The closed season, for example, introduces the setting and characters; the first few weeks of the schedule provide hints as to the development of the plot and put those characters into action. Over the balance of the campaign there will be villains that appear when you least expect them and heroes that pop up when they’re most needed. The conclusion will leave you feeling anything from exhilaration and joy to emptiness and despair.
It’s a body of work that takes nine months to weave, but thankfully there will be themes that reappear along to way to string it all together.
Following are some of the storylines (Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga) I’ll be keeping track of between now and May.
1) If the title race was going to once again be a Manchester duopoly it just got considerably more interesting. Manchester United’s purchase of Robin van Persie is no doubt a signal that the Red Devils won’t let local rivals Manchester City coast to a second successive championship, but just how manager Sir Alex Ferguson arranges his attacking options will be one of the more fascinating themes of the campaign.
2) Speaking of options, Roberto Di Matteo has plenty of them at Chelsea. The Blues snapped up the transfer window’s most-prized player in Eden Hazard and also acquired attacking players Marko Marin and Oscar over the summer. Hazard, should he successfully adapt to the English game, has the potential to be one of the top playmakers in the land while Oscar, with only one season of senior football on his CV, will need minutes in order to develop. Marin will likely face a serious battle for playing time. In any case, it should be fun to watch the Chelsea manager’s juggling act.
3) It’s been a chaotic few years at Liverpool but the June hiring of manager Brendan Rodgers indicates better times ahead for the venerable club. Rodgers, who worked wonders at Swansea last term, instantly makes Liverpool one of the must-watch sides on the marquee and his summer signings (Joe Allen, Oussama Assaidi and Fabio Borini) indicate he’ll be looking to transplant his entertaining, free-moving brand of football to Anfield over the next few months.
1) We live in fortunate times. Each weekend, within the space of a few hours, we get to watch the two best footballers of the generation work their magic in the primes of their careers. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, coming off an astonishing 73-goal campaign in 2011-12, may be the finest player we’ve ever seen and alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta is part of a troika the likes of which we may never see again. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, tallied 60 goals for Real Madrid last season and was inspirational for Portugal at this summer’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine. That the two happen to represent mortal rivals at club level only adds to the fascination factor.
2) Apparently foreign takeovers don’t always produce a Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. Malaga are learning this the hard way just two years being bought by Qatari businessman Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. Sheik Abdullah paid only €36 million for the Andalusia club in 2010 but last year signalled his ambitions with the acquisitions of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Martin Demichelis, Joris Mathijsen, Jeremy Toulalan and Santi Cazorla, among others. Several of the big-money signings would later complain of delayed or unpaid wages, and Mathijsen (Feyenoord) and Cazorla (Arsenal) left the club this summer. There could be even more exits before the transfer window closes, and if Malaga don’t qualify for the group stage of the Champions League (they face Panathinaikos in a play-off beginning August 22) and benefit from the resulting financial windfall, their very imminent cash-flow problems will be all the more exacerbated.
3) Athletic Bilbao turned a few heads when they dumped Manchester United out of the Europa League last season and progressed all the way to the final, not only of that competition, but of the Copa del Rey as well. Ideally, they’d be looking to build on that success, but the impending exit of Javi Martinez for Bayern Munich and the likely sale of Fernando Llorente introduce some question marks. Still, with Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta, Oscar de Marcos and Ander Herrera (the list goes on and on) Athletic should be right in the mix for the European places come springtime, and with Marcelo Bielsa pulling the strings they’ll be also be playing some of the best football.
1) They did the double last season and have won back-to-back titles—now Borussia Dortmund will look to carry that success into the Champions League. Losing Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United was obviously a blow, but Mario Gotze is back following a season lost to injury and versatile forward Marco Reus was purchased from Borussia Monchengladbach and should slot nicely into an attacking role. The core of the team (Subotic, Hummels, Bender, Grosskreutz, Lewandowski) remains very young, which means Bayern Munich may still have some waiting to do before they regain a title they believe is theirs by right.
2) Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri are about to go head-to-head in a battle for playing time at Bayern Munich. Robben, who enjoyed a superb second half of last season, isn’t exactly the most popular personality at the club and Shaqiri, widely seen as one of Europe’s top, young attacking players, will be given every chance to replace him. The addition of striker Mario Mandzukic will also provide some healthy competition for Mario Gomez, who tends to suffer from the odd bout of self-consciousness. Competition for places can only be a good thing at this club.
3) Borussia Monchengladbach were one of the more enjoyable sides to watch in the Bundesliga last season and provided no shortage of feel-good stories en route to a fourth-place finish (they face a playoff against Dynamo Kiev for a berth in the Champions League group stage). The summer, not surprisingly, saw a handful of their top players pillaged by bigger clubs, although the signings they, themselves, managed to make should give their fans reason for optimism. Luuk De Jong, who scored 32 goals for Dutch side Twente last season, will lead the line; former Atletico Madrid defender Alvaro Dominguez will provide cover in front of up-and-coming goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegan; Swiss midfielder (and a personal favourite) Granit Xhaka will provide equal parts of playmaking and steel in the centre of the park. Another top-four finish could well be in the cards.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer