Every year, Europe’s biggest leagues seem to end the same way. Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona are all repeat champions, some several times over, all with a good chance of being atop their leagues next season. Treating every league as a dreary processional ignores the difficulty of staying on top, though. So which of the five is most vulnerable?
Manchester City and Barcelona will have some of the richest teams in the world in hot pursuit of their crowns, but oddly, the perennial powerhouse with the hardest task might be Juventus, the Serie A winner eight years running. In Maurizio Sarri, Juve has a new coach with a different mind-set than Max Allegri’s pragmatism-above-all approach. Sarri is far more concerned with how his team plays, not just the final score. And the new coach will have to remake the team’s midfield while dealing with the outsized expectations of fans and media.
Odds are he’ll be successful, as Turin managers seemingly always are. But to discount it as “just more of the same” ignores the difficulty of remaking a team on the fly. With Inter Milan and Napoli reinforcing their teams, the possibility of a three-way race looms.
• The worldwide interest in the Women’s World Cup already seems to have pushed a few organizations forward. Real Madrid, which did not have a women’s team, is buying current first-division squad Deportivo Tacon. Japan is targeting 2021 to launch its own professional league. And closer to home, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would withhold federal funding for the 2026 men’s World Cup unless the U.S. Soccer Federation introduces equal pay for the men’s and women’s national teams.
• Liga MX kicks off this weekend, and if you think the MLS franchise shell game is confusing, they’ve got nothing on Mexico. Veracruz was relegated last year but allowed to pay its way back into the league. Atletico San Luis was still promoted as usual, bringing the league to 19 teams. And FC Juarez bought a spot from existing franchise Lobos BUAP, giving the league two new teams.
MLS: Portland at Seattle, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, FS1. It took Portland almost two months to win a game this year, as the Timbers suffered through a 12-game road trip caused by stadium remodeling. Now, having weathered the storm, Portland is the trendy pick in the Western Conference despite still being in the bottom half of the standings. Seattle is getting its best players back from international duty and is heating up itself. MLS’ best rivalry should be electric.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org