The Financial Express

The champions of Europe’s top five leagues  

The champions of Europe’s top five leagues   

For Manchester City, winning the premier league has become a routine task, at least what it seems from their recent achievements. And for Bayern Munich, winning Bundesliga is no different. For many of us, it did not come as a surprise that these two teams won the Premier League and Bundesliga respectively.

However, in stark contrast to the Premier League and Bundesliga, title-winning stories this season in the top European leagues are quite different from what we are used to seeing in a given normal season. Although not written in a similar fashion, the joy and excitement remained similar. Chaos at Grand Place in Lille, or Inter fans celebrating in thousands defying Covid protocols in front of San Siro, or Atletico Madrid fans flocking to the centre of Madrid to shout "Atleti, Atleti", "Campeones." However one describes these scenes, one can't just help feel happy for them.

Inter's journey to winning scudetto is more emotional in the sense that they had to suffer a lot this era. The fans and staff and names Like Danilo D'Ambrosio and Samir Handanovic have seen it all. And for the manager Conte, it has been a story marked by hardship, endurance and patience. After finishing second in the last season, losing league title to an indomitable Juventus, Antonio Conte's future was in doubt. In fact, he considered exploring options elsewhere.

Luckily, the relationship between him and the management didn't get any bitter. It was not the best of relationships from the beginning as one can assume, given he has finally decided to part ways after winning scudetto. There were glaring differences between Inter and Juventus before the start of the season.

Juventus, with rejuvenated hope of winning the champions league, came well prepared under the leadership of their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, whereas, Inter were battered and bruised and looked like a team beyond repair. It was Conte who injected the mentality of winning. It was evident what differences he made as a coach; an unprecedented transformation of Romelo Lukaku, Christian Eriksen finding his feet back again, the finding of Nicolo Barella and the defensive solidity, Conte has been the catalyst behind the scenes.

Inter's campaign was hit by early blows in October when Zlatan Ibrahimovic found Inter's net twice and handed Milan a win against their city rivals. Draws against Parma and Atalanta pushed them as low as seventh in the league. On top of that, Inter's early elimination from the champions league meant only adding insult to injury. Nevertheless, it was a blessing in disguise for them as they had free midweeks and more time to focus on league games.

When they faced their city rivals again in February, it was more than a derby after all. They were facing their nearest title challengers at San Siro. In a title decisive game, Conte's men recorded a thumping win over their city rivals. Since then, it's been an easy ride for them, helped by the inconsistent performances from rivals-confirmation of their league title came early in may when Sassuolo restricted Atalanta to a draw.

Similar to Inter's story, but not similarly written as it was uncertain until the referee blew his whistle, Lille's rise to winning Ligue-1 was nothing short of an improbable success story. The storms outside the camp could not come in the way of Galtier's side winning the title. A club on the brink of a financial debacle has just pulled off one of football's famous fairytales. How did Christophe Galtier turn an ordinary side into a championship-winning force?

With Christophe Galtier at the helm, Lille enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their history. Having lost influential figures in Gabriel Magalhaes and Victor Osimhen, not many were optimistic about a place in the champions league let alone winning the title. Much has been said about their sporting director Luis Campos' role in making shrewd signings while Lille had been in a financial crisis. He acquired the Turkish trio of Yazici, Celik and Yilmaz for a very negligible transfer fee.

Lille has been impenetrable this season. Allowing only 23 goals in the whole season, Galtier's team holds the record for the least goals conceded in Europe's top five leagues. The leader of the defence, Jose Fonte, having gone through tough periods in the premier league and subsequently exiled in China, has had an unforgettable stint with Lille.

Sven Botman, Fonte's defensive partner, now on Europe's top team's radar, explains a lot about the quality of the young Dutchman. To add to this, goalkeeper Mike Maignan has been statistically the best goalkeeper of ligue 1 and one of Europe's best this season. Overperformed by every metric, Lille's attack was not as sharp as other top teams in the league. Burak Yilmaz, being an exception, scored 16 goals in 28 appearances. The veteran Turkish striker is arguably their best player of the season.

Of course, the unsung hero of Lille's success was their deep-lying midfielder Boubakary Soumare. Adept in what he is assigned for, Soumare is a formidable threat in the central midfield and offered a crucial presence to Galtier.

Indeed, the man behind transformation deserves some acclaim as well. Christophe Galtier has done everything right to bring out the best in every member of the squad.

Atletico Madrid's story, on the other hand, is full of twists and turns. Starting with a massive 6-1 victory over Granada, at halfway through the season, Atletico garnered 50 points from possible 57 points. In the process, They established a 10 point lead as well. However, a run of bad form saw Barcelona, Real Madrid and even Sevilla becoming real contenders for the title. Luckily, they held their nerves till the last moment to lift the crown.

Throughout the first half of La Liga, Atletico displayed an all-round performance dominating games, creating opportunities, scoring goals and defending excellently. Atletico dealt a major blow when Arsenal triggered the release clause of Thomas Partey. Being totally unaware of this, Atletico could not buy themselves a replacement. The move by Arsenal later proved to be a turning point in the team's campaign.

It allowed Simeone to find an alternative approach to the game. More Attacking and more threatening, Koke and Marcos Llorente were allowed to move forward. The idea came from a realisation that they had a 34-year-old Suarez as a striker who can no longer run and dribble past the defenders. Finishing was his job, in which he was still lethal. He can convert half-chances; just someone has to feed him the ball.

As Marcos Llorente was tasked with more attacking roles, he grabbed the chance with both hands and scored an eye-catching tally of 21 goals this season.

Although Simeone is Notorious for his defensive tactics, his attacking approach to the game has paid dividends for Atletico.

In the second half of the season, Atletico struggled a lot, and the gap at the top was substantially reduced. Injuries and Covid -19 to few important members coupled with the lack of leadership on the pitch made things worse for them. At one point, only a mere point separated Atletico, Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, Suarez and Oblak came to their rescue towards the end of the season, helping the team clinching the trophy after seven years.

Tofael Mahmud is a third-year student of Economics at the University of Dhaka.

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