-attacking football? Are you interested in a team that’s bound to deliver moments of brilliance in each game? Then comrade, look no further than RB Leipzig. Last season’s Europa League semi-finalists are sure to set Germany ablaze this season, with flames just hot enough for a third-place finish at best. Despite losing stars like Nordi Mukiele to PSG, and Hee-chan Hwang to Wolves, I’m certain the Red Bull talent unearthing system (as also seen in RB Salzburg) will produce another fine crop of players. It would also be interesting to see if Nkunku’s retention wasn’t just a smokescreen for a future Bayern move.
- Bayer Leverkusen
Frankly speaking, Bayer Leverkusen as a team is one I’m highly uninterested in. In fact, the most attention I’ve paid them in recent times was during the Kai Havertz transfer episode. However, from an objective standpoint, they’re more suited than Frankfurt or Union Berlin to finish in the last UCL-qualifying spot.
Ligue 1 Uber Eats
The gulf (pun intended), in talent and finance, between PSG and the rest of the league is absolutely staggering. For context, they have spent 3X the market valuation of Clermont Foot (16th last season – €28.7million) in this transfer window alone (€91.5milllion). For the average football fan, there’s more joy to be gained from observing Lionel Messi’s revival/decline than there is watching Sporting Director Kylian pick up yet another Ligue 1 Golden Boot.
Much like the rest of Ligue 1, Marseille fell off, hard and fast. However, you know what they say about the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Led by former West Ham man, Dimitri Payet, and with new additions like Matteo Gendouzi and Milik; the French side looks like they might be worth watching.
- AS Monaco
If any club understands the concept of big money sales in France, it is AS Monaco; the most recent being their sale of Aurelien Tchouameni to Real Madrid for €80 million. With the departure of old-timers, Raphael Sidibe and Cesc Fabregas, the arrival of Minamino, and other possible signings, one could expect the Phillipe Clement-coached team to retain their position on the table. They might even pull off a Nantes and snag a domestic cup. Who knows?
- Stade Rennes FC
Finally, we have Stade Rennes FC, also known as Rennes. In the past three seasons, this small French side has finished 4th, 6th, and 4th respectively. Despite the departure of star man, Eduardo Camavinga, they finished within 5 points of second-placed Marseille last season. However, should they slack, OGC Nice are ready to take their spot in Europe’s most elite contest.
Do you agree with these predictions? Are you convinced other teams deserve to have been mentioned here? Unwilling to make any calls yet? Well, that’s all right. At the end of the day, what matters the most is that one tries to enjoy every moment of the season; come win, lose, or draw.
Say a prayer to the footballing gods.