After a short excursion into history last week, it is time to have a look at Europe’s top football leagues as the international break gives everyone a little breather. The World Cup is a thing of the past and now considered a trip down Memory Lane for many. Therefore it is time for taking stock of the first part of the season after the first European matches and more than a handful of domestic games in all of Europe’s top five leagues, i.e. Germany, England, Spain, Italy and France…
In England the usual suspects are to be found in the top spots with the exception of Liverpool missing. Currently lying in 18th position they’ll be glad to get the sale of their club done and then hopefully come back with some new strength and more importantly some new beliefs. Normally in fifth or sixth place there would be clubs like Liverpool, Everton or West Ham. This year seems slightly different as we have West Brom and Stoke occupying these spots, with the former named clubs to be found in or around the relegation zone.
A very different picture is that of France. The usual big guns, i.e. Marseille, Lyon are to be found in the lower half of the table (Lyon) or in a mid-table position (Marseille). The table is topped by Rennes followed by one of the most popular clubs in France, St. Etienne. Paris St. Germain, currently 7th seem to have found some stability in defence, something they were missing last season. Bordeaux were thought to be struggling after the loss of Chamakh (Arsenal) and Gourcuff (Lyon) are doing within their means in 10th position. The biggest disappointment so far are Lyon who have had a bad start to the season and are now in a relegation battle. Considering that they were the most successful team of the noughties, this is a big surprise.
The German situation is similar. Mainz are top with Bayern lying in 12th position. Dortmund in second spot suggest that young managers with hungry squads will be the topic of the season and who knows, maybe Bayern will be aiming to replicate this success by luring either Thomas Tuchel (Mainz) or Jürgen Klopp (Dortmund) to Munich. It also remains to be seen whether Ralf Rangnick might consider his options if another season at Hoffenheim does not bear any fruit. His football laboratory has to deliver in their third season in top-tier of German football if they are to be taken serious. The top five are currently Mainz 05, Dortmund, Hannover 96, Leverkusen and Freiburg. Three of the five were said to be candidates for relegation and only Dortmund and Leverkusen were said to have any potential to go for the top spots. This seems to become an interesting season and it is not sure, where Bayern will end up and who in the top two will first slip. So far Mainz have broken the record for the best start to the season by winning their first seven matches.
Similar England, the Spanish top division looks familiar although Barca and Real are not in the top two spots now. This might change during the season but Barca were beaten by newly promoted Hercules a few weeks back and it seems that money and fatigue are going to take their toll. We will see. Currently on top, Valencia are certainly no dark horse in the race as Sevilla and Athletico. The latter the winner of the Europa League last season against Fulham appear to be in good shape already and pushing for another good result come the end of the season.
Finally Italy. This looks all familiar again only Roma missing from the top seven. For a change it’s neither Inter, Milan or Juve topping the table but less fancied Lazio. It remains doubtful whether Naples have the means and the momentum to break into the top ranks of Italian football, the same goes for Chievo Verona and Brescia.
Where does this leave us? It is early days to draw any incisive conclusions but it is interesting to see new players, managers and teams emerging whom no one really had taken serious before the start of the season. In England, West Brom and Stoke won’t be there by the end of the season however, who will replace them remains to be seen as it might not be Fulham, Liverpool and Everton. The same can be said of Mainz. It is doubtful that they remain unbeaten for a whole season, their squad is just too young. However, things could dramatically alter if they remain their momentum and are in the near vicinity of the top by christmas or when playing resumed in February. There certainly is not going to be shift of power in German football. Bayern’s slip is injury related (mostly Robben) and most of their squad are tired from the World Cup. France is a whole different story. The league is pretty even it seems and every one can beat every one on the day, yet there won’t be a massive shake up as Marseille and PSG look good and seem to have very balanced squads. Whether this applies for St. Etienne, remains to be seen. There won’t be revolution in Spanish football either. Real and Barca are simply too powerful.
Of all those countries named here, England, France and Italy have had rather mediocre World Cups, so their players seem to be fresh or at least fresher than their colleagues in Germany and Spain. Bayern’s miserable start to the season – apparently their worst ever – is an example of fatigue – most German players had only a short break and pre season – and bad medical practice in the case of Arjen Robben who is out with the muscle injury. As a result Bayern won’t be champions this year but they’re not to be written off yet. The race is rather open in France, where as in England it’s business as usual. In Italy it will be interesting to see how Rafael Benitez will do at Inter. Certainly he cannot repeat last season’s success but the pressure is on him. Mysteriously Barca and Real are already in the race for the title and they don’t appear to look tired. Especially Barca with their core players being at the heart of the Spanish squad, too.
No final conclusions can be drawn from the current league tables and there are no patterns looming yet as to dramatic changes in the balances of power. What becomes apparent though is that a successful World Cup might not necessarily have negative repercussions as in Spains example or the opposite as Bayern show. It is good to see other teams sitting in the top half of the respective leagues and it would be appreciated if this would the same at the end of the season. This season will not see a dramatic shift in power from the usual suspects on the domestic stage though but some fresh blood will come through. Europe is a very different pair of shoes and here won’t be anything new come the time of season when it matters most, i.e. the knock out stages of the UEFA Cup and Champions League. Nothing new but nonetheless very exciting.