Outside the EPL – The Rest of European Football 2018/2019
A couple of weeks ago we previewed the English Premier League season for 2018/2019. And while the EPL is the top league in Europe there are four other high caliber leagues that warrant a look see too. Those being the German Bundesliga, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A, and the French Lique 1. There is some good soccer played in those leagues its just a bit harder to follow them over here since the vast majority of coverage, at least on television, is of the EPL. So lets look at those other big leagues and what we might expect during this season.
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When you talk German football, the discussion usually starts and ends with its top club, Bayern Munich. Bayern has won an incredible six straight league titles and is the clear favorite for a seventh. (most oddsmakers have them around 1 to 6, and no that is not a typo). The biggest loss was to lose Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal who played some of his best soccer last season. And clearly his move to Barcelona has left a hole. But they have German national team star Leon Goretzka and Canadian youngster Alphonso Davies. For those who have not seen Davies play think of Christian Pulisic with a maple leaf instead of stars and stripes. Then they have James Rodriquez, the Columbian super star who had a tremendous first season with BM and looks to be even better this year now that he knows his teammates better. Then there is Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who has lead the Bundesliga in scoring three of the last five years. The other two? Merely the runner up. And if that isn’t enough they have Manuel Neuer in the nets. Neuer is clearly one of the top keepers in the world and in fact many think he is the best keeper, ever. I don’t disagree. There is just no way around it. For somebody else to take the title this year BM will have to stumble or somebody else will have to have a season for the ages similar to the stunner that Leicester City pulled off in the EPL several years ago. They open the Bundesliga season this Friday hosting Hoffenheim.
But while BM is the team to beat there are several other quality sides in the German league. The team expected to finish second this season is Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund has a talented side but have struggled with consistency the last couple of seasons. They come into the season at around 8-1 to win the title). If Manager Lucien Farve can get them playing a more even keeled game they could make some noise in both the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League. They have plenty of talent on the pitch not the least is, of course, American Christian Pulisic. Pulisic struggled at times last year with what seemed to be fitness. He just ran out of gas toward the end of the season. Not unexpected for such a young player. As he matures he is just going to get better and better. If his play during the International Cup is any indication, then Dortmund fans are in for a treat this year. And they addressed their biggest issue from last season bringing in three standout defenders in Abdou Diallo, Thomas Delaney, and Alex Witsel. They will score plenty of goals. If the defense takes a step forward this year things will be all smiles in Dortmund.
Next in line at a whopping 40-1 is RP Leipzig. Leipzig’s biggest issue was the number of games they had to play last season. Between the Bundesliga, German Cup, and Champions League they simply did not have enough horses in the stable to keep trotting out a stout lineup match after match. To have much success this year they will need their striker duo of Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg to get back to the form that saw that tandem score a nifty 55 goals during the 2016/2017 season. Impressive preseason showings from youngsters Matheus Cunha and Marcelus Saracchi have RP fans excited for the season to start.
Schalke 04 also comes in at 40-1. Schalke came in a surprising second last season earning them selves a seat at the Champions League table. And with that comes a higher level of challenge and more tough matches. To deal with the increased workload, Manager Domenico Tedesco has brought in several new faces including defender Salif Sane from Hannover and midfielders Omar Mascarell (Frankfurt) and Suat Serdar (Mainz). They are all going to have to be in top form for Schalke to have any shot at staying near the top of the table.
And the last team we want to look at is Bayer Leverkusen, 80-1 to win the title. Leverkusen got very unfortunate last year dropping down to fifth place on the last day of the season based on goal differential. That means the Europa League instead of Champions league. One of the difficult things for managers to do with clubs that don’t have the resources of some of the bigger clubs is how to handle their league play versus these other competitions. The deep sides have enough talent to try to win both their domestic league and their European league. Its much tougher for the smaller clubs as the sheer amount of playing minutes can wear teams down. It will be interesting so see how Manager, Heiko Herrlich addresses this challenge. And they weren’t helped any in losing their #1 keeper, Bernd Leno transferred to Arsenal.
When it comes to Spanish soccer, the focus immediately goes to Barcelona. Coming in at 4 to 6 to win a third straight league title, Barca is good. Make that very good having run away with the title last season 14 points clear of second place Atletico Madrid. Barca finished with a goal differential of +70, 20 better than second best Real Madrid. The bad news for fans of other teams? League leading goal scorer Lionel Messi has started right where he left off last season. He scored two goals in their opening match on Saturday as Barca bested Alaves 3-0. Barca is just a very deep team and will likely win the La Liga again. The biggest question seems to be can they get over their stumbles in the Champions League. They are a very deep team at just about every position and to make matters worse for their opponents, they added to their depth by bringing in Arturo Vidal from Bayern Munich. This may be the year to watch them closely in the Champions League.
Then we come to two teams from the same city, Madrid. And two teams that may be headed in different directions. Real Madrid finished last season in third place in La Lige and a woeful 17 points behind Barcelona. But they did win what they set out to do and that was the Champions League for the third straight time. The club clearly focused on the Champions League as a priority and at times it appeared to cost them in league play. And then we have the proverbial bad news/good news for Real fans. Both all world Cristiano Ronaldo and Manager Zinedine Zidane have left. Not good news to lose both one of the top players and managers. Or is it? There is a school of thought that Real may actually play better as a team without Ronaldo. It remains to be seen but without him other players may step to their potential no longer playing in his shadow. I am skeptical but still they come at 9-4.
Then there is the other Madrid side, Atletico Madrid at 6-1+. Finishing second last season and only the second time in the last 22 years that Atletico has finished above Real. Then they say history has a way of repeating itself. The last time Atletico won La Liga was in 2014 when they also made the final for Champions League. And take a guess where the Champions League final will be played next spring? Yup, their own Metropolitan Stadium! With a pretty stacked lineup with well know players such as Antoine Griezmann, Koke, Jan Oblak, and Diego Costa they will run deep in both competitions.
Then there is a rather large drop off to the next two sides in La Liga. Sevilla is predicted to take fourth and come in at 150-1 then there is another huge drop with Valencia expected to take fifth but a whopping 450-1 to win the title. Its not that those two sides don’t have some talent. They are just not the same caliber of players for the top three and they especially lack the depth needed to really challenge the front runners.
Moving on to Italian football and the Serie A. And there is no better place to start than with the big news that Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus for the tidy transfer fee of $120M immediately vaulting them to the #1 front runner for the season at 8-13. It didn’t take long either for Ronaldo to show up. Although he failed to score he did lead his team to an opening 3-2 win over Chievo and knocked out the opposing keeper in a collision (clean by the way). But Juve is way more than just Ronaldo. Especially up top with forwards Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuardado, and a guy named Mario Mandzukic (who you may have seen display some heroics at the recent World Cup with Croatia.
Next in line is Napoli coming in at 7-1. Napoli is an interesting club, recently moved up to 14th in club rankings in Europe. But Napoli is short on well known players with newly aquired keeper Columbian David Ospina probably the most well known. But don’t let the lack of name recognition fool you. They are a talented team and will put some of the more well know teams to the test.
Then its on to Roma at 8-1. Most reviews seem to flop flop between predicting Napoli or Roma as second. Roma. If Napoli lacks any well known names then Roma is even further down the list. Such is life for an Italian soccer club. There just isn’t a lot of coverage in the media in this country for the Serie A. Which is probably good since most casual fans would prefer a less defensive minded type of soccer. Yeah I know its already a low scoring affair. Well Italian soccer has historically been about defense. And they are damn good at it. Scoring? Well not so much. Inter Milan and AC Milan round our the Serie A top five coming in at 16-1 and 20-1. An interesting thing about Italian soccer is that, in general, there is less of a talent gap between the top and bottom teams than the previously discussed leagues.
Lastly, we have the French Ligue 1. Another league that is tough to follow here due to the lack of much media coverage. But some of the top clubs do get plenty of exposure in the Champions League which we do get to see a lot of coverage for. So lets look at France and what to know about the season.
Like most of the other European leagues this year there is a clear favorite to win Lique 1 and the is Paris Saint-Germain at 1-9! They are massive favorites as they should be. They are a stacked team loaded with name recognition and perhaps even a newcomer American kid by the name of Timothy Weah. The 19 year old played very well in the preseason. Now the question becomes will he get enough minutes in the regular season. With a lineup that touts such talent as Kylian Mbappe, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Gianluigi Buffon, Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, and Thomas Meunier its a reasonable worry. Oh lest we forget one other guy. You may have heard of him? Neymar. Hopefully with all the league matches and Champions League there will be plenty of minutes for Weah to continue to develop. He could be a key player for the US in 2022? Neymar says he is very happy in Paris and wants to bring them a Champions League cup. Will this be the year?
Next we have three teams pretty closely matched in Lyon, Marseille, and Monaco all coming in around the 20/25-1 range. French sides tend to play pretty attacking soccer and all of these teams follow suit. Lyon relies on striker Nabil Fekir to put the ball in the net and he did so last season to the tune of 23 goals in all competitions. They also have a strong defense with Brazilians Marcelo, Rafael, and Fernando Marcal as well as dutchman Kenny Tete.
Marseille has a top striker in Florian Thauvin who tallied 26 goals in all competitions last season and has already scored twice in just 65 minutes so far this season. If he continues to play at that level Marseille will do well.
With Monaco you have one of the top keepers in Daniel Subasic who had an outstanding World Cup with Croatia. In the attack they have Columbian striker Falcao who tallied 24 goals in 35 matches last season and Yugoslavian Stevan Jovetic who scored 10 times last season. Not a bad combination and that added to that by bringing back Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore who scored 10 times for them in the 2016/2017 campaign.
The last of the top five sides looks to be Bordeaux way down the betting line at 500-1. Don’t look for them to make much of a stir this year. In fact they currently sit in 19th out of 20 after their first two matches. So I guess we see why they are 500-1!!
So there you have it. A look around the other big leagues in Europe. Fall soccer is just getting into full swing so set your DVRs (look on Fox Sports and BeIN Sports) for most of the coverage of these leagues.
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O's. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.