10 Teams To Keep an Eye On in the 2017/18 Season
With the English Premier League and French Ligue 1 already underway; and the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A set to kick off this weekend, here’s 10 European teams worth looking out for in the 2017/18 season:
After two successive seasons of hugely underperforming, it would be hard for Valencia fans not to carry feelings of doom and gloom around them, the once third-biggest team in Spain have spent the last couple of campaigns trying to keep their heads above water. In that time, they’ve had five managers, from the novice in Gary Neville to the highly experienced veteran in Cesare Prandelli, it’s all been a sorry mess. The appointment of Marcelino- who led Villarreal from Spain’s second tier and back to European contention- could change the face of things at the Mestalla; although their squad is still lacking in key areas following the return of a bunch of loanees and other departures. It’ll be interesting to see how Los Che fare under yet another new gaffer.
9. RB Leipzig
The team from old East Germany finished in second place in the Bundesliga last term despite just gaining promotion, much to the ire of fans of virtually every other German first division team (as a result of their corporate ownership), and they were granted a place in the Champions League following initial blockage from UEFA. They’ve fended off interest in their key players in Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita, and with the addition of the likes of Jean-Kevin Augustin and Bruma, they aim to keep irking Bundesliga fans and give Bayern some chasing at the top, while making a name for themselves in Europe as well.
8. Olympique Marseille
Les Olympiens were languishing in the bottom half last October, after three previously unimpressive campaigns, and were in danger of becoming talk of the past when they appointed Rudi Garcia. Their improvement has been steady, to say the very least, as they climbed to fifth place and sealed a place in the Europa League. Garcia acted smartly in the market last January, with the arrivals of Dimitri Payet- now club captain- Morgan Sanson and Patrice Evra going some way to aid their progress. This summer has seen the likes of Luiz Gustavo, Adil Rami and Valerie Germain join the club, while Steve Mandanda has returned following a not-so fruitful time at Crystal Palace, and they’ve already begun their Ligue 1 campaign with two wins out of two, conceding no goals in the progress. Champions League qualification is the aim, although a title challenge may not be completely out of the question; the manager did it with less fancied Lille in 2011 anyway.
7. Newcastle United
The Magpies spent just one season in the Championship before bouncing back to England’s top tier under prestigious manager Rafael Benitez, although the build-up to their Premier League season has been anything but smooth. Benitez has already voiced his displeasure at the lack of new signings at the club, while owner Mike Ashley has publicly stepped out to state that he can’t quite provide the necessary funds the gaffer feels the club needs. This could end in varying ways, Benitez picks up some handy bargains before the window and inspires the team towards an unexpected European push, or Rafa resigns and throws the team into another state of turmoil, and the Toon spend the entire trying to avoid falling through the relegation trapdoor. Either way, it’s unlikely to be dull in Tyneside; it hardly ever is.
6. Inter Milan
After the chaos of a 2016/17 campaign for Inter, where Frank de Boer lasted 85 days and Stefano Pioli was denied the opportunity to resign before being sacked, the Nerazzurri will be hoping the new season brings much better fortunes. One reason for optimism is the managerial appointment of Luciano Spalletti, who had a record-breaking campaign with Roma last term, and has gone some way to clear the deadwood in overseeing the departures of the likes of Jonathan Biabiany and Rodrigo Palacio. The arrival of the of Matias Vecino, Borja Valero and Dalbert Henrique among others and the club’s persistence on holding on to Ivan Perisic despite interest from Manchester United bodes well for the new season, and with four teams from Italy now guaranteed a Champions League spot, there is motivation aplenty for the three-time European champions.
5. TSG Hoffenheim
After narrowly avoiding relegation in the 2015/16 campaign, Hoffenheim defied the odds last term in the Bundesliga to finish fourth in Julian Nagelsmann’s first full season. Repeating that feat will be no easy ask though, the loss of key players in the shape of Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Sule- both to Bayern Munich- is likely to be difficult to cope with, especially Sule in defence. 30-year old Nagelsmann has done well to put this Sinsheim club in the spotlight, how they handle the pressure that’ll come with it remains to be seen.
4. FC Barcelona
Finishing in second place while taking the La Liga title race to the final day was surprising in more ways than one; there was disbelief as to how they managed to surrender the title despite not losing to any of last season’s top seven, and there was also astonishment as to how they even managed to keep up a title challenge in spite of some underwhelming displays. With Luis Enrique replaced in the managerial hot-seat by Ernesto Valverde and, more recently, Neymar- one third of the ‘MSN’ attacking trio- joining Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee, there will be more than a few keen eyes on how Barcelona get on this campaign. The woeful two-legged display in the Spanish Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid hasn’t helped matters. No pressure then; just a lot of it.
3. AS Monaco
After last season’s impressive displays, but home and abroad, where they won the domestic league and reached the Champions League semis, Monaco were always likely to lose a few of their key players. Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy have joined Manchester City, midfield pivot Tiemoue Bakayoko has headed for Premier League champions Chelsea, while speculation over wonderkid Kylian Mbappe just can’t go away and there’s still a lack of squad depth in the side. The re-emergence of Marseille, the big spending of PSG, and the continuous threats of the OGC Nice and Olympique Lyon might be a cause for worry on the domestic front, but winning their first two games in Ligue 1, scoring seven goals en route, shows they’ll not give up their title without a fight.
After finishing in seventh spot in the Premier League last term, the Toffees have spent heavily in this window, with key arrivals in all areas of the side, a club-record signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson and the return of prodigal son Wayne Rooney. Ronald Koeman is still on the prowl for a striker, following the departure of 25-goal forward Romelu Lukaku. There’s likely to be more than a few teething problems in the side and their 1-0 win against Stoke in the first weekend of the season showed that, but they look intent and ready to give the top four battle in England a real go.
1. AC Milan
Arguably the team to watch this season, the Rossoneri are back in Europe- albeit the Europa League- after a three-year hiatus, and they’ve been noticeably active in the market. The acquisition of Ricardo Rodriguez and Andre Silva among others is one thing, signing Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus is a massive statement of intent from Vincenzo Montella’s men. The title isn’t completely out of the question; a top four finish is the minimum aim. The seven-time European champions may well be on the way to recovering lost glories.