50 Burning Questions for World Football in 2014

Alex Richards@@AA_RichardsContributor IDecember 29, 2013

50 Burning Questions for World Football in 2014

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    As the winter of 2013 turns into the spring of 2014, football fans can now do two things:

    1. Reflect on a brilliant year of football.
    2. Look ahead to a potentially better one.

    Much like life, the game continues moving forward, with new storylines showing themselves, and here we have a look at 50 of the game's biggest questions ahead of the new year.

    Take a look and let us know your thoughts, either in the comments section or on Twitter.


Will Brazil thrive on home soil and can Neymar star again?

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    Brazil hired Luiz Felipe Scolari at the end of 2012despite his miserable spell as manager of Palmeirasfor one reason and one reason only: to win the World Cup on home soil.

    And since his return, Felipao has shown that he is indeed the right choice. The man who led the Selecao to a fifth world crown in 2002 has harnessed a wonderful side, built around both power and technique, with the magic of Neymar increasingly coming to the fore.

    The 2013 Confederations Cup success—particularly the final against Spain—showcased everything good about Scolari's side, and it will once again be roared on by a fervent support come June, a support that will once again look to Neymar to produce, this time on the biggest stage.

    The Barcelona starlet arrived at the Confederations Cup with the weight of a nation on his slender shoulders and question marks (from many) over whether he was worth the hype. 

    It took just three minutes into the opening match against Japan to showcase his quality, and he continued for the next five matches, taking the tournament by the scruff of the neck. He was the standout player.

    And it will be he who is expected to do something similar in 2014. But can he, and Brazil, once again thrive under intense pressure and emerge with their hands on the World Cup trophy yet again?

Can Lionel Messi dominate the World Cup?

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    Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer to have played the game, but detractors will point to his successor lack thereofon the international stage as the difference between him, Diego Maradona and Pele.

    While both Pele and Maradona led their respective countries to glory on the world stage, Messi has yet to do so.

    In 2010, he failed to score (though his performances were certainly not poorsuggestions that they were are simply laughable) as Argentina were hampered by Maradona's managerial nous, while in 2006, he was an 18-year-old impact substitute under Jose Pekerman. Additionally, Argentina's wait for Copa America success continues.

    As such, he needs a dominant showing outside of his "Barcelona bubble" to prove just how great he is. In the last two years, he's been somewhere near his best for the Albiceleste, netting 18 goals in 16 matches.

    A four-time Ballon d'Or and three-time Champions League winner he may be, but the grandest of international stages stands between him and immortality.

Is Spain's international domination at an end?

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    Arguably Spain circa 2008-12 were the greatest international side there has ever been.

    With their World Cup victory in South Africa, bookended by two European Championship successes, and encompassing an innate ability to both tiki-taka their way to success and quite simply get the job done, La Roja proved themselves international royalty.

    However, at last summer's Confederations Cup, they weren't quite themselves and were simply outgunned by Brazil in the final.

    When they return to South America in the coming summer, they'll look to retain their world crown, becoming only the third country to do so.

    If they can do just that, then Spain circa 2008-14 will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest international team ever.

Will South America thrive at home?

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    Heading into the World Cup, each of the six South American nations look well-placed to either challenge for the trophy or make a run into the knockout stages.

    Brazil head into the competition as favourites and are buoyant following their Confederations Cup success.

    Argentina, blessed with unrivaled striking talent and Lionel Messi, finished top of CONMEBOL qualifying under Alejandro Sabella, who has brought a balanced approach and adaptability to the side. Handed a straightforward group, they should make at least the last eight and will want to go further.

    Jorge Sampaoli's Chile are perhaps the most improved of all nations in the last 12 months, having tossed aside the Claudio Borghi overcoat and returned to the determined attacking ways which made them such fan favourites under Marcelo Bielsa in 2010.

    Oscar Tabarez and Uruguay were the big surprise package of 2010, reaching the semi-finals, and continue to be blessed with the attacking prowess of both Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Can they go as far again?

    Colombia were arguably the most must-see side in CONMEBOL qualifying, mixing the thrilling direct running of Juan Cuadrado and Pablo Armero with the technique of James Rodriguez and the goalscoring prowess of Radamel Falcao.

    Ecuador, perhaps the weakest of all the South American nations, have been handed a group where they will perhaps expect to make progress (Switzerland, Honduras, Ecuador) and have plenty of pace and attacking power in the likes of Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia and Felipe Caicedo.

    All will make for fiercely difficult opponents, and it's by no means foolish to suggest as many as four (possibly five) could reach the quarter-finals.

How far can the five African nations go?

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    It's been quite some time now since Pele was predicting a first African winner of the World Cup, and still it hasn't come to fruition.

    In 2010, Ghana were a Luis Suarez handball away from the semi-finals and the furthest any African side has ever reached, but Asamoah Gyan's penalty was blazed over the crossbar, and the Black Stars were beaten on penalties.

    In Brazil, Africa will be represented by the same five qualifiers who made their way to South Africa back in 2010.

    The continent will hope that they can do rather better this time round, having seen five of its six sides fail to navigate the first round four years ago.

And what of the Asian contenders?

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    South Korea led the way for the Asian nations with a brilliant semi-final showing in 2002 when they co-hosted with Japan, but 2006 and 2010 have been something of a step back.

    In South Africa, Korea and Japan reached the second round before being knocked out by Uruguay and Paraguay, respectively, and this time around, both will have hopes of reaching the knockout stages again.

    Of the other Asian qualifiers, Australia have been handed a nightmare draw and will likely be the whipping boys of Group Bhaving been paired with Spain, Netherlands and Chilewhile Iran have been handed a tough draw also.

    Thus, most hopes for Asia will rest with the pair that has been widely accepted as Asia's best since the turn of the millennium.

    But the weakness of both remains their lack of a prolific, powerful strikersomething particularly noticeable in Japan's 2013 Confederations Cup campaign.

    Only a finite number of chances will be forthcoming in Brazil, and if Korea and Japan are to make any sort of a deep run, then they must be more clinical than they've shown in recent times.

Will Miroslav Klose become the World Cup's top all-time goalscorer?

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    The German international has long been a stalwart for Die Mannschaft, and having equalled Gerd Mueller's goals record, he will now have his eyes on Ronaldo's World Cup record.

    In three competitions, the Lazio hit man has hit 14 goals, one behind the Brazilian, and 2014 offers the striker his last opportunity at claiming the record for his own.

    Miroslav Klose turns 36 on the eve of the tournament, but with Mario Gomez struggling with injury since joining Fiorentina and Stefan Kiessling very much out of favour, he remains Jogi Loew's main centre-forward.

How will England cope with lowered expectations?

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    With the end of the Golden Generation rapidly approachingthanks to various factorsthe Three Lions head into next summer with expectations perhaps as low as they've been at any point in the last 20 years.

    Roy Hodgson's side isn't widely expected to make a great splash, and having been paired with Italy and Uruguay (as well as Costa Rica), the nation's expectations have only been further lowered, particularly considering recent home defeats to Germany and Chile.

    Thus, will England be emboldened by the lack of weight on their shoulders? Or will they only plummet to new, previously inconceivable depths?

At which end of the spectrum will Italy fall: 2006 or 2010?

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    In 2006, Italy shrugged aside the Calciopoli scandal, as Marcello Lippi's side emerged victorious.

    In 2010, however, and with Lippi back at the helm, the Azzurri crashed out at the group stage, failing to emerge from a group featuring Slovakia, New Zealand and Paraguay. In short, it was miserable.

    Since then, Cesare Prandelli has created his own flexible attack-minded outfit, equally adept with a back four or a three-man defence and led up front by Mario Balotelli, who always seems that little bit more focused when leading the national side. 

    In 2012, Prandelli took Italy to the European Championship finalhaving beaten a strongly fancied Germany in the semi-final—only to be routed by Spain's piece de resistance.

    They took the Spanish to a penalty shootout in last summer's Confederations Cup, and the question now is just what Italy will turn up in 2014.

    A group containing England, Uruguay and Costa Rica will no doubt test, as will conditions in Manaus for their opening game.

    But which Italy will we see?

    Potential champions or abject failures?

What can the United States do?

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    2013 was a good year for Jurgen Klinsmann's United States.

    Having entered the year with qualification very much hanging in the balance, they put together a brilliant run of 15 wins in 16 matches during the middle of the year, leading to Gold Cup glory and wrapping up the CONCACAF hexagonal.

    Now Klinsmann will be hoping to see four years of practice put into action, as his side, centered around the playmaker Michael Bradley and captain Clint Dempsey, takes on Ghana—who knocked USMNT out in the second round four years ago—Germany and Portugal. 

    Difficult doesn't even begin to describe it.

Will Belgium and Colombia flatter to deceive?

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    Widely considered as dark horses two years ago, both Belgium and Colombia have been so heavily tipped and widely spoken about that it is quite simply wrong to label them as such any more.

    Belgium are the more-vaunted of the pair, but were comfortably disposed of by Los Cafeteros in a November friendly in Brussels, which has added further weight to the credence that Jose Pekerman's side could be a potential champion.

    However, Colombia have been here before, arriving at USA '94 being tipped as potential winners, only to fall at the group stage.

    Both have been handed decent enough draws which should see them progress past the group stages, but that is likely not enough to satisfy supporters, such has been how both have been heralded.

    Hailed as potential semi-finalists (if not winners), can they deal with increased expectations? Or will they fall flat on their faces?

Who Will win the Premier League?

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    It is one of the most competitive title races in years. 

    Currently, the Premier League houses no outstanding side, but rather a number of very good ones, all with their own unique flaws (stick Chelsea 2004-05 or Arsenal 2003-04 in this division, and they would likely be streaking clear right now).

    But that has just helped to make the current Premier League campaign one of the most watchable. The question now is who can claim the crown?

    Manchester United look to be kicking on after a difficult start to life under David Moyes, while Manchester City are proving simply awesome at home.

    Chelsea have issues with their strikers and a lack of goals, but Jose Mourinho's men remain in the pack, while Arsenal are very much back as contenders, winning matches and playing some quite brilliant football.

    And what of Liverpool, led by Luis Suarez, and even Everton, Tottenham and Newcastle? What say do they have?

    You can make a decent argument and counterargument for most. It has been utterly fascinating, however.

Will January prove crucial to the top-four race?

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    Much like the case with the previous slide, the race for the top four is heating up, and there are eight sides that can all point toward a good case for a Champions League place at the end of the season. 

    Thus, January could prove vitally important to all.

    The right signing here or the wrong departure there could potentially prove costly to each of the eight sides that will feel they can vie for a European spot.

Is it time for Arsenal to win a major trophy?

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    It's become something of a running joke and a major stick to poke Arsenal fans with on social media, but the fact is the club hasn't won anything substantial since 2006.

    And time and again, the Gunners have shown something of a delicate side since then.

    When they've appeared in contention, they've failed to really kick on in the second half of the season, whereas when they've been out of it, they've always put together a run to ensure a top-four finish.

    This time around, Arsene Wenger's men are very much in contention, having played some of the division's best stuff during the first half of the season. The signing of Mesut Ozil appears to have brought with it a renewed confidence and (perhaps even) arrogance which has maybe been missing in years gone by.

    So is it time for Wenger's side to break its trophy drought?

Are Liverpool genuine Premier League contenders?

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    The Brendan Rodgers evolution has really cranked up a couple of notches in 2013-14, and even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters couldn't have imagined a potential title challenge.

    But with Luis Suarez in the form of his life, Jordan Henderson making leaps and bounds, and a side seemingly buying into its manager's style and putting it into practice with an unerring amount of faith, the 18-time English champions are back fighting it out with the Premier League's elite.

    The next five months could go either way, and Rodgers will hope to pull another Philippe Coutinho-style rabbit out the hat in January—his summer signings have, in truth, been rather hit and miss—to bolster his side's European chances.

    Can the Reds win the league? 

    Stranger things have happened.

Will Manchester City remain perfect at home?

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    As the day of 2013 turns into the night of 2014, Manchester City's Premier League home record under Manuel Pellegrini stands at 10 games played, 10 wins.

    A quite stunning 38 goals have been netted at the Etihad Stadium already this term (just six conceded), as the Chilean boss has seen his side pulverize the majority who have turned up in Manchester looking for a knife fight.

    Pablo Zabaleta has spoken of wanting to win every league game at home this season, as per the Mirror, and it doesn't seem that crazy a suggestion when you consider City have already beaten Everton, Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham and Arsenal.

How much will David Moyes change in the next two transfer windows?

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    David Moyes' first summer transfer window in charge of Manchester United had the feeling of a man uncertain about exactly just what he wanted from it.

    Certainly, he was chasing a midfielder, but what he got, Marouane Fellaini, is a very different player to the others he was after.

    But with his feet having been under the Old Trafford coffee table for a further four months and with United starting to resemble title contenders once more, 2014 will be all the more interesting as we look to see what changes Moyes attempts to implement.

    Having had time to assess exactly what he was left by Sir Alex Ferguson, will we see a slight tinkering from the former Everton boss next year?

    Or could he have decided that revolution is the order of the day?

Have Tottenham wasted 2013-14 with the appointment of Tim Sherwood?

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    Andre Villas-Boas, depending on whom you believe, was either a shock or a disappointment.

    Chairman Daniel Levy discarded the Portuguese, who enjoyed a promising debut season at White Hart Lane, on the back of a 5-0 hammering by Liverpool and replaced him with Tim Sherwood.

    In the early days of Sherwood, Spurs have been back to basics, with something of a homage to former boss Ossie Ardiles as they've lined up with uber-attacking starting XIs. 

    Sherwood's first three matches saw Spurs win one, lose one and draw one—hardly the form required for a Champions League spot.

    So has Levy written off this season?

What can Roberto Martinez achieve at Everton?

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    Everton under Roberto Martinez have so far earned rave reviews. 

    Heading into their final match of 2013, the Toffees have lost just two league games, though they have certainly drawn too many (seven). Had they turned one or two of those into wins, they'd be very much in the title mix.

    Which brings us to the question: What can Roberto Martinez achieve?

    He told Bill Kenwright upon taking the job that he was aiming for the Champions League, something which was generally dismissed when it came into the public domain.

    No one's dismissing that idea anymore.

Can Tony Pulis ensure Crystal Palace escape relegation?

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    Had Crystal Palace stuck with Ian Holloway, there was only one way that this season was ending: relegation.

    But the arrival of ex-Stoke boss Tony Pulis has rejuvenated the Eagles, as the manager who has never experienced the drop has set about adding steel to a previously brittle backbone.

    And under Pulis, Palace have started to pick up points and wins. January may see a few comings and goings at Selhurst Park, but the experienced boss will no doubt have a plan.

    For a side that appeared doomed in November, Palace are very much in the dogfight and are throwing their fair share of punches.

Can Luis Suarez continue his rich vein of form and will he remain at Anfield?

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    Heading into Liverpool's match against Chelsea, Luis Suarez has helped himself to 19 Premier League goals, a number of staggering performances, a new contract and a reputation that has been majorly repaired following his bite ban/summer transfer saga.

    Central to Brendan Rodgers' plans, Suarez has captained the side in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger and has led from the front: His technical quality and goalscoring ability thrill, but his work-rate and tenacity are proving a shining example to the Reds' younger players.

    As 2014 dawns on Anfield, supporters will be desperately hoping that the Reds can secure a Champions League place, which would likely keep the Uruguayan at the club.

    And to do that, they'll be hoping Suarez can continue his own personal run.

Where will Paolo di Canio reappear?

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    He came.

    He saw.

    He was as mad as a box of frogs.

    He was sacked.

    Paolo Di Canio's Premier League reign may have been brief, but it was certainly entertaining.

Can Barcelona keep La Liga at Camp Nou?

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    Gerardo Martino has been looking to rotate his squad so far in La Liga as he looks to avoid the late-season fatigue which so badly crippled Barcelona in their Champions League pursuit last season, when they were physically outmatched by Bayern Munich.

    Thus, the former Newell's Old Boys boss has been balancing things during the early part of the season and, in truth, has done a rather good job despite fierce pressure from both Madrid clubs.

    In the new year, he'll (hopefully) have a fully fit Lionel Messi to call upon as Barca pursue trophies on three fronts.

    But as is the case for all clubs, the bread and butter remains the league, which they have won in four of the last five years.

    Can they make it five from six?

Do Atletico Madrid have what it takes in Europe or at home?

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    So far, keeping stride for stride in La Liga with Barcelona have been Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid.

    Since the Argentine's arrival at the Vicente Calderon, he has led Los Rojiblancos to Europa League, European Super Cup and Copa del Rey successes while building a fiercely competitive side capable of going toe-to-toe with the best.

    The question now is whether Atleti and Simeone have the nous to either a) win La Liga or b) challenge in Europe's premier club competition.

    There aren't many who would actively enjoy playing against them, that's for sure.

And what next for Thibaut Courtois?

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    And a crucial part of the Atleti jigsaw under Simeone has been Thibaut Courtois, currently into his third loan spell from Chelsea.

    In that time, the Belgian international has matured into the most highly promising goalkeeper in world football, and there are now major question marks over his future.

    He has six more months left with Atletico before Chelsea must make another decision on his future.

    This time, it's massive.

Who will claim fourth place in Spain?

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    Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid: That's the top three in Spain this season.

    So good is that trio, the other 17 sides in La Liga are more often than not playing a completely different game.

    However, that isn't to degrade the competition, far from it—the fact is that those three are just that good.

    The race for the final Champions League spot remains fascinating, with some really good sides going for it.

    Real Sociedad struggled in this season's Champions League but seem to have rediscovered their verve and confidence that was so evident last term.

    Athletic Bilbao are looking like a fine side under Ernesto Valverde and currently sit in pole position.

    Newly promoted Villarreal and a much-changed Sevilla aren't out of it either.

What can we expect from Gareth Bale?

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    The world's most expensive footballer ever has, after a slow(ish) start, begun to show exactly why he commanded such a vast price tag.

    At his best, Gareth Bale is so quick, so thrilling that he can change a game with one surge or one flick of his left boot. 

    Nine goals and seven assists have arrived in his first 15 games for Los Blancos, more than acceptable figures for a player moving to a new country and league.

    2014 will be a huge year in the Welsh star's future.

    We may just learn exactly how good he could be.

Where next for Valencia?

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    Twenty points from 17 matches represents a rather disappointing start to the season for Valencia, for whom years of crippling debt and player sales would appear to have finally caught up.

    Miroslav Djukic was supposed to usher in a new era but has been sacked and replaced with San Lorenzo boss Juan Antonio Pizzi, fresh from success in the Torneo Inicial.

    Pizzi has previously done good work at Universidad Catolica in Chile also and will look to guide Los Che back into La Liga's upper echelons.

    Whether or not Pizzi is helped by new owners—Malaysian businessman Peter Lim could be set to take over, as per CNN—remains to be seen.

    But after some of the brilliant sides Valencia have provided European football with in the last 15 years or so, it'll be sad if they can't re-establish themselves at the top of La Liga.

Will Rayo Vallecano finally submit to relegation?

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    In recent years, they've mixed some of the most brilliantly reckless attacking football with a great escape from relegation, some quite brilliant results and an eighth-place finish last term, but this season, Rayo Vallecano have struggled.

    Certainly, they continue to play good football—who can forget they had more possession than Barcelona in a game earlier this season, despite losing 4-0—but the results aren't following for Paco Jemez.

    Thirteen points is their total so far from 17 games, conceding 40 goals in the process. Unless 2014 is rather special, they could be about to slip through the trapdoor after two wonderful years.

Will Bayern Munich retain the Champions League?

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    Sine the inception of the Champions League in it's group-knockout format, no side has ever been able to retain the trophy.

    Bayern Munich finally got their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2001 in 2013, after competing in their third final in four years and their second successive final.

    Jupp Heynckes may have gone, replaced by Pep Guardiola, but Bayern continue to go from strength to strength, and is there anyone who can compete with their squad depth?

    Certainly they aren't perfect; the 3-2 loss to Manchester City showed that. 

    But if Guardiola can beat such complacency out of his team ahead of its tie with Arsenal, then a fully focused Bayern can keep hold of the European Cup.

    Can't they?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Real Madrid to La Decima?

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    All-encompassing since their ninth triumph at Hampden Park in 2002, La Decima continues to be the creature that Real Madrid hunt, time and time again.

    Jose Mourinho couldn't get the job done, so Florentino Perez hired Carlo Ancelotti, a two-time winner as boss of AC Milan, to lead the charge from the sidelines whilst Cristiano Ronaldo leads the charge on the field.

    The Portuguese has already hit nine goals in the competition this season as he continues to scale new heights in his pursuit of perfection.

    With Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Bale, Isco, Angel di Maria et al., Los Blancos don't lack for firepower.

    The question now is whether, after three successive semi-final losses, they can finally blast their way to the final.

    If they can, then no doubt Ronaldo will have a say in events.

And is he the Ballon d'Or winner?

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    He is.


Will Barcelona make it seven semi-finals in as many years?

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    A simple question.

    After six semi-final showings in as many years, can Barcelona make it seven from seven. 

    Manchester City are as tough second-round opponents as they could have hoped for, but with Messi, Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Cesc Fabregas et al., you still have to favour the Catalans.

    Or do you?

Can Borussia Dortmund go one step further than last season?

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    Every neutral's favourite side in 2013, thanks to their energy on the field and their rather brilliant manager, Jurgen Klopp, Borussia Dortmund were quite excellent in their run to the Champions League final last season.

    Now in 2014, eyes will be on them again, looking for a repeat.

    Injuries have ravaged their Bundesliga campaign, but with a number of key players hopefully back after the winter break, they'll be at something approaching full strength sooner rather than later.

    Zenit St. Petersburg await in the first knockout round in February.

Will Zlatan finally get his hands on the European Cup?

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    Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won league titles wherever he has been during his career, but the trophy which has always eluded him has been the Champions League.

    Now 32, the Paris Saint-Germain striker is almost out of opportunities, and having seen Sweden fail to make the World Cup, Europe's biggest crown is the greatest trophy he can lift in 2014.

    Laurent Blanc's side is full of talent, pace and power, while Ibracadabra brings his own personal X-factor.

    But can he finally lift the big one?

Can an English side make a sustained European challenge?

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    2012-13 saw the English sides fail in the Champions League.

    Chelsea and Manchester City were both dumped out before Christmas, while Arsenal and Manchester United both failed to make the last eight.

    This time round, all four are in the second round, but can any make a major challenge for the title?

    Arsenal meet holders Bayern in a repeat of last season's second-round tie, while Manchester City take on Barcelona in a mouth-watering prospect.

    Manchester United meet Olympiakos, while Chelsea come face to face with Munich hero Didier Drogba as they face Galatasaray. 

    Which will be left standing longest?

    And can any take the trophy home?

Can anyone stop Juventus in Serie A?

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    Antonio Conte's side has claimed the Scudetto for its own in both of the last two years and is on course for a three-peat.

    The Bianconeri head into 2014 with a five-point advantage over Roma at the top of the standings and without the Champions League to focus on in the next five months.

    Whether they choose to take the Europa League seriously—the final will be at Juventus Stadiumor not, Juve look well-placed for another championship. With 15 wins from 17 games, they look set to go all the way.

Is Massimiliano Allegri out of lives yet?

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    For the better part of 12 months, there has been much talk about the future of Massimiliano Allegri as AC Milan manager, and after an abysmal start to the 2013-14 campaign, the question is how long can he remain at San Siro.

    The Rossoneri have won just four of 17 Serie A matches this term, currently sit 13th in the league, are already 17 points off the top three and quite simply seem to have taken some considerable steps backward in the last 12 months.

    How long can Allegri hold on?

How will Rafa Benitez's Napoli get on?

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    Napoli were the closest thing Serie A had to a rival for Juventus in 2012-13, but under the management of Walter Mazzarri, there was always the school of thought that they simply weren't mentally strong enough to challenge for the title—quite simply, they lacked self-belief.

    With Mazzarri having departed for Inter in the summer, Rafa Benitez arrived and swiftly spent a small fortune—money from the sale of Edinson Cavani—on the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Martens, Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol.

    A change in shape and style have been forthcoming, and the Stadio San Paolo would certainly appear to be buying into Benitez's methods.

    Perhaps this season is one too soon for them to challenge for the title under Benitez—already they sit 10 points off the lead—but (hopefully) look for them to improve and become a more rounded side in 2014.

Will Roma's resurgence continue?

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    There can't have been many who predicted the outstanding start to life Rudi Garcia would make as manager of Roma.

    The Frenchman did a truly excellent job at former club Lille, leading them to their first Ligue 1 title in 57 years back in 2011, utilising a clever rotating midfield and excellent technical play, all housed in a 4-3-3 formation.

    Garcia has sought to establish something similar in Roma, built on the foundations of a rock-solid defence—something all the more remarkable, considering the problems the side had with conceding goals under Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman.

    Roma head into the new year having gone unbeaten in their 17 games so far, though having won their opening 10 games, they have drawn five of their last seven. 

    But with talisman Francesco Totti back after injury, can their resurgence continue?

    And can they challenge Juventus, five points clear at the top of the table, in the race for the Scudetto?

Will Giuseppe Rossi carry on scoring?

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    One of the great feel-good stories of the 2013-14 season so far has been Giuseppe Rossi's renaissance in Serie A

    Following 18 months of injury hell, the Italian international has been back at something approaching his best with Fiorentina, netting 14 goals for the Viola already, which puts him three goals clear of Carlos Tevez in the race for the Capocannoniere.

    His form has put him back firmly in Cesare Prandelli's plans for the World Cup, and he scored in the November friendly against Nigeria on his Azzurri return.

    Can he carry on his form and stay clear of injury in 2014? Here's hoping.

Can Bayern go an entire league campaign unbeaten?

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    Bayern were pretty irresistible under Jupp Heynckes last season, losing just once in 34 matches and winning the Bundesliga by some 25 points.

    This term, they've run roughshod over the German top flight once again and head into the new year under Pep Guardiola unbeaten, having won 14 of 16 matches and sitting seven points clear of second-placed Bayer Leverkusen (with a game in hand).

    Their squad is flush with quality, far more powerful than any of their rivals, and they seemingly continue to get better under Guardiola.

    The question now for Die Bayern is whether they can go through the entire league season unbeaten?

Will Hamburg ever experience a revival?

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    In recent years, there have been few sides across Europe's top divisions that have been more inconsistent than Hamburg.

    In the last three seasons, they've finished seventh, 15th and eighth, having reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2010, and are on to their sixth manager (including caretakers) since Armin Veh's arrival in July 2010.

    Bert van Marwijk, the former Feyenoord and Netherlands coach, took charge in September and has had a mixed experienced.

    Still they cannot defend (no one in the Bundesliga has conceded more), and still they score plenty (only Hoffenheim outside the top four have scored more)—but they've won just four of their 17 matches this term.

    For such passionate supporters, it simply isn't good enough.

    Can the six-time German champions improve and rise up the table in 2014?

Who will claim a top-four place in the Bundesliga?

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    Bayern Munich already seem to have the title sewn up, but the race for the top four is very much heating up.

    Bayer Leverkusen sit second, and Sami Hyypia's side sits seven points in advance of fifth place, but Borussia Dortmund's recent injuries have led to a miserable run of four defeats in their last six matches.

    Lucien Favre's Borussia Monchengladbach were the surprise package two years ago when they finished fourth and are eyeing a similar score this time around. They sit third heading into the new year.

    However, there are also those on the outside of the top four spaces who will be eyeing a place in next year's Champions League.

    Wolfsburg, backed by Volkswagen, sit two points outside in fifth and, under Dieter Hecking, ended 2013 in good form, while Schalke 04 will hope for a third successive top-four finish.

    And what of a rejuvenated Hertha Berlin, led by the goalscoring prowess of Adrian Ramos? Could they have a say at the top of the table so soon after promotion?

Will Nurnberg win a game?

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    As Bayern Munich romp to back-to-back Bundesliga crowns, sweeping pretty much all in front of them, FC Nurnberg are undergoing considerable struggles at the other end of the table.

    Gert Verbeek's side is by no means being outclassed this season, but it simply can't pick up a win this term—and it hasn't.

    Heading into the new year, Der Ruhmreiche have played 17 matches and haven't won a single one. 

    However, somehow, they still aren't bottom of the table, having drawn 11 games, losing just six.

    You'd expect that sooner rather than later, that first win will be forthcoming. 

    But what if it isn't?

Can Frank de Boer inspire Ajax to history?

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    Ajax have experienced some turnaround since the appointment of Frank de Boer as Martin Jol's replacement back in December 2010.

    The man who starred as a player for the Amsterdammers—winning the Champions League in 1995—has since led them to three successive Eredivisie crowns.

    And with the league having broken up for its winter break, de Boer is well-placed to lead them to a fourth straight win, having gone into the break as winter champions ahead of Vitesse Arnhem, leading Peter Bosz's side on goal difference.

    Never before have Ajax claimed four straight league titles.

    It would be quite something if de Boer could do so in his first managerial role.

How will the 2014 Brasileiro play out?

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    Simply put, Cruzeiro romped to the 2013 Brazilian title, smashing home 77 goals in 38 matches and winning the title by some 11 points.

    Marcelo Oliveira's side ended the campaign with a goal difference of plus-40, which is put into some context when you consider second-place Gremio scored just 42 goals and had a goal difference of just plus-seven.

    And while Cruzeiro's majesty should be applauded, the league continues to come across as somewhat laughable in terms of its organisation and transparency.

    For the first time in history, it appeared that the reigning champions, Fluminense, would be relegated, until Portuguesa were deducted four points for fielding an ineligible player and were duly relegated instead.

    In microcosm, it is a perfect illustration of the madcap world of Brazilian football.

To whom will the Copa Libertadores belong?

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    Atletico Mineiro's Copa Libertadores victory was a great success story for the Brazilian club, Cuca's attacking side—led by Ronaldinho—producing some quite dazzling performances on its way to victory (as well as riding its luck on a couple of occasions).

    Unlike the European Champions League where the same sides can often be found at the tail end of the season fighting for the big prize, its South American equivalent is rather more unpredictable, which makes guessing who will be left standing at the end of the campaign infinitely more difficult.

    However, what can be expected are more feverish crowds, more great matches, more fascinating incidents and more fantastic skillful showings from some of South America's best home-based stars.

Where will the 2014 MLS lead?

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    The 2013 MLS season was one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory, with as many as eight or nine sides looking like potential winners at various points.

    In the end, as Seattle floundered, Portland hit the wall at the last and both LA Galaxy and Supporters' Shield winners New York Red Bulls fell by the wayside, it was Sporting Kansas City who claimed the MLS Cup.

    So what will 2014 bring?

    Toronto are certainly thinking big—Jermain Defoe anyone?—while DC United have already made a few interesting moves in the transfer market.

    Certainly, it promises to be exciting once more.

Will Mexico continue its domination of the CONCACAF Champions League?

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    The CONCACAF Champions League has quite simply been dominated by Mexican sides in recent years. 

    For all the bluster of their counterparts in MLS, Mexican sides have had the number of their Northern neighbours whenever they've met in years gone by, and since the change of format in 2008, nine of 10 finalists have come from Mexico.

    Moreover, 12 of the last 14 winners have come from the land of the hot sun.

    Can we expect any different in 2014?

    Only time will tell.


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