Messi in Paris, Van Dijk match, and extra: 24 issues we’re excited to see within the 2021-22 European season

Football

The Premier League, Bundesliga and LaLiga kick off this coming weekend, with Serie A beginning on August 21. Ligue 1 is already in motion, although the actual present there has but to start (extra on that later).

ESPN+ viewers’ guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more

In all places you look in Europe, the membership recreation is returning to life, so we requested requested Gabriele Marcotti, Mark Ogden, Julien Laurens, James Olley and Rob Dawson to element what they’re most excited to see throughout the continent within the 2021-22 season.

Leap to: Premier League | Bundesliga | LaLiga | Ligue 1 | Serie A | Internationals


ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Season begin: Friday, Aug. 13
Variety of groups: 20
Reigning champions: Manchester Metropolis


1. De Gea returning to his greatest

David De Gea continues to be solely 30 years outdated and will probably play for one more decade on the recreation’s high stage, however the Manchester United goalkeeper actually must rediscover the shape that noticed many observers regard him because the world’s greatest keeper.

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After three years in decline, possibly it is too late for De Gea to show again the clock. However I hope that the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid will give De Gea the central defensive partnership at Previous Trafford that may allow him to deal with his personal job and turn into the keeper he can nonetheless be.

If Varane and Harry Maguire gel at centre-half, the inconsistencies in United’s defence which have harmed De Gea’s kind and confidence shall be eradicated and will set off his resurgence. — Mark Ogden

2. The return of Van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk‘s cruciate ligament damage final October derailed Liverpool‘s season and left an enormous gap within the Netherlands‘ plans for Euro 2020. His absence for membership and nation highlighted simply how essential the central defender is to each.

Liverpool in the end salvaged their season with a late surge to safe Champions League qualification, however Van Dijk’s return to motion for Jurgen Klopp’s group throughout preseason is a big increase for the membership’s prospects this time round.

The massive query now, nevertheless, is whether or not Van Dijk can get again to his greatest and as soon as once more turn into the cornerstone of Liverpool’s group. At 30 and with a severe damage behind him, it’s going to take time to regain his high kind and there’ll inevitably by missteps alongside the best way. However his 10 months on the sidelines confirmed simply how essential he’s for Liverpool, and his return to health can solely be a significant plus. — Ogden

3. Will Tuchel’s honeymoon at Chelsea proceed?

The one different supervisor to win the Champions League for Chelsea was sacked six months later. Thomas Tuchel has a far higher pedigree than Roberto di Matteo did in 2012, however Stamford Bridge stays an unforgiving place for anybody who dips beneath the required stage, and Tuchel has set the bar extraordinarily excessive.

Since changing Frank Lampard in January, the 47-year-old German tactician has steered Chelsea to a top-four end, an FA Cup last and a 1-0 win over Manchester Metropolis in Porto to carry European membership soccer’s greatest prize. They’ve misplaced simply 5 of his 30 video games in cost.

Tuchel proved extra tactically astute than Lampard, however the important thing to his success was a willingness to purchase into Chelsea’s short-term mindset. Managers do not final lengthy below proprietor Roman Abramovich and you may’t change that, so why not pull collectively and benefit from the trip whereas it lasts?

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Nedum Onuoha says Romelu Lukaku is a confirmed striker and would put Man Metropolis on discover with a transfer to Stamford Bridge.

That strategy is more durable to maintain over a 38-game Premier League marketing campaign, however Tuchel a minimum of has the good thing about a preseason to mould a group extra in his picture. The Blues are additionally aiming excessive within the switch market, having recognized the necessity to usher in a high centre-forward, with Romelu Lukaku on the verge of a return to the membership. His adaptation will turn into the supervisor’s major concern with the stakes for Tuchel greater than ever. — James Olley

4. Kane’s second of reckoning

Harry Kane needs to depart Tottenham Hotspur to win trophies. It stays to be seen whether or not the 28-year-old will get his want, as Manchester Metropolis proceed to indicate curiosity, however Spurs are nonetheless reluctant to half with their captain.

Metropolis — or another membership — must get near Tottenham’s £150 million valuation to tug off a deal, however nevertheless the market unfolds, Kane’s season will make fascinating viewing. Both he stays at a membership he not needs to play for and tries to pull Spurs again among the many challengers for main honours, or he joins the group topped champions in three of the previous 4 years. (It is price noting that they gained the Premier League title final season whereas not constantly enjoying with a centre-forward.)

Kane, working in a ahead line comprised of some mixture of Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling, is a mouthwatering prospect. A sliding-doors second awaits. — Olley

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Gab Marcotti would not perceive why Harry Kane thought a gentleman’s settlement can be sufficient to depart Spurs.

5. Verdict on the Premier League’s Man Metropolis investigation

Manchester City have been the topic of a Premier League investigation into alleged breaches of monetary truthful play laws since March 2019, however you will not know a lot about it as a result of it has been shrouded in secrecy. Nonetheless, Metropolis misplaced an attraction on the Excessive Court docket in London in July in opposition to the reporting of their problem over the jurisdiction of arbitrators to analyze the case and it has emerged that, after greater than two years, they’re persevering with to analyze the reigning champions’ monetary dealings.

Lord Justice Males, one of many three judges listening to the attraction, stated “it’s a matter of reliable public concern that so little progress has been made after two-and-a-half years, throughout which, it could be famous, the membership has twice been topped as Premier League champions.” Soccer wants transparency to take care of the belief of supporters, so its very important that this investigation reaches a conclusion. — Mark Ogden

6. Can Solskjaer dwell as much as expectations?

At completely different occasions, every Manchester United supervisor who has adopted Sir Alex Ferguson — David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho — has urged they’ve lacked the backing to realistically problem for the Premier League title. This summer time, although, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already admitted he couldn’t have had more help from the board after the arrivals of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.

The problem to wrestle the trophy from Pep Guardiola’s champions, in addition to holding off Chelsea and Liverpool, is a giant one, however there’s optimism at Previous Trafford that the squad is now robust sufficient. Over to you, Ole. — Rob Dawson

7. Can Pep win the Champions League once more?

He’ll go once more. Manchester Metropolis will go once more. Guardiola got here so shut in Might, the closest he has been in 11 years to profitable the Champions League once more, besides he failed once more. Tuchel and Chelsea killed his dream, and reaching that “Holy Grail” should wait once more.

The query is: How for much longer? Only a few extra months? With the arrival of Jack Grealish, the Residents shall be even stronger. Harry Kane might be additionally enjoying in Blue Sky colours quickly, which might nearly full the sport for the English champions.

However can Guardiola study (does he ever really study?) from the disappointment of the 2021 final defeat to Chelsea and messing issues up tactically once more? If he lastly does, if Grealish adapts rapidly and if Kane has not forgotten rating objectives between London and Manchester, then he can positively lead this group, finally, to European glory. However the stress is larger than ever, particularly with Lionel Messi arriving at Paris Saint-Germain. — Julien Laurens

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Mark Ogden debates how Pep Guardiola will utilise Jack Grealish and wonders whether or not Man Metropolis even want him.

8. Arsenal‘s youthful core coming collectively

Bukayo Saka is nineteen. Emile Smith Rowe is 21. Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli are 23. Kieran Tierney is 24. Then there’s Albert Lokonga and Nuno Tavares, each 21, who’ve simply arrived.

The latter pair apart, the others have already proven they will contribute over the course of a Premier League season. It is going to be fascinating to see whether or not Mikel Arteta can use them to kind the spine of a aspect that may take Arsenal the place they need to go. — Gabriele Marcotti


GERMAN BUNDESLIGA

Season begin: Friday, Aug. 13
Variety of groups: 18
Reigning champions: Bayern Munich


9. Promotion for soccer’s greatest underachievers

No main membership on the earth has did not punch its weight for fairly so long as SV Hamburg, however German soccer wants the previous European champions to someway rediscover their profitable formulation and return to the Bundesliga this season.

Till relegation in 2018, Hamburg had been the one membership to spend their whole historical past within the high division. They’ve gained six German titles, three DFB Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and, in 1983, lifted the European Cup three years after dropping their first last in opposition to Nottingham Forest.

Hamburg have now spent three seasons in 2. Bundesliga, and Germany‘s second greatest metropolis continues to don’t have any group within the high division, the place they must be difficult the giants of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Sooner or later, Hamburg will lastly get it proper and the Bundesliga shall be stronger, and extra thrilling, in the event that they return and problem once more. — Ogden

10. Bellingham’s massive yr

Jude Bellingham solely turned 18 in June, however a lot is predicted of him for membership and nation over the subsequent yr or so. Having joined Borussia Dortmund final summer time from Birmingham Metropolis, the midfielder was voted the Bundesliga’s “Silver Arrow” award (Newcomer of the 12 months) by his fellow professionals in recognition of a positive breakthrough season.

Bellingham performs in midfield with an authority and composure far past his years, explaining why he was the costliest 17-year-old on the earth when competing his £25m transfer and the way he went on to turn into the youngest-ever English participant to begin a Champions League recreation in October. England took discover.

He was a considerably shock inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad, however the regard by which he is held in turned clear when making a late substitute look within the opening recreation as England appeared to carry on to victory in opposition to Croatia. That outing made him the youngest participant to take part at a Euros.

Dortmund completed third final season and can want their key males to kick on once more, with Jadon Sancho having departed for Manchester United and the clock ticking on Erling Haaland‘s time with the membership. If Bellingham can construct on a massively promising begin by influencing top-level video games frequently, he may turn into the kind of assured midfielder England have lacked for years — simply in time for the World Cup in Qatar subsequent November. — Olley

11. A contemporary problem for Jesse Marsch

It has been a loopy few months within the Bundesliga’s teaching merry-go-round, with seven of the highest eight golf equipment within the league altering managers. However greater than Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig to Bayern Munich), Marco Rose (Borussia Monchengladbach to Borussia Dortmund), Adi Hutter (Eintracht Frankfurt to Gladbach) and even the opposite strikes or new faces (Mark van Bommel, Oliver Glasner, Hannes Wolf), the one with essentially the most at stake, and the largest step up from their earlier job, needs to be Jesse Marsch.

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Gab and Juls focus on RB Leipzig’s appointment of Jesse Marsch as supervisor for subsequent season.

The American tactician did a incredible job at FC Salzburg — profitable the Austrian Bundesliga and Austrian Cup double twice in two seasons — and greater than deserves this opportunity, however Leipzig and the German Bundesliga is a distinct ballgame. That is the largest of levels, and Marsch now has the chance present that he’s up for the duty and can achieve such a extremely aggressive atmosphere.

Leipzig completed second final season below Nagelsmann, seven factors behind Bayern, and missed many alternatives to push the champions more durable. Regardless of dropping defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate within the switch window, Die Roten Bullen made nice signings in Mohamed Simakan, Josko Gvardiol, Andre Silva and Brian Brobbey. There’s additionally the thrill round playmaker Dominik Szoboszlai, whom Marsch developed so nicely in Austria, and has but to make his debut for Leipzig. Now, they only want a little bit of Marsch magic. — Laurens

12. What’s going to Nagelsmann’s Bayern appear like?

He is nonetheless the most-hyped younger supervisor — he has 5 seasons of top-flight administration below his belt and solely turned 31 this August — however now Nagelsmann has to carry out at a membership like Bayern, which is a complete new ballgame. On paper, the transition should not be overly bumpy: Bayern are used to their model of urgent plus possession. However there are different pitfalls.

To what diploma will veteran gamers purchase into the brand new boss who, for all his expertise, has but to win a trophy? When you possibly can’t depend on observe file to win people over, you’ll want to get them on board fairly rapidly, and Bayern’s veterans have gained every thing in sight, whereas Nagelsmann has gained nothing … but.

To what diploma will the higher echelons on the membership keep out of the coach’s approach? There is a positive line between public help and interference from above, and generally they’re two sides of the identical coin. At Leipzig, he had the right steadiness. Bayern is a distinct story, as earlier managers (who gained trophies) will affirm.

To what diploma will he deal with the sheer measurement, scale and stress of the Bayern job? He excelled at TSG Hoffenheim and Leipzig, relative backwaters when it comes to media consideration, and miniscule relative to what he’ll face in Munich. — Marcotti


LALIGA

Season begin: Friday, Aug. 13
Variety of groups: 20
Reigning champions: Atletico Madrid


13. Will Aguero rediscover his kind?

Of all of the gamers with one thing to show or who should bounce again in 2021-22, Sergio Aguero is the largest one. After such a disappointing final season at Manchester Metropolis (seven league begins, 4 objectives), struggling quite a few accidents, his transfer to Barcelona is big.

Now that Messi has left the membership, there’s extra stress on Aguero to impress. He’ll be enjoying in a league with much less bodily depth than within the Premier League, however he is simply turned 33 and his health is a giant query mark. It is also a query that is already being answered, within the adverse, given this week’s information that he’ll miss up to 10 weeks with a calf injury.

Aguero was a part of Argentina‘s Copa America-winning squad this summer time, which introduced him a lot pleasure, however he did not play a lot and his performances within the event had been hardly reassuring. That does not bode notably nicely contemplating the competitors for locations at Barca: Along with Aguero, Antoine Griezmann, Memphis Depay, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati all will want common minutes.

Aguero had higher be prepared, or his transfer to the Camp Nou may rapidly flip bitter. — Laurens

14. Ancelotti vs. Madrid followers (and Perez)

It looks like a bizarre factor to say, but it surely appears like Carlo Ancelotti was the “continuity resolution” as supervisor after Zinedine Zidane left (once more), simply as, in some methods, Zidane (his former assistant) was the continuity resolution after Rafa Benitez. It is what membership president Florentino Perez needs (till he decides he would not): a man who is sweet with the media, will maintain the superstars comfortable and has a large enough vary of enjoying types to go well with no matter gamers can be found.

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Steve Nicol is kind of skeptical Gareth Bale will be capable to reinvigorate his Actual Madrid profession below Carlo Ancelotti.

And, in fact, ship outcomes.

The tough factor right here is that assuming Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland do not stroll by way of the door hastily — as a few of the Spanish dailies hope — he’ll have to do it with, basically, Zidane’s group of gamers (plus David Alaba, minus Sergio Ramos), all of whom shall be a yr older. To maintain everybody comfortable, he’ll should equal or surpass Zidane’s outcomes and do it whereas emitting a extra optimistic vibe.

The latter appears simpler to realize than the previous. — Marcotti


FRENCH LIGUE 1

Season begin: Friday, Aug. 6
Variety of groups: 20
Reigning champions: LOSC Lille


15. Messi in Paris

In case you hadn’t heard the information, the greatest-ever participant in Barcelona historical past (and maybe the sport) is on the cusp of joining Paris Saint-Germain after his boyhood membership was unable to make his new contract work throughout the confines of LaLiga’s wage guidelines. And so he departs for a brand new problem, one he did not precisely need, however one he’ll relish in pursuit of latest trophies and (hopefully) a return to the summit of the Champions League.

That trophy, which has confirmed painfully elusive to the French super-club, is arguably the explanation he is there, such is the need of the membership to lastly full their assortment of accolades. How he meshes with former Barca teammate Neymar, the subsequent G.O.A.T. contender Kylian Mbappe, Italy‘s all-world goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and even his former rival in El Clasico, Sergio Ramos, will reveal itself over the months to return. One factor’s for sure: we shall be tuning in. — James Tyler

16. Pleasure round revamped Nice

Within the first full summer time of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s possession of Good, the British billionaire should be excited by what’s on supply. First, his membership has simply gone and acquired the very best supervisor within the league. Christophe Galtier took Lille to an excellent, but sudden Ligue 1 title final season, and Ratcliffe desires of him doing the identical on the Riviera.

Within the offseason, Good spent their cash nicely and early, with some actually thrilling younger expertise arriving this summer time: Calvin Stengs, Justin Kluivert, Pablo Rosario, Jean-Clair Todibo and the skilled Mario Lemina. The remainder of the squad is already filled with expertise, too, with Amine Gouiri, Youcef Atal, Hicham Boudaoui, Khephren Thuram and Kasper Dolberg main a harmful group.

Galtier, who has a fame for bettering younger gamers, can even have the management of Dante and Walter Benitez to fall again on. On each stage, there’s motive for pleasure throughout the Good mission. — Laurens

17. Can Saliba make his mark?

It continues to be the switch that makes little sense. Arsenal signed William Saliba for £27m from Saint-Etienne in 2019, but he is nonetheless not made a single look for the membership. He spent the 2019-20 season again on mortgage on the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, and there have been expectations amongst Gunners followers that the younger centre-back would subsequently be given an opportunity to show himself below Mikel Arteta. Nonetheless, Arsenal bungled their makes an attempt to mortgage him out once more final summer time earlier than transport him off to Good in January, and now to Marseille for the upcoming marketing campaign.

Aged simply 20, Saliba has time on his aspect, however he may feasibly be three years right into a five-year Arsenal contract with out ever enjoying for the membership. This yr is pivotal, both to get some momentum forward of a everlasting transfer that will convey some stability to his profession or lastly give him a shot at establishing himself at Emirates Stadium.

Saliba is joined by one other participant whose profession stalled at Arsenal, Matteo Guendouzi, and United States worldwide Konrad de la Fuente as a part of a widespread overhaul of Marseille’s squad by which they’ve made 10 signings to this point, trying to construct on final season’s fifth-placed end. — Ogden

18. Gomes to ship on his potential in France?

It was an enormous disappointment for Manchester United that Angel Gomes determined to depart Previous Trafford for Lille final summer time after a youth profession that had loads of coaches and supporters excited.

After spending final season on mortgage at Boavista in Portugal, he is been again in France for preseason and there shall be a number of eyes on him if he will get an opportunity with the reigning French champions. Gomes will flip 21 in August and is reaching the stage of his profession when he’ll need to flip promise into one thing extra tangible. — Dawson

19. What does Lille do for an encore?

After a primary full season below new possession, Christophe Galtier gone and changed by Jocelyn Gourvennec (one thing of a shock appointment), goalkeeper Mike Maignan and midfielder Boubakary Soumare off too (to AC Milan and Leicester City respectively), there are lots extra questions than solutions for the Ligue 1 champions. It appears like an uphill battle — to the chagrin of supporters, who had been possibly hoping for some progress at this stage — however then so did the previous few seasons. — Marcotti


ITALIAN SERIE A

Season begin: Saturday, Aug. 21
Variety of groups: 20
Reigning champions: Inter Milan


20. Can Giroud convey trophies to Milan?

It isn’t the highest-profile deal of the summer time nor the costliest, but it surely’s one that would show actually intelligent for AC Milan. Olivier Giroud arrived on the San Siro to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s No. 2, however the 2018 World Cup winner may show to be the X-factor in a season by which the Rossoneri have a chance to do one thing fascinating.

They’ve a robust, deep squad, and the Frenchman will convey all his expertise and his profitable mentality. He is gained trophies in every single place he has performed, from Montpellier to Chelsea, and gained European trophies, home titles and a World Cup: you title it. It’s maybe what was lacking from this Milan aspect, with Ibrahimovic the one different “serial winner” within the dressing room. When Giroud scored on his debut for the Italian giants, albeit in a pleasant in opposition to Good, it has him — and Milan followers — feeling actually good about this season. — Laurens


Internationals

21. Ronaldo to interrupt males’s worldwide objectives file

It is certainly only a matter of time earlier than Cristiano Ronaldo strikes away from Ali Daei to turn into the best objective scorer within the historical past of males’s worldwide soccer. The Portugal captain moved stage with former Iran striker Daei on 109 objectives throughout Euro 2020, however elimination in opposition to Belgium within the spherical of 16 denied him the prospect to interrupt the file this summer time.

Portugal’s subsequent recreation is in opposition to the Republic of Eire in Faro on Sept. 1 earlier than clashes with Qatar (Sept. 4) and Azerbaijan (Sept. 7), so it is a protected guess that the 36-year-old will web a record-breaking a hundred and tenth objective in a type of fixtures. It is going to be a second of historical past when Ronaldo does it. — Ogden

22. Will Haaland be a participant at Qatar 2022?

One factor I actually need to see through the 2021-22 season is Norway securing qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This is not based mostly on some distant Norwegian ancestry or a want to show again the clock to the times of Egil Olsen’s long-ball Norway group of the Nineties, however quite a willpower to see Erling Haaland play on the largest stage of all.

World Cups are about soccer’s high abilities with the ability to showcase their high quality, and Qatar will unquestionably be a richer event with Haaland in it, particularly with the subsequent World Cup prone to be when Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi depart the worldwide stage. Norway are in a troublesome qualifying group alongside Turkey and the Netherlands, with solely the highest group assured to succeed in Qatar, however they go into the September qualifiers only one level off high spot, so Haaland’s hopes are nonetheless alive and kicking. — Ogden

23. How lengthy will the most recent Van Gaal experiment final?

It actually appeared like Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal (Louis, to his mates) had referred to as time on his teaching profession when he left Manchester United in 2016, however 5 years after insisting he’d retired to his villa in Portugal, he was appointed as Netherlands coach for the third time, doing it lower than every week earlier than his seventieth birthday.

To many, Van Gaal is yesterday’s man when it comes to soccer teaching, having loved the height years of his profession within the Nineties and early 2000s, however he did information the Dutch to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2014. Whether or not it is a job too far for Van Gaal, solely time will inform, however it is going to be fascinating to see whether or not his philosophy of affected person possession soccer can nonetheless work in an period of excessive urgent and quick counterattacks. — Ogden


And eventually…

24. Loopy scenes off the pitch

All being nicely, we may have followers again in stadiums this season as a consequence of a rest of measures designed to fight COVID-19, and it is hoped that we are going to quickly be again to full capability in all the highest leagues.

It has at all times been an simply spoken cliche that followers are the lifeblood of the sport, however the previous 18 months have proved that past dispute. Soccer continued final season, however with out followers, it was a sterile and sometimes forgettable expertise. So with followers again inside stadiums, I need to see these loopy scenes of celebration when a late winner goes in. I need to hear chanting once more, and I need to see the gamers sharing the expertise of scoring or profitable with the supporters behind the objective.

I need noisy stadiums once more and the banners and flags that convey stadiums to life. Hopefully, it’s going to occur safely and shortly. — Ogden

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