If we all had crystal balls to see what the future holds, then it would be pretty pointless. The unpredictability of the future is what keeps life interesting and what keeps all of us football fans watching week in week out. The twists and turns within the beautiful game keep us on the edges of our seats, wondering what will happen next. But from time to time, the media likes to make predictions for what will happen in the future and the start of a new year always heralds their latest predictions. Not to be left out, here are our top predictions for this year ahead:
Bayern are finally toppled – It’s not been the ideal start for Bayern Munich in their search for their eighth Bundesliga title in a row. The Bavarian club find themselves in unusual waters sitting in third in the table as they headed into the winter break with RB Leipzig on top and Borussia Monchengladbach in second. Bayern have already dispensed with the services of manager Niko Kovac who couldn’t quite manage the inflated egos at Bayern both on and off the pitch. Bayern’s misfortune has been to the benefit of others who look to end their dominance and it looks as though this will be the year it happens. Not since 2011-2012 has another team (in that case Borussia Dortmund) threatened Bayern’s position as top dog but this season is different. RB Leipzig are flying high under the management of Julian Nagelsman whilst Monchengladbach are surprising many with their fast flowing attacking football. With a caretaker in place at Bayern and some further adjustments needed in the boardroom, Bayern are in transition and about to lose their crown.
Liverpool will end their 30 year wait for a title – ok so this one is fairly safe to assume it will happen but still it’s worth pointing out that others have been in similar dominant positions before catastrophically collapsing as the season drew to a close (Newcastle had a ten point gap between themselves and Man United at Christmas in the 95/96 season only to throw it away in the new year). The difference is that Liverpool have amassed such a strong squad and are playing with such confidence and conviction that it’s hard to see exactly how they could not win the title. Indeed the Champions League winners are in such tremendous form that it’s hard to see which team will manage to take any points away from them. Man City, who were the early season favours have stuttered through whilst surprise outfit Leicester looked like genuine contenders before they were taught a harsh lesson by Jurgen Klopp’s side in the 4-0 mauling just a few weeks ago. Only a series of bad injuries to key players could derail this run to the finish line for the Anfield club who have waited so very patiently for their day to come.
Juventus will win the Champions League this season – so often the bridesmaid and never the bride, the Turin side will finally get their time at footballs alter in Istanbul this June and will lift the trophy. The script has been written for it to happen with Cristiano Ronaldo upfront, a stellar cast behind him and the return of club legend Gigi Buffon for one last swan song. It looked like his chance had past when then Real Madrid striker Ronaldo popped up three years ago in Cardiff to score an incredible overhead kick past Buffon and break his heart. He left shortly afterwards for PSG but returned to the old Lady after only a season away. Could he now play a pivotal role in Juventus lifting the trophy?
There are some that could stand in their way. Real Madrid and Barcelona will both favour their chances as will PSG who have little to play for apart from the Champions league given how dominant they are in France. Man City will likely make a strong push but with defensive frailties, they could be exposed as the tournament progresses. And what about defending Champions Liverpool. It would be a fairytale story for them to return to Istanbul after all those years for yet another final but my sense is that Klopp will favour lifting the league title over another European one. Juventus who play Lyon in the round of 16 look like genuine contenders with manager Maurizio Sarri keen to show the world just how good a coach he is and how bad a mistake Chelsea made by letting him go.
ADO Den Haag will sack Alan Pardew before the end of the season – if you didn’t know that he had been appointed in the first place, it’s understandable. It happened just before Christmas and was a bit of a shock. Not since Steve McLaren’s infamous FC Twente move has the appointment of an Englishman in the Dutch league raised so many eyebrows. Pardew stated that the move was “just what he was looking for in his search for a new challenge” but what he meant was it was a job and finally someone was offering him one. Things haven’t started that well for Pardew at Den Haag who lie second bottom of the Eredivisie. He has had to deal with a senior player attacking one of the coaching staff and have a difficult conversation with the clubs Chinese owners over the lack of transfer funds available (the owners gave the past manager only £1m to spend). Pardew and Den Haag don’t play their first game together until January 19th so plenty of time to perfect his tactics and start learning Dutch. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take lessons from McLaren who have one of the funniest interviews ever recorded during his time in Holland. Regardless of the language issues, Den Haag hardly has a squad capable of getting themselves out of their existing mess so Pardew will need to rely on loan signings and freebies to change things. With a lack of money, a distant owner and major language and squad issues, Pardew’s stay in Holland should be a short one.
Rangers pip Celtic to stop 9 in a row – When Steven Gerrard arrived at Ibrox last summer, the club made its intentions clear – they wanted to bridge the gap between themselves and Celtic and challenge again for honours. Behind close doors though, the message was somewhat more precise – stop Celtic from reaching nine titles in a row. For those who are unfamiliar with the history of Scottish football, there have been two dominant teams since the great wars, Celtic and Rangers who collectively are known as The Old Firm. Between the two they have won a majority of the league titles with each having significant periods of domination, Celtic in the mid 60’s and Rangers in the late 80’s/early 90’s. But now Celtic are on top again having capitalized on Rangers recent financial crisis which saw them drop down to the lowest division in Scotland and start again. Without a notable challenger (Aberdeen were the closest to posing a threat), Celtic stretched the gap between themselves and their arch rivals winning title after title up until last season which made it eight in a row. Celtic are still firm favourites to win their ninth yet Rangers under Steven Gerrard have improved enough that perhaps for the first time in a long time, winning the title might not be as straightforward for Celtic as they would hope. Rangers victory in the last Old firm derby narrowed the gap at the top to only two points and with Gerrard’s side very much with the momentum, Rangers could pip Celtic to the title and stop nine in a row.
VAR has to change in the Premier Leagues or clubs will rebel – the grey lines of football, those narrow calls by a linesman or a referee for offside or obstruction that VAR was supposed to help with are getting less clear by the day. Since its implementation at the start of the season, the VAR system has wreaked havoc on the Premier League with several calls being questioned. When used well the system should provide the officials with confidence to make a tough call accurately but used too well, it ruins the fabric of the game that draws the fans in the first place. Indeed it’s the micro decision calls that are causing the most upset and leading for calls for a change. Using lines and axis to work out if a strikers little toe or pinky are in an offside position is not what was intended for VAR. But sadly that is what is happening. That, plus the 30-60 second delay whilst the referee consults with those in the VAR booth, are ruining football for everyone. UEFA is considering changing the definition of offside to counteract these problems but in fact it should be down to the officials to dial it back and stop this nonsense. VAR should be used only sparingly when the calls fall into that grey space. They shouldn’t be putting the entire game into that grey space which is what they are doing.
And finally, Pep calls time on his stay at Man City – it’s been a difficult start to the season for the reigning English champions with injuries to Sane and Laporte plus poor performances derailing their title defence early on. Their manager Pep Guardiola has all but conceded the title saying that the gap is too big to claw back. He won’t give up trying of course but the realist inside of the Spaniard knows it will take a miracle for City to come out on top by the end of the season. The end of the season will also see Guardiola depart, less because City wants him too but more because Pep has taken them as far as he can. Winning the league title on two occasions plus numerous other trophies should be enough for the Man City hierarchy but the lofty ambition of winning the Champions League is what will drive Pep out. He knows it is hard to deliver this for them and still maintain an active challenge on all other fronts. The money that once flowed like water is now flowing like treacle with the clubs owners pulling back somewhat in recent years. Losing Sane and Laporte and not being able to replace them told Guardiola everything he needed to know. He is a winner through amen through (his average win percentage of 72.7% shows this) but even winners need some help once and a while. City have been lucky to have him and he has delivered as promised by turning them into not only a team to fear in England but also across the continent. Pep however has grown tired of his time in Manchester and will take his leave in the summer, taking a well earned break before deciding where he will go next. Wherever he goes, expect him to win because that is what he does best.