Big predictions, transfer locations, USMNT expectations, and the Women’s World Cup.
[ MORE: Best of 2018 ]
ProSoccerTalk moves on from its Best of 2018 by asking our staff to grab their Gray’s Sports Almanacs and trying to create classier empires than Biff Tannen.
1) At this time next year, who will have been the reigning Premier League champions? And if you’re fancy, who leads it heading into 2020?
Joe Prince-Wright: Manchester City. And Manchester City.
Nick Mendola: I have to say Liverpool, but I’m so tempted to type M-a-n C-i-t-y. I do think Spurs have a shout if City can win Thursday and both the Reds and Citizens make deeper UEFA Champions League runs. This assumes an addition or two for Spurs in January.
Kyle Bonn: It would be ridiculous to bet against Liverpool at this juncture, but also I think Manchester City gives them a ride for 2018. I like Liverpool this year, and Man City long-term as well.
Dan Karell: Great question. I think that Liverpool will hold on this year. Something is different this time around for Jurgen Klopp and the Reds and I think they’ll hold off a late challenge from Manchester City in a title race that goes down to the wire. However, with a long, stressful season, I can see Man City jumping out to a 10-point lead of their own by this time next year.
2) What will have been a success for the USMNT in Gregg Berhalter’s first trip around the Sun as national team boss?
Joe Prince-Wright: I think it will be solid yet unspectacular. Berhalter’s tactical plan is clear, which is good, but I’m not sure the player pool is at a stage where we can be too excited. The 2019 Gold Cup will be intriguing to watch, and the USMNT should put out their strongest possible squad, including Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah et al.
Nick Mendola: A Gold Cup Final, 4-6 points from the first two matches of the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and an established 14-16 man group for the fifth round of World Cup qualifying. Also a clearly-defined role for Christian Pulisic aside from, “Save our butts.”
Kyle Bonn: I think Berhalter will do a great job at giving lots of players a chance to prove their worth. We might not have a set two-deep in a year’s time, which might be frustrating for some fans, but also will be healthy for the program. I hope Berhalter comes into the job with an open mind about player selection, and I am optimistic on the possibility there.
Dan Karell: At a minimum, it’s seeing his team adjust to his playing style, developing a cohesive unit, and in terms of on-the-field success, wins against one or more European or South American opponents and making at least the 2019 Gold Cup final. Anything less than that is a step to the side, not a step forward.
Mauricio Pochettino – Manchester United
Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
Mauricio Pochettino – Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino – Manchester United
4) What’s success for the USWNT at this summer’s World Cup?
Joe Prince-Wright: Winning it. The reigning champs are stacked but with the likes of France, England and Germany on home soil in Europe, it will be tough. That said, the USWNT have so many attacking weapons I think Jill Ellis will lead them to back-to-back World Cup titles.
Nick Mendola: Getting back to the final to defend their title. The modern women’s game has caught up to the U.S. in terms of international desire, and their tactical acumen/hunger is at worst level with the USWNT. As the first to the women’s development part, there was a time when it was an utter embarrassment for the USWNT not to win it all and do it in style. I think we’re past that, especially when the measure comes out of one game (not the group stage).
Kyle Bonn: Winning the dang thing. Anything less for this group at this stage is a failure. That might be closed-minded and elitist, but the United States has built itself into a juggernaut, and while other teams are catching up, the US still holds itself to a high enough esteem – and should do as much – that anything less than World Cup victory is a disappointment.
Dan Karell: With the quality of women’s soccer growing around the world, and the U.S. struggling to keep up at youth level, I think that a semifinals appearance at a World Cup is a successful run. Hopefully they can defend their title and win it.
5) Assuming no one breaks the Neymar mark, will anyone be bought for more than Paul Pogba’s $120m transfer mark? And who?
Joe Prince-Wright: Eden Hazard would if he had longer on his contract, but I think it will be intriguing to keep an eye on Harry Kane. If Pochettino leaves for United, does Kane go with him? Or maybe Real Madrid or Barcelona come calling?
Nick Mendola: There’s a chance that numerous clubs try to get a desperate new Manchester United technical director, manager, and/or Ed Woodward to break it, but I only see it happening at Real Madrid or United if Kylian Mbappe wants out of Paris Saint-Germain.
Kyle Bonn: Eden Hazard should break the mark. He’s valuable enough to be, and his situation is set up to be expensive. 27 years old and in extended prime form of his world-class career. The only thing that could bring it down is the fact his contract has just one year left after this season is over, and that could dent his price, but otherwise his inevitable sale to Real Madrid will likely top Pogba.
Dan Karell: Josh Sargent… but in 2022.
6) Free skate: What’s also on your mind for 2019 in soccer?
Joe Prince-Wright: I am looking forward to seeing players get a rest in the summer, for the most part, and I think that will enhance the PL for the 2019-20 campaign. We have seen so many injuries over the past six months due to the long World Cup and a quick turnaround for the domestic seasons has seen some star names (Kevin De Bruyne, Mesut Ozil etc.) suffer several smaller injuries.
I am most intrigued to see the title race between Liverpool and Man City and see if the former can hold their nerve in the coming months. If they do, there will be a Jurgen Klopp statue outside of Anfield this time next year…
Nick Mendola: Aside from which USMNT players seize their chance to become fixtures and whether Michael Bradley has a true return to form, I’m focused on how Premier League clubs fare in the UEFA Champions League, and how it affects the title race. The latter could lose a little bit of its luster should Liverpool beat Man City at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday, as the Reds will move from favorites to win the PL title to likely winner. Also, as much as Major League Soccer has increased in style and substance, it feels like it is stagnant in terms of the American sports consciousness. Can it regain legitimate upward growth aside from celebrating international names and big attendance at new clubs and stadia?
Kyle Bonn: I’m dialed in on the USMNT this coming year. I am fascinated to see how Gregg Berhalter does in his first year – an absolutely critical year for the growth, development, and recovery of the national team. There is talent growing in the pool, as evident by the young stars making headway in Europe, and the switch in mindset of Major League Soccer from attracting talent abroad to developing and selling its own. The Premier League is building juggernauts, and has a great shot at welcoming a Champions League title back to England in 2019 as well. This coming year of soccer should be a really fun one.
Dan Karell: I’m excited to see what Berhalter can do with the USMNT in 2019. I don’t mind if he leaves certain players out, as long as he picks a system that can bring wins and then picks the players that best fit that system.