With the new top-flight seasons set to kick off in Italy and Spain this weekend–and Germany one week later–and the Premier League just underway, there are lots of predictions to be made and questions to be answered. Will the competitive imbalance in France, Germany and Italy continue to be a problem? Will we see a surprise winner in any league? Will there be an outsider who cracks the Champions League elite? And just who will Jose Mourinho fall out with next?
With all of those questions–and more!–in mind, we take a look at the European club landscape in the over/under prism to provide as much clarity as possible entering a nine-month quest for trophies and championships:
Over/Under 2.5: Trophies for…
Carlo Ancelotti has already won his first trophy at Bayern, last weekend’s Super Cup win over Dortmund, getting him and his new club off to a winning start. But there was a clear difference in approach: Bayern had 45% possession and was happy to play on the break; it’s not quite the Pep Guardiola way, but it’s effective. With Dortmund recruiting smartly in summer, the question is whether it can push Bayern off the top spot in the Bundesliga. Ancelotti is a cup specialist, and the German Cup and Champions League might be where he sets his sights. Bayern will not find things as easy as this season.
The Spanish Super Cup is won, after Wednesday’s victory against Sevilla. Now all Luis Enrique needs to do is have his team defend its La Liga crown and win the Champions League or Spanish Cup (that's all!). While the first XI may not change too much this season–with Marc-Andre ter Stegen likely to replace Claudo Bravo (who appears bound for Manchester City) as the first-choice La Liga goalkeeper, and Sergi Roberto replacing Dani Alves at right back, the supporting cast is stronger than ever. Midfield schemer Andre Gomes has joined from Valencia, Denis Suarez is back where he started and Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne improve the defensive depth.
Like Ancelotti, Mourinho got off to a winning start at Manchester United, winning the Community Shield as his first piece of silverware at Old Trafford. Next up? The Premier League title, which he says others are too scared to admit they are targeting. The signs were encouraging after the opening game at Bournemouth, and that's before Paul Pogba has even started playing. Pogba could be a difference-maker, but depending on where he plays, he could also make threaten the place of Wayne Rooney. Mourinho will target cup runs too–including the Europa League–but might fall just short this time around.
Another big club, another new coach and this time Unai Emery has already won over his players and the fans at PSG. “We are working better tactically,” said Thiago Silva of Laurent Blanc’s replacement. Fans have also enjoyed Emery’s personal website launch, in which they are invited to pick their PSG team and see how it compares to his. PSG’s 4-1 rout over Lyon was a sign of where this season could go with Emery at the helm of a team that has won consecutive domestic trebles.
Over/Under 1.5: Trophies for…
It’s still early days for Guardiola, but the first week of the season has been encouraging, even if the team was helped by some generous defending from Sunderland and, particularly, Steaua Bucharest. The attacking potential of Sergio Aguero and his back-up cast is frightening, though if the Argentine is injured at the business end of the season, things could get tricky. The Premier League is the prime target for Guardiola, while a return to the Champions League semifinals (where Guardiola has never fallen short of reaching but has been eliminated in four straight seasons) is a possibility, too. Add a domestic cup to the mix, and the Pep project could be off to a flying start.
Real Madrid has now gone five seasons without winning La Liga, and this summer’s low-key transfer moves suggest an end to that run is not in the offing. The reigning Champions League holder will have its work cut out defending that crown, just as Cristiano Ronaldo, chasing a sixth straight season in which he scores at least 50 goals, might find Father Time catching up with him. It's already won the UEFA Super Cup, besting Sevilla, so that leaves one of the league, Champions League, Copa del Rey and Club World Cup titles to take it over 1.5. Of the bunch, the Club World Cup (where UEFA entrants have won eight of the 12 titles) is the likeliest prize.
Over/Under 9: Points by which Juventus wins Serie A
9. 17. 17. 9. 4. That’s how many points by which Juventus has won the last five Serie A titles. It looks locked-in for a sixth in a row after signing its rivals’ best players–Miralem Pjanic from Roma and Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli–but it could be derailed if, as it clearly hopes, it goes deep in the Champions League and its focus is split. After reaching the final in 2015, the aim is to go one better this year.
Over/Under 20.5: Goals scored by new Napoli's Higuain replacement, Milik
Higuain scored more than a goal per game in Serie A last season (36 goals in 35 matches) and his replacement, Poland's Arkadiusz Milik, will need to hit the ground running. Milik cost £34 million, after scoring 21 goals in the Dutch league last season. It’s a big purchase for Napoli, which will hope it pays off, but scoring in the Eredivisie and scoring in Serie A are two entirely different tasks.
Over/Under 1.5: Ligue 1 games PSG loses this season
Where do you go after winning the league four times in a row with barely a challenge? Last season PSG wanted to go unbeaten, and for 27 games, it looked possible. Then came a 2-1 loss at Lyon, and PSG’s version of the Invincibles was over. It lost at home to Monaco three weeks later. Can it come close again? With Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese and Thomas Meunier among the new arrivals and Emery winning friends as coach, the question is when and not if PSG will win the league, even after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's departure. The real challenge is taking the next step in the Champions League and conquering Europe.
Over/Under 9.5: Leicester City’s final Premier League position
Last season’s surprise Premier League champion had a nasty wake-up call with its opening-day defeat at newly-promoted and written-off Hull City. But off the pitch it has sealed two big wins, with Jamie Vardy and, on Wednesday, Riyad Mahrez, signing new deals–so the attacking stars of 2015-16 will stay (at least until January offers roll in). Coach Claudio Ranieri says survival is the target, but regardless of European distractions, this squad is good enough to finish top half in the table. Expect the Foxes to regain their bite–maybe not against Arsenal on Saturday, but in the coming weeks.
Prediction: Over (top-half of the table)
Over/Under 3.5: Players Manchester City will be able to sell before the summer window shuts
It’s early days in the Pep-olution at the Etihad, but a few truths have already emerged after the first game of the season. Guardiola does not rate Joe Hart; there is no space for Yaya Toure in the squad; and Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas are all available if someone is prepared to take on their salaries. There is some talent in that group, but Guardiola will want to trim down his squad, and the focus for the City board next week will be selling rather than buying.
Over/Under 2.5: Number of Spanish players to make over 20 starts for Real Madrid this season
Zinedine Zidane has made his point as Real Madrid coach, as this is one of those rare summers during which the club has not made a big-money signing. Instead it has welcomed back two players, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio, from successful loan spells. Zidane has won the power battle with Florentino Perez, for now, but will his Spanish contingent get much game time? Sergio Ramos will play if fit, and the same might go for Dani Carvajal, but what of Morata, Asensio and Lucas Vasquez, the winger who excelled last season and scored a penalty in the Champions League final shootout win? If Isco lasts the month, does he have a role to play, too?
Over/Under 3.5: Managers Mourinho will attack in the press
It’s been a relatively quiet start to the season for Mourinho, with only a mild poke at Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger for their clubs not being big enough to sign Pogba. It was his early foray in the siege mentality/belligerent wind-ups in which he likes to engage. But there is plenty of time to go, and it promises to be interesting to see him lock horns with his bête noire Guardiola, as well as Wenger (again), Klopp (whose Dortmund beat his Real Madrid in the 2013 Champions League semifinal), and, of course, Ranieri, who was often on the receiving-end of his barbs when they were both coaching in Italy. The lower this number, the better United will be doing. Mourinho tends to pick fights when the pressure is greatest.
Over/Under 75.5: Combined La Liga goals scored by Messi, Suarez, Neymar
This is a generous estimate considering last season’s total scored between the three of them was 90 (out of 112 in total, so 80% of the team’s tally). But this is factoring in the potential of injuries and, given that Barcelona is looking to finally sign a fourth striker to give each of them some chance of a break, less playing time. Because all three are South American, holidays come in short supply: this summer they were with their countries for either Copa America or the Olympics, and the toll of traveling for international breaks and World Cup qualifying could start to add up–especially now that Messi has un-retired from international football.
Over/Under 3.5: Bundesliga coaches linked with jobs in England
It used to be Frenchmen, then Italians and very briefly Spaniards, but Liverpool’s feel-good factor under Jurgen Klopp will be noted by Premier League chairmen who have the likes of Thomas Tuchel (Borussia Dortmund) and Roger Schmidt (Leverkusen) on their radars. Also look out for Martin Schmidt (Mainz), Markus Wienzierl (Schalke) and Pal Dardai (Hertha Berlin).
Over/Under €49.5 million: Amount at which point Lyon will consider selling Alexandre Lacazette
We’ve been here before; 12 months ago, in fact, when Lyon’s tough negotiator and president Jean-Michel Aulas rejected bids for Lacazette and upset the player as well. This time around, Lacazette is playing it smarter. He scored a hat trick on Ligue 1’s opening day against Nancy, smiled when asked about his future and said, “Ask the president.” If someone bids €50 million for him, then Lyon will sell. Arsenal bid €35 million last month and might go up a level in the next two weeks.