Crowded at the Top of European Soccer

Jamie Gorry

With another season of European soccer upon us, the battle for the Premier League has already seen a year’s worth of twists and turns. Each week has brought fresh storylines and a new championship favorite. The first set of fixtures on August 17 saw the year’s first upset, with Aston Villa stunning Arsenal 3-1 in demoralizing fashion. Arsenal had spent the summer convinced they would sign any number of star players, including Liverpool star Luis Suarez, only to see just about every target choose elsewhere. With only days left in the transfer window, the pressure was on Arsenal to splash some cash.

The second week of the Premier League season saw another stunning upset, as the newly promoted Welsh club Cardiff City defeated Manchester City in a thrilling 3-2 match. The season’s first heavyweight bout, Chelsea at Manchester United, was a relatively lackluster affair, with both teams seemingly pleased to play out a 0-0 draw. As the calendar turned to September, two of Europe’s best rivalries took the stage. Arsenal, having rebounded from their dreadful start with a win against Fulham the previous week, managed to pull off a 1-0 win over fellow London club Tottenham. Liverpool got off to their best start in years, beating Manchester United 1-0 to remain the only perfect team through three games.

As the European transfer window was drawing to a close, Arsenal made the biggest move of the summer, surprisingly signing Mesut ?-zil. World Cup qualification meant 13 days without Premier League games, and as action started up again on September 14, more surprises were in order. Defensive minded Stoke City held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw and Everton held off a barrage of Chelsea attacks to knock them off, 1-0. The fifth week of the season brought a number of high scoring affairs, including Manchester City thrashing Manchester United 4-1 and Everton continuing their hot form of late, beating West Ham 3-2 thanks to two stunning free kicks by defender Leighton Baines.

Last weekend was the most exciting yet, with rivalries, star players and upsets abound. West Bromwich shockingly defeated Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford Stadium and fellow Birmingham-based club Aston Villa notched their second big upset of the young season by defeating Manchester City, 3-2. Tottenham tied Chelsea 1-1, allowing Arsenal to take sole control of first place with their fifth straight win. After only managing one point in their previous two games and with not a single second half goal in the season, Liverpool moved back into second place due to two goals from Luis Suarez in his return from a 10-game suspension.

The last few years have mainly been a competition between Manchester City,

Manchester United and Chelsea for the English title. This season seems to promise a much more wide-open race, with none of the three aforementioned teams in the top three at the moment. Arsenal has looked like true title contenders since the addition of ?-zil, although they have only had one game against another top team. While Tottenham and Liverpool, two teams with a number of new additions, are unlikely to win the league, they very much look like contenders for the top four and a Champions League place. In order to get in the top four, they will likely need to finish ahead of one if not both Manchester clubs, a feat that seems much more doable with United languishing in twelfth place under new manager David Moyes.

The Premier League is hardly the only entertaining competition underway in Europe. The Champions League group stage is underway, with the second set of games taking place after we went to press. The first fixtures were entertaining in their own right, including an inspiring 2-1 win by Arsenal at Marseille. A few elite squads got off to a so-so start, with 2012 champions Chelsea losing to Basel and 2013 runners-up Borussia Dortmund losing to Napoli. A few games to keep an eye on later this month include Real Madrid-Juventus, Arsenal-Borussia Dortmund and Milan-Barcelona. Many of the continental European leagues have tough competitions to keep an eye on. With leagues around Europe seeing rare levels of parity, it has never been better to watch the world’s game.

Contact Jamie Gorry at [email protected]u.