Tallying up the winners as soccer season ends

The end of the season is nigh, and in most of the major leagues it looks like we have some obvious winners: Manchester United will win in England, Borussia Dortmund will win the Bundesliga, and unless José Mourinho manages to create a scandal in Madrid, it appears that Real will win the league. Serie A is a bit more open, but only because there are two teams really close together in the standings: Juventus and AC Milan.

This means that this article is not going to be about which team is going to win the major European leagues, since at this stage it really is for the current leaders to throw away. Instead, I will be discussing the teams that may be in Europe next year despite not being thought of as top professional clubs.

Newcastle is the surprise of the Barclay’s Premier League, if only because they have managed to maintain a challenge for the Champions League until this late stage in the season. I wrote a few articles ago about how Alan Pardew has managed something miraculous by pushing Newcastle higher up the standings than they should be and it continues to inspire the belief that Newcastle could, in fact, be playing in the Champions League next season. Newcastle has managed so much through a couple of great signings over the past two years and a team effort that proves the value of team chemistry and hard work. Some of their players — Yohan Cabeye, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse — have had incredible seasons and have really shown how underrated they were previously.

When West Ham released Demba Ba at the end of last season because they were relegated to the Championship, I really wanted Fulham to sign Ba because he possesses the physical attributes to dominate defenders and because he has the technique to create openings for himself to shoot. Cabaye is a great playmaker that can pass around a ball and keep possession for days but also has the eye to make the key passes that start or end moves.

Another player that really needs recognition is Tim Krul in goal. Krul got his first call-up to the Dutch National Team this season in recognition for all his hard work at Newcastle and he has really stepped up and should be recognized as one of the top young goalkeepers in Europe. He has managed to keep Newcastle from bringing back Fraser Forster, who has been on loan at Celtic for the past two seasons, has Champions League experience and has been ranked as the best goalkeeper in Scotland for the past two years.

But what it comes down to is that Pardew purchased some very good players and fit them into a system that reflects the way they like to play. Newcastle has also done what all teams should do: they win the games against lower opposition and try their best to get something against those above.

Borussia Mönchengladbach is a story similar to that of Newcastle. They used to be a very strong team and won the Bundesliga five times back in the 1970s and have, therefore, won the league the second-most times of any German club after Bayern Munich. Recently, however, they have been hanging between the first and second tier of German football like Newcastle.

About four years ago, I thought that BM (I’ll stick to this for short) were on the rise with two very talented young footballers in Marko Marin, now playing for Werder Bremen, and Eugen Polanski, now playing for Mainz. Both of these players left and I feared that BM would be consigned to being too good for the second tier but not good enough for the Bundesliga.

But through some very sensible buys they have managed to get themselves into a very strong position for European football next season. They have Marko Reus, who is one of Germany’s brightest talents, and Mike Hanke who has always been an underrated striker. However, because of a policy that has brought in Stranzl to firm up a leaky defence and Juan Arango to bring some South American flair to the team, they have propelled themselves up the league standings from finishing 16th last year. Next year, they will probably go back down to mid-table, but while they are doing well it is worth noting their achievements and what sensible stable growth can do for a team.

Montpellier is the surprising team of the year in France. With all the focus over the summer being on the newly oil-rich Paris Saint-Germain and who they would get to spend their massive transfer budget on, Montpellier has managed to match them step for step over the season. PSG signed Kevin Gameiro, Javier Pastore, Jérémy Ménez and many other talented footballers in order to win the league and possibly compete in Europe over the next couple of years.

As we reach the final games of the season, however, Montpellier is two points ahead of PSG and looks like they are a good enough team to finish the job. Montpellier has a secret weapon that most teams around the world want: a striker that can step up when necessary in Olivier Giroud. Giroud has come out of nowhere and scored 20 goals so far this season, a feat that every club wants one of their players to achieve every season. Since Montpellier does not have the star-studded squad built on oil money that PSG does, it makes the team’s achievement so much greater.

With all of their money and with a new director of football, Leonardo the Brazillian legend and former AC and Inter Milan manager, PSG was meant to dominate the league by this point. Montpellier is the massive over-achiever this season since they are in the title race still, but that should not take away from the other teams I mentioned because they have all done something special.

James is a sophomore. You can reach him at jivey1@swarthmore.edu.

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