The fifth week of fixtures in the Premier League had fewer surprises than the first month of the season. Manchester United ended Watford’s perfect season in a contest that was closer than the 2-1 final tally, as the Hornets scored with 25 minutes to go and only heroics from the league’s best keeper, David DeGea kept them from leveling late. Wolves continued to impress, dispatching an out of sorts Burnley team 1-0 in a tilt that was in no way as close as all that. Wolverhampton dominated possession and their seven out of thirty
shots considered “on target” equaled the Clarets attempted shots. And the West Ham United Hammers banked their first points of the season as Andriy Yarmolenko took advantage of his first Premier League start to ripple the net twice in a 3-1 upset of a shocked Everton squad.
Champions League Kickoff
The rest of the list, while fun to watch had little-unexpected impact on the table, so this week I thought I would turn our attention to the rest of Europe. With the UEFA Champions League kicking off today (Tuesday, September 18th for you time travelers,) I thought it would be useful to do a quick primer on the leagues that will supply opponents for Liverpool, Man City, Man U and Tottenham in the worlds biggest club football competition.
Ligue 1 (France)
The game I’ll be watching this afternoon (on TNT) will feature Liverpool versus Paris St. Germain, winners of five out of the last six Ligue 1 titles. PSG can boast a front line to rival the Reds electric threesome, Edinson Cavani flanked by the French National Team’s breakout star Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. American super prospect Timothy Weah may get some time off the bench. AS Monaco were the only team to spoil PSG’s recent dominance with a
stunning 2016/17 season that probably spurred PSG ownership to back a dump truck full of Euro’s to Neymar’s house. Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseilles round out the top four, with a pretty serious 19 point drop separating them from the mid-table. The league is definitely top heavy, with a history that features long championship dynasties.
You can catch Ligue 1 action on beIN sports if you spring for the right cable or streaming package.
La Liga (Spain)
Spanish football orbits around the countries two major cities. Real Madrid, who have won the last three Champions League titles, and Barcelona have been trading the league title back and forth for most of the league’s history, with only Valencia in 2001 and 2003, and Athletico Madrid in 2013 spoiling the big two’s monopoly on trophies.
There may be some shuffling of that pack though. The Los Blanco’s of Madrid bade adios to GOAT candidate Cristiano Ronaldo, who took his services to Juventus over the summer. While still stocked to the gills with superstars like Gareth Bale, Tony Kroos and Marco Acensio, they stumbled in the new season by failing to defend the UEFA Super Cup title from rivals Athletico. With their own batch of superstars, including a front two who flashed a ton of talent in the World Cup in veteran Diego Costa and wunderkind Antoine Griezman, Athetico are making noise about it being their turn.
FC Barcelona will stand in their way, led by Lionel Messi they already have a 14-3 goal differential on the young season. beIN Sports is also your location to catch La Liga matches.
Serie A (Italy)
Serie A is dominated by La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady,) Juventus. The team from Turin haven’t finished out of first place since 2011. Juventus added Ronaldo to an already potent attack featuring Douglas Costa and a dominant midfield of Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic. And there are whispers that there might be a swapping of Pauls in the works, as a disaffected Pogba may seek a return to Italy, with Manchester United receiving talented Argentinian attacker Paul Dybala, who is finding playing time scarce despite his abilities.
Despite Juventus’ domination of first place, Serie A isn’t as top heavy as some other leagues. Roma made it to last years Champions League semifinals, and talented teams from Napoli, the two Milan squads Internazional and AC Milan, and even Atalanta make the fight for Champions League and Europa League spots interesting.
Serie A is available with an ESPN+ subscription, which at $4.99 a month is the best deal going for a soccer fan. They feature live games and replays of Italian Serie A and US Major League soccer, plus English Championship, NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer, and even the occasional Dutch Eredivise games.
I will always have a soft spot for the Bundesliga. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, back when soccer on TV was almost non-existent, our only window into the world game was the PBS program Soccer Made in Germany, which brought an hour of German soccer highlights into our living room once a week.
Once again, the German league has been dominated by one superteam over the last decade. Bayern Munich has won the last six titles and seven of the last ten. Led by Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and ageless winger Arjen Robben, the Bavarians are consistently one of the top clubs in Europe.
Fox Sports is the home of the Bundesliga in the US, featuring games opposite NBC’s Premier League weekends.
The Premier League has Parity
Compared to the rest of the world, the Premier Leagues rotation of its top six teams through the first place slot looks like the wild west. Manchester United was the last team to repeat as champions, winning three in a row from 2006 to 2009. Since the turn of the century, five different teams have hoisted the Barclay’s trophy, including the ultimate Cinderella story Leicester in 2015-16. It will be interesting to see whether Man City can end that era of parity if they continue to dominate the way they did last year.
It’s never been easier to be a fan of soccer. This fan is really happy to see the rest of America catch up to the World’s Game.
“From our Haus to Yours”