As the Champions League gets to its penultimate stage, the curtains are about to be drawn for the league for the year 2006-07 season. This is the case for the top Leagues as well in England, Spain, Germany, France to mention but a few.
A lot has happened given that last year was a World Cup year hence the calendar for most players was quite full. From the successes and disappointments of the World Cup to the highs and lows of the Champions League, with the spicings of the top leagues this season has been another thrill to enjoy.
I'll try to cover the periods preceding the World Cup up to and until the Champions League which is currently at its semi-final stages;
May 2006: Champions League Finale- this saw Europe's most lively sides battle it out in the final. Arsenal got to their first Champions League final having gone for 11 games in the League without a loss. They also had the safest pair of hands in one Jens "Mad" Lehmann who had not sneaked in a goal in 6 games. They also had their talismanic striker T. Henry having led them to great wins over Real Madrid and Juventus.
Barcelona on the other hand were boasting of the World Player of the Year-2006 one Gaucho Ronaldinho and the deadly striker the African Player of the Year 2006 Samuel Eto'o. They did go ahead and win the game and do a double with the Spanish La Liga
June-July 2006: World Cup in Germany:
This was held albeit with a bit of concern over the exhausting season that has become of the European League. Sample this, for a top-tier team in England there are 4 competitions to play in, Carling Cup,FA Cup,Premiership and Champions League. That makes up an average of about 60-75 games played in total if the team were to all the way to the Final as Arsenal did.
There was hype about the best teams as usual being the Brazilians, Argentines as well as hosts Germany (won't say the English team cos that's going to make my blog look like some British tabloid !). Against all form books the Final was against France after putting up resilient but not glorious performances and Italians who had grown from strength to strength. Italy wins the World Cup
SIDESHOW: Zidane's headbutting to one Marco Materazzi.
August-December 2006: Start of top European Leagues
After a brief holiday for most of the players the top flight leagues started in earnest with most of the 2005-06 winners starting from where they started from. In England Chelsea had started off well but a mid-season crisis, coupled with injury to their top players almost toppled them off the top 4. Man United seemed to have regained their glorious days and kept knocking teams off except for the small blip of Arsenal's defeat at home. Early pretenders had themselves to blame but Reading continued its exploits at mid-table by Christmas. Arsenal having sent the largest number of players to the World Cup ( 13 of the top players) were having hot-&-cold games and costly draws which put them off the title by then.
In Spain, Barcelona started off from where they left but an injury-scare on Eto'o as well as exhaustion on the players saw them lose ground on other teams easily. Real Madrid having issues with their galacticos almost lost ground to the top teams. Sevilla under one F. Kanoute kept the goals coming and kept Barca on toes.
In Italy the match-fixing scandal dealt a huge blow to the morale-boosting win of Italy at the World Cup.This meant that Juventus would be relegated to the First Division (Serie B) and other top teams such as AC Milan, Fiorentina being fined and shaved off points even before kicking the ball. That meant that Internazionale Milan were clear favourites to take the Serie A title.
As for Ligue 1 in France, Olympic Lyon opened a huge gap by December ensuring the title retention without much of competition. Nantes which had a fairly good season had a pathetic period that almost ensures relegation. Racing Lens, Olympic Marseille, Toulouse tried to play catch up with Lyon.
With the departure of M. Ballack and a fairly succesful World Cup, the Bundesliga in Germany had better competitiveness with the top-teams being given a run for their money by the lower tier ones. Bayern Munich led marginally going to the Christmas break but looked vulnerable all too often. VFB Stuggart, Werder Bremen and Schalke kept within touching distance and it was just a matter of time before one of them took the top slot.
In Champions League action, not much suprises were seen at the group stages though a couple of the top teams drew and lost games to minnows. When it got to the knock-out stages, most top teams were in there though precariously.
Starting with England again, the decisive period of the league was on. The top two built a 12-point lead between them and the 3rd team. The next two also had a 6 point advantage over the other teams showing the disparities and extent of buying power of the top teams. Nothing changed though the return game of Arsenal and Man U was a classic with a late goal giving Arsenal the 3 points. Chelsea also lost to Liverpool in their game. As for FA Cup a weekend thrashing of Liverpool and a further humiliation in the Carling Cup three days later almost made critics believe that Arsenal's youth and flair game was to be vindicated but with the Final of the Carling Cup providing a loss and a messy finale to an entertaining game, Arsenal disappeared from the map.
Man U and Chelsea beat their respective teams in the FA semis though with much toil and pace from the upstarts of Blackburn and Watford. The two teams have also managed to narrow the lead between them to 4 points meaning a down-to-the-wire end of the league.
With the Spanish la Liga, Barcelona kept throwing away games and the other teams closed on with top 5 teams now having a chance at the title. The announcement of Beckham's departure to the US seems to have resuscitated an otherwise uninspiring team. Sevilla also kept the pressure on with Real Zaragoza and Valencia all fighting for a Champions League qualifying slot.
As for the French Ligue 1, Olympic Lyon were all but sure winners by the end of March to wrap up a dominant season. Racing Lens and Toulouse fight for 2nd and 3rd respectively while Marseille and Bordeaux might also sneak in.
In Germany, Bayern Munich let off the lead and Schalke sneaked in with Werder Bremen and Stuttgart have also spoiled the party and have a chance at the title too.
With Champions League coming of age, last year's finalists both Arsenal & Barcelona were bundled out without much of ado. Man U continued their strong performance. Chelsea, Liverpool and AC Milan were hot in the heels being the semi-finalists as of April. The road to Athens increasingly looks like it might be headed English football way.
More insights coming up .........
Becks decides to go US of A....sports marketing figure no.1 and interestingly real start performing after the announcement.
Jose 'The Special One' Mourinho talks too much and is almost out of a job ( why can't he just shut it and let the guys play what they do...if anything I don't think there will be any other successful coach if Jose leaves)...might get a posting after Capello leaves Real.
Owen Hargreaves keeps his wishes on notice right at the start of the season that he'd want to be in Man U. He does work his way in the midfield tenaciously.
African footballers show why African countries might one day soon win the World Cup. From Spain to England, the Kanoutes, Drogbas, Martins keep the flag high up.
Why can't ordinary trade be shaped in the same way ?.....some of these inequalities might have been adressed by now.
Arsenal force the resignation of one of their valued boardroom directors in David Dein...keep watching...the Americans can't be far away now !
Keep it real everybody...I'll be back from a quick run....!