As the world’s best clubs round up their pre-season preparations after the end of what was an epic 2018 FIFA World Cup, transfer gossip takes center-stage in the ecosphere of football, sending goosebumps up the necks of any worthy fan of the beautiful game. As we near the start of 2018-19 season, we take a look at the top clubs to look out for in the coming weeks
Who could forget how Bayern Munich dominated German football last season – 84 points, 27 wins, 3 draws and only 4 defeats. They concluded the Bundesliga with 21 more points than Schalke in second place and if that is not enough of an indicator, they broke the record when they won the league for the 28th time in the club’s history. The Bavarians’ stars like Manuel Neuer, Matts Hummels and Robert Lewandowski may have failed miserably at the World Cup, but when in club colors, it’s a whole different ball game. Now with FC Dallas starlet Chris Richards on board, Bayern are looking to strengthen their defence. However, the 19-year-old will have to make his way up the ladder, first with the Under-19 squad, before he eventually joins the senior team, where he’ll surely make an impact.
English Premier League
Arsene Wenger is out and with incoming Unai Emery, big things are coming to the Emirates Stadium. The former PSG coach is already making waves in London by not retaining the services of the club’s poster boy Jack Wilshere, who will now ply his trade at rivals West Ham United. With three hotshots, 22-year-old Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria, 19-year-old France Under-20 midfielder Matteo Guendouzi from Lorient and 34-year-old Swiss defender Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus joining the Gunners, we can expect a new kind of football from Arsenal, and perhaps a more stable back-four in front of Petr Cech’s safe pair of hands in goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be ready to fire on all cylinders after a long break, since he wasn’t involved in the World Cup. Then there’s Mesut Ozil who was missing for Germany’s abysmal showing in Russia. Arsenal fans can only hope he finds his way back into form this season.
Antonio Conte is out of Stamford Bridge and with that, former Napoli honcho Maurizio Sarri is set to take over Chelsea. One cannot forget how the Blues failed miserably when attempting to defend their Premier League title last season, while barely grabbing a Champions League qualification berth when they finished fifth. With Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, N’Golo Kante, Willian, Cesc Fabregas and Thibaut Courtois, one would expect Chelsea to be title contenders. And based on how some of the club’s key men have performed at the World Cup, the 2018-19 season will be quite tough to call. But with the transfer window still open, we could expect some of them to leave the club due the appalling results from last season. The only way for the six-time Premier League winners to survive is to sign a striker more capable than Olivier Giroud and it doesn’t look it will happen at the moment.
What a season it was for City when they took control of the Premier League and made rivals Manchester United look like chumps, finishing 19 points behind them. Pep Guardiola was blessed with a strong squad of players, both in the starting 11 as well as on the bench. The Spaniard would be popping confetti after seeing how well his core players like Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Kyle Walker did in the World Cup – making the final four. South Americans Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamendi didn’t have the same fortune, but when the Cityzens play together, they usually get the job done. It won’t be surprising if they successfully defend their Premier League title this season.
The Red Devils came the closest to catching city rivals Manchester City in the English Premier League last season, finishing second and 19 points behind the Cityzens. And if Jose Mourinho is manager we know him to be, second is as good as last. That only means that Manchester United will start the new season with all guns firing from the first whistle. We’ve seen how Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku stole the show in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and they’ll be sure to bring that hot form into the Premier League. We also saw a showcase of defending on the global stage – see Iceland – and fans can rest assured that Mourinho will be bringing a bus of larger scale to Old Trafford. An Airbus maybe?
Trailblazer Mohamed Salah was arguably the only reason for Liverpool’s successes last season and when he penned a new five- year contract with the club, things are looking good for the Reds.. The Egyptian forward was hindered in the 2018 World Cup, following a crushing injury he picked up in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. There were barely any moments of magic from Salah, but his teammate Roberto Firmino had an opposing story. Although Brazil crashed out of the World Cup prematurely, Firmino was pivotal in their attack despite only contributing from the bench. Sadio Mane had a decent showing too, if not for the misfortune of Senagal’s elimination via the fair play rule. Dejan Lovren showed signs of improvement as a center half and Jordan Henderson continued to exude exemplary leadership. Can Liverpool overcome the odds this season?
Often labeled as the best football club in the world, FC Barcelona only managed to live up to the moniker to some extent last season when they leapfrogged their rivals Real Madrid to the La Liga title. However, the Catalans had a dismal showing in the Champions League when they fell to a dogged AS Roma side who came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first leg of the quarter-finals to win 3-0 in the second leg and progress via the away goals rule. Be that as it may, Barcelona still have strength in numbers; Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen – just to name a few. And with Andres Iniesta leaving the club, coach Ernesto Valverde has signed Arthur from Brazilian side Gremio de Porto Alegre. The 21-year-old likes playing with quick touches and short, triangulating passes involving his teammates. Sounds familiar?
With Cristiano Ronaldo out the door, a big question mark is left behind and it spells out: “Can Real Madrid be successful without Ronaldo?” What’s add more doubt to the capabilities of the club is also the fact that Zinedine Zidane, the man that won three Champions League titles in a row for Los Blancos, is also gone. Nevertheless, incoming coach Julen Lopetegui is a man of pedigree, taking the Spanish Under-19 and Under-21 national teams to European glory in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He is most recently known for the 20-game unbeaten streak he had with the Spain senior squad, but he was ousted before the World Cup for signing with Real Madrid before the tournament began. Lopetegui will have a host of talent to choose from: Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Raphael Varane, Isco, Marco Asensio, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, and the man who will most likely fill Ronaldo’s shoes, Gareth Bale. In a nutshell, Real are still going to be a force to be reckoned with.
First there were Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar. If these stars weren’t enough to guarantee another clean sweep of the French domestic trophies, the Parisians have now acquired the services of probably the best goalkeeper of this era – Gianluigi Buffon. Six years at Parma, a whopping 17 at Juventus, and just when we thought we’ve seen the last of the shot-stopper, he signs for the best club in France. Now 40, Buffon will be oldest player at PSG, and that by no means is a measure of his abilities. He has won every trophy there is to win in the beautiful game except for the elusive Champions League. The 2018-19 season could see him finally win the big one.
Last season’s champions of Italy are on the back of arguably the best signing ever. Cristiano Ronaldo has joined from Real Madrid after making 438 appearances and scoring 450 goals for that club.. No one would have thought that the Portuguese talisman would ever leave the Bernabeau, but now that he’s on his way to the Bianconneri, it would be exciting to see Ronaldo rule Italian football as he plays alongside trailblazers like Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic. What’s more electrifying would be to see him put on the black and white stripes for the first time in Turin.