The end of elites: has competition returned to European leagues?

Liverpool’s imperious start and Manchester City’s brutal response to an early stumble against Norwich that the Premier League has another close title race to look forward to. Yes, Guardiola’s side came unstuck against Wolves last weekend, but nobody will bet against the Cityzens from bouncing back. However, as hype builds for round two between Guardiola and Klopp’s finely-tuned winning machines, we must admit that this race is between exactly the same sides, with almost exactly the same players, as last season. Last year may have been fun, but it was only the third genuinely tight Premier League title race of this decade.

The solution to disillusionment with the Premier League’s oligarchical competition used to be to shift your gaze to Europe, in search of new teams, faces and competition. Footballing globalisation has made this far more feasible – James Richardson’s Football Italia sparked a boom in the popularity of Italian football in the 90s, before football’s biggest stars largely shifted to Spain after 2000. Football, and the right to broadcast it, has become such a lucrative market that following events on the continent is easier than ever (so long as you can afford the numerous TV packages).

Unfortunately, while the contrasting footballing styles and fan cultures endure, the last decade on the continent has possibly been even worse than England in terms of competition. Barcelona have won seven of the last ten La Liga titles, while Bayern Munich and Juventus have won seven and eight titles in a row in their respective countries.

However, in the time-honoured journalistic tradition of jumping to ludicrously premature conclusions, early evidence suggests that this year may just be different.

First place in La Liga has changed hands six times in its first seven matchdays, with reigning champions Barcelona yet to reach the summit and currently finding themselves behind league leaders Real, newly-promoted Granada and third-placed Atlético. Followers of Serie A are rubbing their eyes at the sight of the first table not headed by Juventus since March 2018.

While Bayern may have regained their spot at the top of the Bundesliga last weekend, a chasing pack of five teams lie within a point behind them. Even Paris Saint-Germain have contrived to lose two of their opening eight games, although the even poorer results of their most likely challengers Lyon have likely blown any chance of the Ligue 1 title leaving Paris.

The fact remains that these are indeed early days and Europe’s leagues probably won’t all stay so finely poised. This weekend’s clash between Juve and league leaders Inter will be a huge indicator as to whether the Old Lady’s dominance really is endangered.

Real Madrid may be top of La Liga but Zinedine Zidane’s perpetual frustration with his club’s failure to land his top targets could well filter into their performances and open the door for a supremely talented Barça squad to re-establish control.

Out of Bayern’s chasing pack, only RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund are likely to have the legs to sustain a challenge over a whole season – with the latter’s campaign already threatening to dissolve into a morass of frustrating results and fractious relations with the media.

However, even if one or two of Europe’s title races revert to type and become a procession, the drama among the chasing pack as well as the scrapping of the basement dwellers will continue to provide raucous entertainment. That’s why I’ll keep watching to the end and would heartily recommend that you do too.

 

Image: Hakolal via Flickr

 

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The Student Newspaper 2016