Monday, 17 June 2019

What A Fantastic Year Of Football

The 2018/19 season across Europe was absolutely brilliant. From Manchester City's dramatic title victory to the continued dominance of PSG and Juventus, the season brought plenty of exciting football, brilliant stories and tremendous goals that will live long into the memory.

We start our round-up with the most tightly fought contest for the Premier League title. Manchester City and Liverpool's scrap for glory lasted throughout the season and it was Pep Guardiola's Manchester City who conquered by a single point. Guardiola's men finished with an impressive 98 points the second highest in Premier League history with only their record-breaking 100 points tally better. City were the kings of England in 2018/19 winning a domestic treble in style. Liverpool in any other season would certainly have topped England once again finishing with a terrific 97 point haul but in the end, they came up short. However, their season did end with glory as they collected a sixth Champions League title to crown a sensational season. Player of the season Virgil Van Dijk was outstanding all campaign but it is their full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson who have really caught the eye with a string of terrific performances and a huge amount of assists. Tottenham and Chelsea secured Champions League places. Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs performed miracles in the Champions League but ultimately fell at the final hurdle but will dine at the top table once again. Maurizio Sarri's only season at Chelsea proved successful with the Italian collecting his first piece of silverware as a manager and getting Chelsea back in the Champions League. Sarri waves goodbye after one season to return to Italy but will leave with plenty of pride after a successful stint in England. Wolves enjoyed their first season back securing a top 7 finish and a chance at playing in the Europa League next season. Meanwhile, Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield ended their season with relegation.

PSG continued their dominance of French football by collecting another Ligue 1 title. However, their title win has fallen into insignificance with PSG struggling in the Champions League once again and they failed to win any of the domestic cups in France. A mixed first season for Thomas Tuchel who will demand improvement going into next season. PSG have fallen into the background this season with some of their Ligue 1 opponents stealing the spotlight. It has been a tremendous 12 months for Lille under Christophe Galtier. From surviving relegation in 2017/18 to finishing 2nd in this campaign and securing an unlikely place in the Champions League. Galtier has assembled an exciting, young squad hungry for success. Their star man Nicolas Pepe had a tremendous season and was integral to their success. He is almost certainly heading for the exit but he will Lille a hero. Galtier will now plan a season in Champions League but will be fully aware Finacial Fair Play still hangs over the club. Lyon also secured a place in the Champions League once again with their impressive, talented, young team playing some exciting football. However, with manager Bruno Genesio leaving and a host of key players including Ferland Mendy, Nabil Fekir and Tanguy Ndombele also expected to leave, it's a nervous summer ahead for Lyon. Saint Etienne and Rennes will be in the Europa League next season after excellent seasons with the latter beating PSG in the French Cup final to secure their place. Strasbourg also had a terrific season with Thierry Laurey's team securing a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds. Guingamp and Caen say goodbye to Ligue 1 following their relegation while Dijon hung on and secured their place after beating Lens in the Ligue 1 play-offs.

Bayern Munich secured yet another Bundesliga title after edging out rivals Borussia Dortmund on the final day of the season. Despite an unconvincing first season under Niko Kovac, Bayern won another league title to add to their growing collection. A big summer lies ahead for the Bavarian giants with the club planning a revamp of the squad. Ribery, Robben and Rafinha are leaving at the end of their contracts after serving the club tremendously. Others including Mats Hummels, James Rodriguez and Thomas Muller all face uncertain futures. Borussia Dortmund enjoyed a tremendous first season under Lucien Favre and despite leading the Bundesliga for much of the campaign, they fell short at the final hurdle. But, Favre has assembled an exciting team who are winning plaudits across Europe. The team follows the example of Marco Reus who bleeds Dortmund and this has resonated throughout the squad. Jadon Sancho is the gem in the team with the exciting English winger notching an impressive 14 assists in his breakthrough season at the club. Dortmund will re-group and go again next season. Bayern vs Dortmund will be a battle next season that Bundesliga fans cannot wait for. RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen secured the other two spots in the Champions League. Leverkusen's change of manager at Christmas was a success with Peter Bosz delivering what the fans and Leverkusen hierarchy wanted. Bosz got Leverkusen's talented team going with young attacker Kai Havertz enjoying a tremendous campaign. Leverkusen will be desperate to keep that team together. Borussia Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg secured Europa League places while Eintracht Frankfurt secured the Europa League qualifying place. Wolfsburg enjoying unlikely success after consecutive seasons of struggle but the departing Bruno Labbadia did a terrific job and will leave with his head firmly held high. Meanwhile, at the wrong end, Hannover and Nuremberg are heading for the Bundesliga 2 as are Stuttgart after losing the playoffs to Union Berlin.

Juventus continued their complete control of Italy with another comfortable title win. Max Allegri delivered yet another Serie A title and their only disappointment is their failure to win the Champions League once again. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly delivered in his first season in Italy and will be targeting another Champions League success next season. Max Allegri will leave this summer to take a break from football and Maurizio Sarri will fill his big shoes with Sarri tasked of continuing Juventus' success and bring the Champions League back to Turin. Napoli and Inter Milan secured places in the Champions League as do Atalanta for the first time in their history. Gianpiero Gasperini guided Atalanta to a 3rd place finish and a place at Europe's top table for the very first time. Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez to name a few were outstanding. AC Milan, Roma and Lazio will be in the Europa League next season with the latter securing their place after winning Coppa Italia. At the wrong end, Serie B beckons for Chievo, Frosinone and Empoli with the latter two heading straight back down. It is going to be an intriguing summer in Serie A with Inter, Roma, Juventus and AC Milan all changing their managers.

Barcelona retained control of the La Liga title after a comfortable league season. Ernesto Valverde secures two league titles in his two seasons in charge. However, the problems seem to be in the Champions League as for a second consecutive season, Barcelona threw away a three-goal advantage in the knockout stages. Lionel Messi delivered for Barcelona once again but there is no denying that squad needs improving at the back and midfield. Meanwhile, Barcelona's bitter rivals finished 19 points behind them and a big summer lies ahead. Real Madrid finished 3rd, went out of the Champions League at the last 16 stages and had three managers across the season. Zinedine Zidane is back and will be fully aware the squad is ageing and needs major improvement this summer. Sandwiched between Barca and Real were Atletico Madrid who finished a respectable 2nd. Diego Simeone continues to do an excellent job at Atleti but a real test lies ahead this summer with much of the old guard including Diego Godin leaving the club. Antoine Greizmann is also leaving after deciding he wants to leave the club to win the Champions League. Simeone will have a big rebuild on his hands with Atletico Madrid heading into a new age. Valencia finished 4th and have secured back to back Champions League campaigns under Marcelino who is doing a terrific job. Sevilla will be in the Europa League next season and will be joined by two unlikely teams Getafe and Espanyol. Jose Bordalas' Getafe finished in 5th place meaning a guaranteed place in the Europa League while Espanyol finished 7th under the departing Rubi and will enter at the qualifying rounds. Big La Liga heavyweights Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal all endured mixed seasons and will all be extremely disappointed with their campaigns. Rayo Vallecano and Huesca are heading straight back down after just a season in La Liga and will be joined by Girona who were relegated after two seasons in La Liga.

Ajax and PSV battled hard to be crowned Eredivisie champions and ultimately it was the team from Amsterdam which prevailed. Ajax had a terrific season in more ways than one. Not only did they secure a first title in 4 seasons, but Ajax also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League eventually losing to Tottenham. Erik Ten Hag's exciting young team caused waves across Europe dumping out Real Madrid and Juventus on their way. However, a difficult summer will no doubt lie ahead with interest in many of their players. Frankie De Jong is already leaving with a transfer to Barcelona agreed. But the likes of Donny Van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, Nicolas Tagliafico, Andre Onana and Matthijs De Ligt are all attracting serious interest from Europe's biggest clubs. De Ligt in particular is proving an asset everyone in Europe wants. Barcelona, Juventus, PSG, Manchester City, Manchester United to name a few are interested in signing the young defender. Meanwhile, PSV fell short in their first season under Mark Van Bommel but will be in the Champions League qualifying rounds. Feyenoord, AZ Alkmaar and Utrecht will be aiming to compete in the Europa League as they enter in the qualifying rounds. NAC Breda were relegated after finishing bottom while De Graafschap and Excelsior who finished in the relegation playoff places will join NAC Breda with Sparta Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk securing the final two places in the Eredivisie next season.

The 2018/19 season was outstanding with plenty of terrific goals, brilliant football and tremendous footballing stories. The new season is already on the horizon with the transfer window in full swing. Lets hope the new season starting in August will bring the same quality the 2018/19 season brought.

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