LONDON: After an action-packed weekend of football across Europe, here is what we learned from the top divisions of the football-mad continent.
THREE WAY BATTLE FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE?
With all due respect to Watford, whose blistering start to this season has taken even the most ardent of their fans by surprise, it is highly unlikely the Hornets will be lifting the Premier League trophy come May next year. But three clubs that might be — Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool — showed again this weekend why they are most people’s favorites to be battling it out all year at the summit. Aside from an Allison blunder, the Reds once again looked extremely solid in defense during their comfortable victory at Leicester. And while City labored to three points at Newcastle, it was the sort of gritty performance they will need from time to time in this league. Chelsea, meanwhile, under Maurizio Sarri have gone under the radar in the opening weeks, but showed themselves to be a classy outfit with the Italian at the helm in a win against Bournemouth. Expect these three to take the top spots at the end of the season.
HAND BAYERN MUNICH THE TROPHY NOW...
It was another depressing display of monotony and predictability in the Bundesliga, as the six-in-a-row champions Bayern comfortably dispatched VfB Stuttgart away from home. Even after two games, it looks highly unlikely anyone will stop the Bavarian juggernauts from claiming a seventh straight title. To make matters worse, the only team truly capable of challenging them — Borussia Dortmund — slipped up to draw with Hannover. Two dropped points when Bayern will probably not drop more than 10 throughout the season means Dortmund are playing catch-up after just two games. What can be done to break Munich’s stranglehold? Suggestions of a complete revamp of the league, to allowing foreign ownership of clubs, to introducing an American style “draft system” have all been proffered. Whatever happens in the future, it will not stop Niko Kovac’s charges from storming the league once again.
RETURN TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS FOR SERIE A?
Bear with us on this one. Yes, Juventus have walked the Italian league for years now, but the other big guns of Italian football — the Milan duo, the Rome pair, Napoli — have usually been nipping at their heels. This year, the so-called “predictable” Serie A has been anything but. Inter and Lazio have had a shocking start to the season while Napoli were beaten this weekend by Sampdoria. Perhaps the biggest story in European football, however, is the unbeaten start by Sassuolo. After their famous opening day win over Luciano Spalletti’s Inter, the minnows from Modena sit second in the table behind the mighty Juve. It has been a long time since smaller clubs have made an impact in Italy’s top flight. And even if they do fade away, seeing a smaller provincial club mixing it up with the big boys reminds us of a better time in Serie A. Long may it continue.
THE RETURN OF THE “ETERNAL STRUGGLE” IN SPAIN
While football fans across the world hailed Diego Simeone and his Atletico Madrid mavericks for breaking the Real-Barca La Liga party back in 2014, millions of people tune in to watch the Spanish league because of the hard-fought, down-to-the-wire battle at the top of La Liga between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Which is exactly why, after last season’s damp squib when Real finished third and 17 points behind Barca, this season is already shaping up to be one of the best. Can a Barcelona side led by the mercurial, evergreen Lionel Messi claim an eighth title since 2009? Or will a Real Madrid side without Cristiano Ronaldo wrest back the Spanish crown from Barca’s grasp? Normal service resumed, and we cannot wait.