- 2018/19 is a transition season for many of Europe’s big beasts
- Atletico Madrid look the best team in Europe right now
- The time for excuses is over for Manchester City and Liverpool
And so the 2018/19 European football season is underway. After the spectacle and colour of the World Cup, it’s time once again for the overblown daily soap opera of club football. However, even if one is left a little jaded by the prospect, this season does provide a number of subplots that could make it more compelling than currently appears.
First and foremost, this is a season of transition. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, two of the three dominant clubs of this decade, have taken conservative approaches to the market. In the Spanish capital, Cristiano Ronaldo has been sold to Juventus and Julen Lopetegui has taken over the reins left by the preposterously successful Zinedine Zidane.
Meanwhile, in Bavaria, Niko Kovac has been appointed to succeed the great Jupp Heynckes after a very good spell in Frankfurt, and the purse strings have remained tight. Uli Hoeness insists that Bayern are holding fire until next summer.
Bayern’s relative parsimony will hardly impact their domestic dominance, even if Robert Lewandowski now appears to be living on past glories and Arjen Robben is a shadow of the electric player he was. Thomas Müller is playing for his career after an abysmal World Cup, and it remains to be seen if Jerome Boateng is still a footballer or if being a celebrity is now more important.
Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig look best placed to challenge the Bavarians, but both will likely come up well short. It’s in Europe where Bayern – and probably Kovac – will pay the price.
Barcelona, dominant in the Primera Liga, have failed miserably on the continent since 2015. Arturo Vidal will give them a bit of heft – and some brainlessness – in midfield, but there’s nothing too intimidating about the Catalans anymore. If anything, Atletico Madrid, who have kept both Antoine Griezmann and Diego Simeone, look the best side in Spain right now.
Paris Saint-Germain’s financial might will make Ligue 1 the usual procession, but judgement here will rest on what coach Thomas Tuchel can achieve in the Champions League.
That’s also the performance metric that will be used to rate Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Only Liverpool appear remotely equipped to challenge City, and such is Guardiola’s financial advantage that it is only right that he is, once again, compared to clubs of similar means on the continent before we all write contributions to the latest hagiography.
With only Juventus looking like challengers from Serie A, the Champions League looks a much more welcoming place for Premier League clubs – or at least for the two that went furthest last season. Jürgen Klopp has spent enough money to finally win a trophy, so now we’ll see if he’s got the nous to get his club over the line. Like Guardiola, the time for excuses is over.
Given a landscape where the three-in-a-row European champions are amongst those in transition, the time is ripe for Guardiola and Klopp to justify the hype.