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Soccer Predictions for 2022: World Cup, Mbappé, Haaland, League Titles and More

Take a look into our crystal ball for a glimpse into how the sport's biggest and most pressing stories will unfold in the year ahead.

It's a new year—a World Cup year—and with that comes a fresh slate of blanks that need to be filled in.

Who will win some of the most prized trophies as competitions either wind down or get set to begin? What World Cup qualifying bombshells may be in store before the field of 32 is set? What will come for two of the brightest young men's talents on the planet, who could both be leaving their current clubs this summer?

Those are just some of the pressing questions to be answered in the next 12 months, so with that said, here are a few predictions for the year ahead across the sport—some bold, some less so:

Soccer predictions on the USMNT, World Cup and future for Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland

The USMNT will qualify for the World Cup with a game to spare

There's mathematically a chance that the U.S. will secure its place in Qatar—either in the form of a full World Cup berth or at the very least a spot in the one-game intercontinental playoff vs. Oceania's representative in June—at the end of the upcoming window, but more likely is that things will come down to the final three-game stretch in March. The way things have broken, the U.S. is not in any imminent danger of failing to qualify, and with fourth-place Panama needing to travel to Costa Rica and Mexico in the upcoming window, things could be all but secured as long as the Americans take care of business at home against El Salvador and Honduras, which are the two worst teams in the table. While punching the ticket vs. Mexico at the Azteca in the opening match of the March window would be emphatic, beating Panama at a to-be-determined home site on March 27 will be the occasion U.S. fans have been waiting years to celebrate.

Portugal, Ronaldo will miss out on Qatar

The draw for the UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs was brutal to both Italy and Portugal, with the last two European champions on a crash course in one of the three four-team brackets that'll determine the region's final three entrants to the competition. While it may seem unfathomable for the World Cup to go on without one of the game's most recognizable stars in Cristiano Ronaldo, it's more likely to happen than current European champion Italy missing out on consecutive tournaments. Either way, a national tragedy is in store for at least one of the two in late March.

A non-European nation will win the World Cup

It's impossible to make an educated guess on which team will lift the World Cup trophy in Qatar until the field is completed and the draw is conducted—to say nothing of knowing what the COVID-19 landscape will look like in 11 months and how that'll impact the competition and who'll be available to play in it—so stay tuned for more informed thoughts on that in the spring and the fall. But for an appetizer, how about one of South America's two predominant powers ending Europe's reign at 20 years? It's been a run of Italy, Spain, Germany and France since Brazil last claimed the World Cup trophy in 2002, but both the Seleção and Lionel Messi's Argentina are more than capable of being crowned in Doha on Dec. 18, if their qualifying efforts are any indication.

The USWNT will coast to the 2023 Women's World Cup, 2024 Olympics

Concacaf restructured its qualifying process so that the region's automatic berths for the next Women's World Cup and Olympics will be sorted in one competition, the Concacaf W Championship in July. The U.S. remains in a bit of a transition period and has a score to settle with Canada after its defeat in the Olympic semifinals this past summer, but all will be well for Vlatko Andonovski's side, which will claim the W Championship and the two tournament tickets that come with it.

The USWNT attempts to qualify for two tournaments this summer

Manchester City will win the Premier League title again

Not exactly going out on a limb here. Man City took care of its business during the festive season to open up a 10-point lead on second-place Chelsea and an 11-point lead on third-place Liverpool (which has a game in hand). A win when league play resumes—Jan. 15 vs. Chelsea—would all but eliminate the Blues from title contention while effectively reducing the proceedings to a two-horse race. With 11 straight wins in league play despite little in the way of contribution from £100 million summer signing Jack Grealish and still no star center forward, Pep Guardiola's well-drilled side remains the clear favorite to win a fourth title in five seasons.

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The richest team in the world gets relegated

Newcastle was a mess long before Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund bankrolled the club, and some January reinforcements are to be expected as a result of its financial standing (Kieran Trippier is reportedly on the way). But one solitary win halfway through the Premier League season doesn't leave the Magpies with a whole lot of wiggle room for the remaining 19 games, and it's quite likely that, barring an incredible turnaround in form, Newcastle will head down to the Championship, leaving the world's richest club in a second-tier league.

Mbappé to Real Madrid, Haaland to Man City

Kylian Mbappé has made no secret of his desire to play for Real Madrid, and with his PSG contract expiring at the end of the season, he's poised to go there without a fee. He can technically sign a pre-contract there now, but he has already shut down any notion that would occur, pledging to give his all to PSG. It doesn't help matters that PSG drew Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16, making for an awkward yet compelling narrative to kick off the knockout stage. PSG could still convince Mbappé to stay, of course, but if his sights are that set on fulfilling his Madrid dream, then that's going to be that.

The real summer sweepstakes involves Erling Haaland and his future. There is no shortage of suitors for the 21-year-old, whose contract with Borussia Dortmund reportedly includes an exit clause fee that is considerably less than what the Norwegian would command on the open market. It's no secret that Man City desires a star center forward, as last summer's pursuit of Harry Kane showed, and it's also no secret that Haaland's father previously played for Man City. Not that City necessarily needed to free up funds to afford his purchase, but the sale of Ferran Torres to Barcelona gives the Premier League power even more financial flexibility to add a leading stallion to its stable of attacking talents.

Angel City and San Diego will both make the NWSL playoffs

The two new franchises are poised to enter the league with a splash. Angel City's spine is set with the acquisitions of Christen Press, Julie Ertz and Sarah Gorden. Meanwhile, San Diego Wave FC will be led by the steady hand of manager Casey Stoney and be marshaled by U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper and backstopped by the reliable Kailen Sheridan. There's still plenty of roster-building to be done, but there's a lot to like about how the two California franchises have gone about their business. With the Chicago Red Stars losing key talents, Sky Blue skewing older, OL Reign yet to bring back and/or replace its loan stars from a season ago and the North Carolina Courage caught in the middle of rebuilding and reloading, there are playoff teams from 2021 who could quite easily take steps back, allowing the expansion sides to thrive from the start.

Daryl Dike will outscore Ricardo Pepi for the remainder of their respective seasons

The two young U.S. forwards have left MLS for clubs overseas at the start of the January transfer window, and while Pepi is currently the brighter star from a national team standpoint, Dike will enjoy more immediate success on the club level. The factors add up in Dike's favor. Now at West Brom, he's playing for a manager he knows in a league he knows after his loan stint at Barnsley last season. Pepi should require a bit more of an acclimation period, and from a pure numbers and volume standpoint, West Brom has more games between now and the end of the season. It'll do little to diminish Pepi's USMNT standing, however.

The biennial World Cup won't come to pass...yet

There's no guarantee that decisions on FIFA's push for men's and women's biennial World Cups will come down in 2022, but the subplot will continue to be a dominant story in the sport for the next 12 months. The next meeting where increasing the frequency of World Cups will be publicly discussed will come in March, but with federations, confederations, clubs, managers and star players—Mbappé is the most recent example—speaking out against it, the opposition and resistance will hold firm and delay any resolution while a compromise that suits all parties is concocted.

Lightning round: League/competition champions

Africa Cup of Nations: Algeria

Champions League: Manchester City

Women's Champions League: Barcelona

La Liga: Real Madrid

Ligue 1: PSG

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich

Serie A: Inter Milan

Concacaf Champions League: León

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