Kickstart to the big European leagues

Ligue 1

Country: France

Defending champion: Paris Saint-Germain

Most successful club: Saint-Étienne (10)

Starts on: Friday, August 12

Once again, it will be difficult to do better than PSG and finish top of Ligue 1. The rich Parisians have won everything in France since 2012 and their business this summer was very efficient, even if they lost Zlatan. Grzegorz Krychowiak, who won the Europa League twice in the past two seasons, will help an aging Thiago Motta in midfield and Jesé will support Edinson Cavani in the goalscoring department. Will new manager Unai Emery be able to get the tricolour squad past the Champions League quarterfinal stage? This is the stated goal for the Qatari owners.

Elsewhere, no real challenger to the title. In Lyon, Monaco, Nice and Lille, they will aim for the European qualifying places, whether it be Champions League or Europa League, while hoping for a good cup run. Can Marseilles and Bordeaux bounce back after a semi-catastrophic season in 2015-16? OM went fishing and caught striker Bafétimbi Gomis on loan from Swansea City, but lost two starters, forward Batshuayi and captain and ‘keeper Mandanda. Here is the problem for the Mediterranean club: every year, their best players leave (Valbuena, Gignac, Payet…). In Bordeaux, Jérémy Ménez is the marquee signing, but his first game with a Girondins jersey went pretty badly: the ex-French international got his ear cut… Bad omens for the season or simple bad luck?


Primeira Liga

Country: Portugal

Defending champion: S.L. Benfica

Most successful club: S.L. Benfica (35)

Starts on: Friday, August 12

Since 2002, only two clubs have been champions in Portugal. Benfica, triple defending champ, and Porto, winners in the previous three seasons, have reigned supreme in the Primeira Liga in the past years, with Sporting Lisbon always in the mix, but not doing quite enough. The current champions, though, have lost young Renato Sanches and winger Nico Gaitán, selling both for a good chunk of money, while Porto was trailing in third place, 15 points behind Benfica, last season, and Sporting were only one win away from claiming the title. Will this season see the Lisbon Lions stop the blue and red domination?


Premier League

Country: England, Wales

Defending champion: Leicester City

Most successful club: Manchester United (20)

Starts on: Saturday, August 13

The dream of Claudio Ranieri, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and associates is now over and they have to start from scratch. The Leicester anomaly has little chance of repeating itself in 2016-17, notably because tireless worker N’Golo Kanté went to Chelsea, but also because Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea got stronger by spending millions of pounds, if not hundreds of millions of pounds. Moreover, new managers are mixing everything up, with Pep Guardiola arriving at Manchester City, José Mourinho taking the mantle at United and Antonio Conte getting the nod at Chelsea. Press conferences promise loads of drama when you count in Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. This year, the Premier League will be the sandbox of some of the top managers in the world.


La Liga

Country: Spain

Defending champion: Barcelona

Most successful club: Real Madrid (32)

Starts on: Friday, August 19

Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s hegemony in Spain is still obvious, but Atlético Madrid, 2014 champions and Champions League finalists both times Real won the trophy in the past seasons, keeps on pushing. The giants’ principles are pretty much the opposite of Diego Simeone: with spearheads Messi-Neymar-Suarez and Bale-Benzema-Ronaldo, goals are falling from the sky; at Vicente Calderón, though, it’s defence first. Way, Way behind the leading trio, five or six hopefuls will try to finish fourth and win qualification to the Champions League. Villarreal, Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Málaga and Valencia, even though they have had a rough season, are lurking for a spot in the lucrative European competition.


Serie A

Country: Italy

Defending champion: Juventus

Most successful club: Juventus (32)

Starts on: Saturday, August 20

A little like in France, Serie A already knows who will be champion. Juventus has led the Italian championship with ease for five years and doesn’t look like faltering soon. Paul Pogba’s departure to Manchester United for 105 million euros was offset by the transfer of Gonzalo Higuain for 90 million euros from Napoli. Turin bankers did not take a lot of holidays this summer…

In Milan, the gloomy years continue. Inter and AC Milan have lost their gloss and insurgency looms in the Rossoneri camp. AS Roma will aim for the inaccessible star, likewise for Napoli, who was leading the standings last year until Juve went up a gear or two. Both should easily finish in the top 3. In the case of our friends in Bologna, they will try to build on this nice 14th place finish coming right after the promotion from Serie B. Staying up will be the priority, but a top 10 finish is still possible.



Country: Germany

Defending champion: Bayern Munich

Most successful club: Bayern Munich (25)

Starts on: Friday, August 26

In Germany as well, one giant has been dominant for a few years. Bayern Munich is the holding champion since 2013, thanks to an impressively deep team with fearsome talent: Lewandowski, Müller, Robben, Ribéry, Douglas Costa, Coman, Xabi Alonso, Vidal, Thiago and co. represent a constant danger for any club. Behind, captain Neuer leads the defence with aplomb and can still count on seasoned veteran Lahm, along with Boateng, Alaba, Martinez and now Hummels, bought from rival Dortmund for a fortune. The Guardiola era has just ended and the ultimate objective was not completed. Sure, the national competitions were all won, but he who has won everything in Barcelona could not replicate this success in Bavaria: the Champions League trophy has not been seen during Oktoberfest since 2013.

Challenger Borussia Dortmund has done everything it could this summer to make up the ground with the champions. Even though it lost three big pieces in Hummels, Gündogan and Mkhitaryan, as well as Kuba Blaszczykowski, BVB has definitely improved. Götze is back, Schürrle will provide solutions on the wing, but it is Ousmane Dembélé’s arrival from Rennes which is the most intriguing: the young Frenchman had offers from the biggest clubs in Europe before opting for Ruhrside. Most importantly, prolific striker Aubameyang has decided to stay.

Once more, way behind the leading horses, Chicharito’s Bayer Leverkusen will try to prolong their stay in the Champions League, having qualified since 2013. Borussia Mönchengladbach, also qualified for the prime European competition this year, lost captain Granit Xhaka who went to Arsenal and replaced him with German international Christoph Kramer. On their trail, we will find Schalke 04 and Wolfsburg, who have both lost important players in Leroy Sané and Schürrle respectively.