Predicting a Winner for Each Major European League Next Season
The 2013-14 season is drawing to a close and two of Europe's five major leagues have question marks over them: As we all know, the Premier League and La Liga are both set for nail-biting finishes.
For no reason other than to set my stall out very early, I've predicted the winners of the major European leagues in 2014-15, based on the current rankings, potential transfer activity and, well, educated guesses!
Take a look and leave your opinions in the comments.
Premier League: Liverpool
We are currently witnessing one of the tightest and most exciting Premier League title races since Sky invented football in 1992.
In a season that has had more twists and turns than a roller coaster in a hurricane, it is very hard to predict whom out of Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City will achieve glory, but this writer is plucking for the latter.
If City win their three remaining games, they are likely to clinch the title on goal difference. The toughest obstacle in their run-in would be Everton, but the Toffees now seem out of the race for fourth place, so they probably won't be too motivated to beat City and gift the league to their Mersey rivals.
So, if Liverpool do not win this season, they will win it in the next campaign.
They should still boast Luis Suarez—this summer he won't try and bail on the club as they will be playing Champions League football—and a host of brilliant attacking talent. Plus, perhaps crucially, they will have the experience of life at the very top that has been absent for over two decades.
Managing director Iain Ayre has also promised that Brendan Rodgers will have free reign to make significant squad improvements over the summer—perhaps with a focus on their leaky back line.
The season before Blackburn Rovers upset the top-of-the-table hegemony by winning the league in 1995, they finished second. A similar pattern could emerge here.
La Liga: Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid currently find themselves just two wins and a draw away from achieving their first La Liga title since 1996. They face Levante at home, followed by a trip to Malaga and then a showdown with the team who have failed to beat them in five attempts this season, Barcelona.
The title is in Atleti's hands and they have shown no signs of slowing down their energetic style, which is why I believe they will win it this season.
Diego Simeone's side have the potential to upset the Barca-Real duopoly at the summit next season too, particularly in light of Barcelona's mixed season and the uncertain future of Tata Martino. However, Real Madrid will prove too strong for them in the long run.
In the past few seasons, Los Blancos have been completely preoccupied by their quest to win "La Decima"—the much-vaunted 10th European Cup. Ancelotti's side are currently favourites to win the competition with the bookies (as per Oddschecker), and if they do, they will surely give greater focus back to the league in 2014-15.
Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have settled into Ancelotti's side extremely well this season and they happen to share a front line with one of the world's greatest players, Cristiano Ronaldo. The second season of the "BBC" (Benzema, Bale and Cristiano) could be even greater than the first, particularly if they return with the confidence of European champions.
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga in record time this season, marching to the trophy virtually unopposed with seven games to spare.
Borussia Dortmund, their closest competitor in recent years, were hampered not only by the sale of Mario Gotze to the Bavarians, but by a lengthy list of injuries. At various points in the season, Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender, Sebastian Kehl and Jakub Blaszczykowski have been unavailable, severely limiting Jurgen Klopp's options.
Next season, with less misfortunate injuries, they may mount a stronger challenge to Die Roten—and one must also not discount the advances of Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. However, there are no signs that Pep Guardiola's side will be any weaker next season. In fact, with the acquisition of Robert Lewandowski, they will once again weaken an opponent and strengthen themselves.
There has been much talk about the death of Guardiola's favoured tiki-taka style, but this Bayern side are well organised, unafraid to press very high and easily capable of a third consecutive title win.
Incidentally, Bayern have form for winning three titles consecutively, having done so on three separate occasions. On the last occasion, between 1998 and 2001, they won two of those titles by very close margins (1999-00 on goal difference and 2000-01 by one point). Don't be surprised to see a more narrow victory in 2014-15.
Serie A: Juventus
Juventus are on the cusp of winning their third straight Serie A title, so it seems rather dull to suggest they will do it once again in 2014-15. Yet there is a very good reason for this: They are by far the strongest domestic team in Italy.
Roma and Napoli both have the ability to trouble the Old Lady, but over the length of a whole campaign, their relative lack of depth will let them down. Juve's team is experienced, they are more than used to playing Antonio Conte's 3-5-2 system, and if the likes of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba are retained over the summer, they should have all the weapons they need for their 31st scudetto (or 33rd, depending on who you ask).
Former Juve coach Marcello Lippi recently told Tuttosport (via Goal.com) that "Juventus are a team full of potential. They continue to grow and become stronger and stronger." He went on to state his belief that they could also win the Champions League next season.
I wouldn't necessarily agree with this point—the standard of Italian football may not be high enough for them to dominate on a continental scale right now—but domestic success is likely.
Ligue 1: Paris Saint Germain
Ligue 1 lends itself to long periods of domination. Lyon won seven consecutive league titles at the start of the millennium, Marseille dominated between 1988 and 1993 and Saint-Etienne were virtually unstoppable in the '60s and '70s.
Now, it would appear to be the dawn of Paris Saint-Germain's period of dominance.
Each season since their Qatari takeover, the Parisians have grown stronger, played more coherently as a unit and adapted to the highest level of the game (fellow nouveau riche chancers Manchester City wish they could have adapted to the Champions League as quickly as Zlatan and co).
PSG aren't the only team with deep pockets in the league, as Monaco enjoy the backing of Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev and the Principality's royal family. Yet, they have a better squad in place at the moment and an apparent willingness to flaunt the restraints of Financial Fair Play regulations. (It was revealed on Tuesday, April 28th, that PSG have breached FFP rules, but they can appeal or pay a fine. A team as rich as them will surely just pay a fine as a price of doing business, showing just how feckless the FFP rules are.)
The Parisians will go even further in the Champions League next season—at least the semi-finals—and even if they lose the likes of Edinson Cavani, they will dominate domestically.