Title waves: Rudraneil Sengupta looks back on a dramatic football season - Hindustan Times
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Title waves: Rudraneil Sengupta looks back on a dramatic football season

ByRudraneil Sengupta
May 18, 2024 06:16 PM IST

It’s getting crowded at the top. Leverkusen have had a historic season, Arsenal are giving fans hope, and already-exceptional teams are showcasing new talent.

The English Premier League’s Super Sunday is here, a day both terrifying and breathless for Arsenal fans, who have been waiting since the 2004 Invincibles season to see this club claim the title again.

Barcelona's Lamine Yamal, 16, with Real Madrid's Eduardo Camavinga, 21, during a Spanish league match last month. This has been a season of young talent taking the stage. (AFP) PREMIUM
Barcelona's Lamine Yamal, 16, with Real Madrid's Eduardo Camavinga, 21, during a Spanish league match last month. This has been a season of young talent taking the stage. (AFP)

But it’s not really in Arsenal’s hands any more. Manchester City and Arsenal both play the final games of the season this Sunday. If both win (most likely), then City take the title yet again.

The English League is the only one of the major European leagues to go down to the wire. All the others have seen a single team steamroll their way to the title. Real Madrid took La Liga with nearly 15 points to spare. Inter won Serie A against AC Milan with a gap of nearly 20 points. PSG winning Ligue 1 was a foregone conclusion, and Leverkusen secured the Bundesliga with one of the greatest seasons in the history of the game in Europe.

Along with the English title, two other major European titles remain on the line, the Champions League and the Europa League. A perfect time then to take stock of how the season unfolded across Europe.

The Real Madrid juggernaut

The 14-time European champions are well on their way to a record-extending 15th title. Only Germany’s Borussia Dortmund stand in their way.

Real Madrid have had an exceptional season, and are packed with players at the absolute peak of their game: Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo and Jude Bellingham’s fierce attacking front, a resurrected Toni Kroos making visionary passes of aching beauty, and Antonio Rudiger defending like a warrior making his last stand, to name just a few.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid is their ability to keep churning out great teams, generation after generation. Vinicius and Rodrygo, along with Brahim Diaz, Eder Militao and Eduardo Camavinga were all signed as Under 21 players between 2017 and 2018. We have already seen glimpses of the next generation in the 17-year-old Brazilian phenom Endrick, and the 19-year-old Turkish forward Arda Guler. Add to the youth programme some brilliant signings such as Bellingham, and perhaps Kylian Mbappe, and you have the Madrid juggernaut rolling on.

The end of Mbappe’s wasted years

He may be the finest player of his generation. He has shown it most recently at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, in which France lost the final to Argentina despite Mbappe’s hat-trick in the final (the only hat-trick ever in a World Cup final) and his Golden Boot-winning performance.

But his career has been somewhat marred by the club he has chosen to play with for so long.

Mbappe, 25, has wasted seven years at PSG, a team with a narrow-minded vision that hinges on winning the Champions League by spending unprecedented sums of money buying players. The plan has not worked out, despite the French prodigy’s presence.

It seems all but certain that Mbappe will now move to Real Madrid (he has already announced that he will leave PSG at the end of the season). That would finally be a club fit for a player of his calibre.

The Leverkusen fairy tale

They have won a league title (the Bundesliga) for the first time since their inception in 1904. They have gone 50 games without a loss this season, and are well on course to finish as treble winners — they are in the final of the Europa League and the German Cup.

Coach Xabi Alonso and his batch of 2023-24 have assured football immortality for themselves.

The young magicians

This European season has been a spectacular one when it comes to young talent making it to the big stage. Florian Wirtz, 21, has been devastating on behalf of Leverkusen, whether with his superb dribbling skills, acute sense of space, lightning pace, brilliant finishing or defence-splitting passes.

Camavinga, the dreadlocked Frenchman, also 21, has been a revelation at Real Madrid, where Ancelotti has put him in a multitude of positions, from fullback all the way up to attacking midfielder. His teammate Bellingham, 21, has had an even bigger impact at Madrid, where he has become the most dangerous player in the world in the space of half a season.

Bayern Munich may have had a disappointing season by their standards, but if they have something to celebrate, it is the rise of 21-year-old Jamal Musiala as an attacking midfielder.

And then there’s 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who, in a Barcelona team full of great players, has proven himself to be the most dangerous attacking player over and over again this season.

(To reach Rudraneil Sengupta with feedback, email rudraneil@gmail.com)

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