European football has seen some spectacular on-field action in the 2020-21 season despite the pandemic denying many fans the opportunity to see the action live.
As another season of domestic football is set to start, clubs across the continent are busy in the transfer market trying to bolster their squads and lay their hands on another title.
Here are our top contenders to win the title across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues:
Defending Champions: Manchester City
Top Challenger: Manchester United
The 30th season of the Premier League saw another dream run for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as they went on to win the title for the third time in four years. But the Citizens would have learnt their lessons in the past two seasons when they were first challenged successfully by Jorgen Klopp’s Liverpool and then given a scare by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.
The surprising challenges from teams that were once thought to be out of their glory days might have prompted Guardiola to look for the likes of Harry Kane and Erling Haaland to his squad, contrary to the legendary manager’s approach of signing unknown players.
The Citizens will have strong competition this year from their historic rivals as Solskjaer’s Manchester United have arguably the strongest squad in the League.
They have been bolstered by the addition of Jadon Sancho to the squad from Borussia Dortmund. And with Paul Pogba staying at the club, Old Trafford might see the return of the trophy for the first time in nine years.
However, Manchester United will have to contend with Liverpool and Leicester City since both clubs have the potential to cause upsets at the top of the table.
Defending Champions: Atletico Madrid
Top Challenger: Barcelona
The 2020/21 season of Spanish football saw Atletico Madrid break the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, winning the title for the first time since 2013/14. Diego Simeone’s men finished on the top after a tightly-contested race and the club are already bolstering their squad in the quest for a title defence.
The main addition to the squad is Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese, who will bolster the Colchoneros’ midfield and allow for more possession-based football. Challenging Atletico Madrid are the two giants of European football – Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Real Madrid have appointed Carlo Ancelotti to replace Zinedine Zidane who left the club on less than friendly terms. The club’s trophyless season last year was the first in more than a decade and Los Blancos have many chinks to fill in their lineup before they can lay their hands on the title again.
That leaves Barcelona to be the primary challenger, but the Catalonian club have problems of their own. At the top of the list is Lionel Messi’s future at the club and the sacrifices the club management is willing to make to retain him.
The problems at both Real Madrid and Barcelona give Diego Simeone and his men a historic opportunity to win back-to-back titles.
Defending Champions: Bayern Munich
Top Challenger: Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich’s domination of the Bundesliga is almost unparalleled in Europe and it’s a reason why the league is considered less competitive than others. The Bavarians have won nine consecutive titles in a row, and as things stand, are the favourites to win this season.
But the departure of Hansi Flick at the helm is bound to have some effect, though Julian Nagelsmann is a capable and effective manager. Robert Lewandowski will once again be the key to Bayern’s goal-scoring streaks since he has scored a whopping 48 goals for Bayern last season.
Borussia Dortmund had to contend with playing second fiddle to Bayern for much of the last decade as the last time Borussia won a title was in 2011/12. In the ensuing decade, they have finished as runner-ups five times, but their chances of claiming the title look brighter this season.
The departure of Jadon Sancho has given the club the fiscal room to spend on new recruits. And with Erling Haaland staying at the club, manager Marco Rose will be aiming to break Bayern’s stronghold of German football.
Defending Champions: Lille
Top Challenger: Paris Saint-Germain
Very few pundits would have predicted that Lille would go on to win the 2020/21 Ligue 1 title, even less in a dramatic fashion by edging past Paris Saint-Germain on the very last day. Their steady climb to the top since the start of the century is a testament to the club management’s efforts.
In particular, Christophe Galtier’s four years at the helm saw the club rise from the bottom of the table to the very top, but his departure is bound to affect the team’s title defence. Jocelyn Gourvennec has plenty of experience but fell short of expectations that fans had on a potential replacement.
Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment at the helm has brought new cheer to the Parisians, who are once again the favourites to win the title. Despite not winning much silverware during his stint so far, Pochetinno has moulded the team to his liking with a vision for the long term.
Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Georginio Wijnaldum all join the squad this season to give the club a more possession-based strategy. And given Pochettino’s past record, the record transfers are likely to pay off.
Defending Champions: Inter Milan
Top Challenger: Juventus
After nine years of domination at the top of Italian football, Juventus have been toppled by Inter Milan to claim the trophy last season. The Nerazzurri start as the defending champions, but given the troubles they face, it will be a tough task for newly-appointed manager Simone Inzaghi.
The last time there was a change at Inter after a title-winning season was back in 2010 and it did not go well for them. But Inzaghi’s techniques and strategy are similar to Antonio Conte’s, and the club looks strong even after the departure of Achraf Hakimi.
Italy’s Old Lady struggled last season with the club finishing fourth behind Milan and Atalanta and the club has been plagued with the question of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even though the legend agreed to stay at the club, building a team around him has proved difficult for the Bianconeri. These troubles needed the return of Massimiliano Allegri, who turned down an offer from Real Madrid to once again lead the Old Lady out of her troubles.
Any club with Cristiano Ronaldo is a force to reckon with. And with an experienced manager, Juventus are once again the favourites to win the title.
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