OK, let’s get the predictable stuff out of the way: Paris St.-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus will win their respective domestic league titles this season. Barcelona or Real Madrid likely will win the Spanish title. These things are all but etched in stone, but beyond these superclubs, here are five other European teams that are worth your time.
In Germany, keep an eye on two young American stars: Christian Pulisic, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, and Weston McKennie, who’s with Schalke. Dortmund endured a couple of years of coaching upheaval before hiring former Nice manager Lucien Favre, who should right the ship. If any team can challenge Bayern for the title, however unlikely that is, it’s Dortmund.
Across town, Dortmund’s local rival Schalke surprised by finishing second last season but lost All-Star midfielder Leon Goretzka (insultingly, to Bayern, and for free). McKennie made 13 starts last year for Schalke, and U.S. fans will hope for more. Schalke fans will hope that he can power the team into the Champions League spots again.
In Spain, about once every decade Atletico Madrid pops up to steal a league title, and this feels like it could be the year. “Atleti” is finally settled into its new stadium, the team’s defense is always excellent under coach Diego Simeone, and forwards Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa should provide plenty of goals.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid is unsettled after superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo and coach Zinedine Zidane departed over the summer. Barcelona’s core of superstars is a year older. Madrid’s second team has the talent to finish the season in first place.
In France, PSG is so far ahead that it makes Ligue 1 feel a little pointless. Perhaps the most interesting team will be Nice, where former New York City coach Patrick Vieira is taking over. The team lost midfielder Jean Michael Seri to the Premier League, but you can usually count on Nice to unearth talent to replace departed stars. If nothing else, Nice is worth watching to see the future stars who will end up in the rest of Europe.
Down in Italy, keep an on eye on AC Milan. It’s been a weird few years. The team was bought by over-their-head Chinese owners, who then failed to pay their loan, leaving the club in the hands of an American hedge fund. The resulting financial problems nearly got Milan banned from Europe, and definitely meant sending defender Leonardo Bonucci back to Juventus. In return, Milan received all-world striker Gonzalo Higuain. Milan could make the Champions League spots, or finish in midtable, but the club won’t be boring.
It can be hard to look past the Premier League, and past the perennial champions of the rest of Europe’s biggest leagues. If you’re going to watch European soccer, though, it’s the only way to go. Watching the superclubs dominate gets old.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Arsenal at Chelsea, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 11. Chelsea hammered Huddersfield on opening weekend while Arsenal capitulated meekly to Manchester City. New Arsenal manager Unai Emery (above) needs to get his team to look half-decent. New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri would love to start the season on a roll.
MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Seattle, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Even by the standards of Seattle’s now-yearly second-half surges, this year’s edition is impressive. The Sounders have won five consecutive games, and a victory here could put Seattle back into the playoffs. Can the Galaxy cool off its West Coast competition?
Liga MX: Pumas at Monterrey, 9 p.m. Saturday, FS2. Both sides were perfect through three games this year, but Week 4 wasn’t kind to either. Pumas only managed a draw against struggling Pachuca. Monterrey went a man down, then was overrun by Club America. Los Rayados return home looking for confidence; a victory over Pumas would provide that.
NWSL: Chicago at Portland, 9 p.m. Saturday, ESPNews. On one hand, fifth-place Chicago has a game in hand on the rest of the field that’s chasing a playoff berth. On the other, that means the Red Stars have an exhausting schedule to close the year. Getting a result at fellow playoff striver Portland, before fatigue sets in, would help.
SOCCER SHORT TAKES
• The city council in Austin, Texas, approved a stadium plan for the Columbus Crew, which would put the team in a nowhere stadium north of town. All that’s keeping the Crew in Columbus is a lawsuit filed by the Ohio attorney general alleging that moving the team is illegal. If the team is allowed to move, it will be perhaps MLS’ lowest point, which is saying something for a league that has folded three teams.
• Spain’s La Liga announced plans to hold one regular-season game per season in the United States, as soon as this season. League officials dismissed talk of this being a Clasico, between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but one of the two teams seems almost certain to be involved if the game is going to draw much American interest.
• More teenage Americans are leaving MLS academies for German clubs. U.S. youth-team captain Giovanni Reyna, just 15, will leave New York City FC’s academy to join Borussia Dortmund in November when he turns 16. His fellow youth international Sebastian Soto has signed with Hannover 96 from Real Salt Lake. Defender Chris Richards, from FC Dallas, has been loaned for the year to Bayern Munich.