By the time this weekend comes to a close, four of Europe’s top five leagues would have gotten underway (come on, Bundesliga, you’ve rested enough). The hustle and bustle to triumph and survive will have gotten to full flow, and club football will dominate for the next 10 months. So, here are 10 sides who could especially get us talking in this currently embryonic season:
Things looked routine for the European champions at the end of last May, a third successive Champions League was in the bag. But right after the final whistle, Cristiano Ronaldo spoke about perhaps coming to the end of his time with the club. Not many took him at his word, after all CR7 has hinted at this several times, and nothing ever really happens. Well, something happened; by July Ronaldo was off to Juventus, but before then Zinedine Zidane had stepped down as manager, suddenly Real Madrid’s new season was going to be the focus of many. Julen Lopetegui was announced as the new manager on the eve of the World Cup, costing him his job with the Spanish national side before the tournament began. Real began the season with a 4-2 loss to club rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, a result that has had many pointing out what might have been had Ronaldo remained in the side. How Los Blancos fare this term will be an interesting watch.
Another side with dealing with change this term, although Chelsea are not new to things hardly staying the same for long. But this time, the inevitable managerial change that occurred at Stamford Bridge didn’t bring about the arrival of manager renowned for winning trophies, but rather one with a reputation for his eye-catching style of play. Maurizio Sarri is the new man at Chelsea, and his famous ‘Sarri-ball’ will take some getting used to by the players, even if they began the league season with a comfortable league win at Huddersfield. Patience will have to be the watchword for Roman Abramovich this season, quite a rarity given his history with the club.
Paris St. Germain
Ever the focus of many ahead of every new campaign, PSG still haven’t cracked it in Europe since their financial boon of 2011. Successive last 16 exits all but did for Unai Emery, who departed at the end of last season. In comes Thomas Tuchel, and a relative quietness on the transfer front means Le Parisiens may well be on course for a more cohesive team rather than a star-studded squad. Can they finally stay in the Champions League beyond March?
Just about the ultimate winners of the summer transfer window. Juventus hit the headlines with the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, but their other signings in Joao Cancelo, Emre Can, Mattia Perin (to cover for the departed Gigi Buffon), the return of Leonardo Bonucci, and the permanent addition of Douglas Costa means not only is an eighth successive Serie A triumph a nigh-on formality, the Bianconeri are just about favourites for the Champions League this season as well.
Look at their summer arrivals and surely you’d tip them for big things this term. Diego Simeone and his side won’t want for motivation this season, with the Champions League final to be played in their home- the Wanda Metropolitano, and Los Colcheronos haven’t been significantly weakened in terms of their summer departures. The signings of Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias and Rodri among others means Atleti will have strength in depth, while their Super Cup win over Real Madrid will only boost their confidence.
Nowhere has the term ‘change’ rang more often this summer, after a long period of permanence. For the first time in 22 years, Arsenal’s manager is not Arsene Wenger, hence the quiet optimism brewing among Gunners fans. But they were brought back to earth in Unai Emery’s first game in charge, a 2-0 defeat at home to Premier League champions Manchester City, highlighting the size of the task ahead. Patience will be required, but if Emery gets things right at the Emirates, it will make for an exciting viewing. All fingers are crossed.
If Juventus were the outright winners in this transfer window, then Liverpool were a close second. After last season’s exciting, yet ultimately futile, exploits, Jurgen Klopp hasn’t pulled his punches in strengthening the side. Naby Keita has finally joined from Leipzig, Fabinho has been signed from Monaco to provide midfield security, Xherdan Shaqiri will add depth to the side, as will the return of Daniel Sturridge. But the biggest addition has to be in the goalkeeping department, where over 60million was shelled out to bring Alisson Becker from Roma, a signing that will surely provide the Reds with a long overdue sense of security in defence. They’ve been tipped as the closest challengers to Manchester City in the Premier League this term, and it’s hard not to see why.
You could almost say Leicester have been victims of their fairy-tale success of 2016, with the Foxes having failed to find a middle ground since. Two managers have been axed in two years, and the third, Claude Puel, is under no little pressure to avoid the chop this as well. There were boos towards the end of last season, as Leicester’s performances tailed off, and despite the arrival of young and promising talent this year to compensate for the loss of Riyad Mahrez, Puel’s job security is far from firm. The season began with defeat at Old Trafford, which was understandable and showed promising signs, but with rumours already circulating about Puel being two games from the sack, results need to start coming fast. Whatever happens, it’s unlikely to be dull at the King Power this season.
The toxicity and pessimism that has lived with West Ham for the past two seasons has been gruesome, all has been far from well ever since the Hammers swapped the Boleyn Ground for the London Stadium. The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini, a Premier League winner with Manchester City, was followed by optimism, as was their summer signings, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski and Felipe Anderson moving to East London. Last weekend’s drubbing at Liverpool showed that it will certainly be no instant fix at the East End, and you sense once the Irons get going this term they would well be easy on the eye.
Back in the Serie A after a three successive promotions, following their bankruptcy and demotion in 2015, the Gialloblu will be one side to look out for this season in the Italian top-flight. Having already hit the headlines in pre-season with their initial points deduction, which was later overturned, a side rich in top-flight history will be keen to test themselves in the Serie A once more. Survival is surely the primary aim for Roberto D’Aversa’s side, as eyes gaze on how the returnees will fare this term.