I had promised to come up with a post making awesomely inaccurate predictions about this weekend’s football games, but I couldn’t deliver. It’s so irritating when life rudely interrupts writing for Craptivate. To reduce your disappointment, dear reader, here’s a dangerously premature forecast of how the 2011-12 season in European football will pan out. I did get a good look at most of the title contenders in the top four leagues though, so it’s not entirely arbitrary.
Top four: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool
Europa League: Arsenal, Spurs (expect some major confusion towards the end of the season thanks to the ridiculous qualification rules)
FA Cup winners: Liverpool
Carling Cup winners: LOL I’m not insane enough to predict that.
Player of the season: Sergio Aguero
The league is just four games old, and yet we have two teams that appear head-and-shoulders above the rest – the red and blue halves of Manchester. Chelsea are quietly going about their business too, but it will be a managerial miracle if Andre Villas-Boas gets them to finish above either United or City this season. Liverpool have been impressive too, though yesterday they suffered the kind of frustrating loss which could lead to a slide – doing everything right except putting the ball in the net, and falling to a controversial penalty.
While United have a superior goal difference at the moment, City appear to be more than a match for them in terms of individual quality, and when the derby rolls around I would probably pick City to win if things stand as they do now. But where the Red Devils have an advantage is the players’ commitment to the team. None of the star players at City owe their career to the club. Aguero, Nasri, Silva and Dzeko would have been stars at any club they played for, so if and when things start going wrong I wouldn’t expect them to be overly concerned. The same cannot be said for United though – Rooney, Nani, Hernandez, Young and the defence have all made or are making their name at Old Trafford, and this is what I believe will eventually carry United through to their 20th Premier League title. Liverpool will have the consolation of the FA Cup. Simply put, they’ve got a good team.
Top four: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla
Europa League: Malaga, Athletic Bilbao
Copa del Rey: Real Madrid
Player of the season: Mesut Ozil
Barcelona dropped points in the second weekend of La Liga, just like last year. After an international break, again just like last year. But while last year’s home loss to newly-promoted Hercules was a seismic shock, the 2-2 draw at Sociedad hardly was (at least to me).
For one, Lionel Messi didn’t start. The little man’s name appearing on the team sheet is hugely intimidating to the opposition, and his ball skills are impossible to replace. To their credit, Sociedad kept trying even after going 0-2 down, and the psychological boost of erasing a two-goal deficit against the champions was enough to ensure that they held on even after the arrival of Messi.
Real Madrid look highly threatening both on and off the pitch, and the league should really be a stroll for Jose Mourinho’s men, with Barcelona’s Club World Cup distractions in winter. They are far too strong for any team in the ‘other league’. I’m not sure how the Clasicos will go, but it is clear that Barcelona will drop too many points against La Liga’s lesser lights with their lack of motivation after a fantastic season.
The Copa del Rey should also be an easy title for Madrid, with Valencia their closest challengers.
UEFA Champions League
Semifinalists: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City
Dark horses: Bayern Munich
Player of the tournament: Lionel Messi
Ah, the Champions League.
I have only one wish, one hope, as far as this year’s UCL is concerned – Real Madrid and Barcelona should not meet in the final, even though they are the two best teams.
The Champions League final is the showpiece, the pinnacle, of European football. Since the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, the rivalry between the Spanish giants has reached unacceptable levels, and these teams will hate and fear losing to the other far too much to give us a decent game. And if Jose could poke an eye for losing the Supercopa, well, I’m hard-pressed to think of a body part he’d target for a game of this magnitude.
I had said earlier that Barcelona will be low on motivation, but that won’t apply in this tournament – no team has ever defended a Champions League title, and if this Barca do, it will be harsh to refuse them the honour of being the greatest team of all time. I expect them to accomplish it, with City giving them a real run for their money if they meet. United also look irresistible, but they will be carrying the scars of two final defeats and will be outclassed again if they encounter the Catalans. However, one classic England-Spain clash I’m really looking forward to is Real Madrid vs Manchester United. If that does happen, don’t forget to order popcorn, folks! Also, it will be interesting to see how Cristiano fares against his former club.
Bayern have set about demolishing teams in the Bundesliga, and their fixtures against Man City in the group stage are simply slurp slurp. If they come off best in those, I’d back them for a good tilt.
All right, that’s all we have at present. I’ve got to run and hit the books for Monday’s exam. But watch this space!