Has This Season Been World Football's Most Exciting Season?
Unpredictable, enthralling, stupendous. These three adjectives are perfect for describing the footballing season of 2011-2012.
Across all of the four major leagues—the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A—we have had intense, riveting competition on all fronts. Furthermore, the UEFA Champions League has witnessed its fair share of dramatic moments.
Manchester United's defeat to Wigan Athletic has intensified the title race, while Real Madrid seem to be moving toward a collapse. Across in Italy, the Serie A title race is differentiated by a mere point between juggernauts Juventus and AC Milan.
The Bundesliga might have been decided, but all season had four teams—Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach—eying the top prize.
Four perennial heavyweights remain in the UEFA Champions League, and barring Chelsea, who I think are not at their best this season, all the remaining teams—Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona—are equally capable of winning it.
Has this been Europe's most exciting season? Let's probe a bit deeper.
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One of the fiercest, most competitive leagues in Europe, the Bundesliga has yet again lived up to its hype. This season, we had four teams in an intense race to the top.
Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach all looked poised to take the league by storm.
During the first half of the season, Bayern Munich were in pole position ahead of Dortmund by three points, while Dortmund and Schalke were level on 34 points. M'gladbach were only one point short of them.
However, in the second half, a small rift started to form between Dortmund and the others. Dortmund began a series of impressive performances and soon climbed to the top.
On April 11, Dortmund and Bayern went head to head in a crucial, title-deciding game, which Dortmund eventually won by a lone goal from Robert Lewandowski. Arjen Robben had a chance to equalize for Bayern in the 85th minute through a penalty option, as his brace was saved by the keeper.
Had Bayern won, the two teams would have been level on goal difference.
However, the title race might still not be over. Dortmund have yet to face both Schalke and Mönchengladbach, and defeats are plausible.
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It's nice to witness Juventus finally put behind the scandals of the past and re-emerge as the football superpower they are.
They are now in the finals of the Coppa Italia, having knocked Milan out in the semifinals.
The title is yet to be decided with both AC Milan and Juventus battling out for supremacy, and as of now, the gap stands at a mere point between them.
I expect Juventus to emerge victorious, as most of their remaining fixtures are against inferior oppositions. In addition, they have the added advantage, as AC Milan were surely tested during their Champions League endeavors.
Serie A has been a delight to watch to, as besides these two teams, Napoli and Lazio have also been thoroughly entertaining.
Throw into the mix the managerial problems of Inter, and we have indeed had an entrancing season.
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Only a month ago, Real Madrid looked set to win La Liga comfortably. Fast-forward to a month later, and Real Madrid look shaky.
Three draws in the last six matches has allowed Barcelona to close up on them, and the gap now stands at a mere four points.
And El Clasico is just around the corner.
If Barcelona manage to win, the gap will stand at a lone point, and Real Madrid might be venturing toward a spectacular collapse.
Despite a two-horse race at the top, the race for the remaining Champions League places is also intense. Valencia are in third place, a mere two points ahead of Malaga, while Levante and Osasuna are not far behind.
Let me remind you that three teams from La Liga—Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao—are in the semifinals of the Europa League.
English Premier League
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The English Premier League (EPL) has certainly provided us with another glorious season.
The season started out with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City spending quite a sum on the transfer market, while Arsenal witnessed an exodus of their star players, and United plastered a few holes.
Chelsea have had a disastrous campaign all season long, and Liverpool have followed suit.
Two teams—Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United—have been great surprises, the latter more so.
Newcastle, against all odds, now sit at fifth position and will push for the last Champions League place. Tottenham, who looked poised as genuine title threats, have experienced some glitches in the latter half.
At the top of the table, the title race has intensified yet again, as Manchester United lost to Wigan Athletic by a lone point. The gap between them and rivals Manchester City stands at five points.
There is one match remaining between these two, and if City manage to win, the gap will be only two points.
Manchester United might make an odd slip before the season ends and relinquish the title to City.
UEFA Champions League
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This year's Champions League has been simply stupendous.
We have witnessed underdogs like APOEL and Basel foray into unforeseen grounds. We have seen superb comebacks: Chelsea against Napoli, Arsenal against AC Milan. And we have witnessed some shock exits, especially that of the two Manchester clubs.
And we are yet to enter the semifinals.
All four teams represent juggernauts of the game, and each one will be looking to win it.
Realistically, Chelsea seem to be the weakest link, as this season has not panned out so well for them. However, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all equal to the task, and each might very well win it.
The final at Munich will indeed be a spectacular affair this time around.
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Superb goals, dazzling showmanship and phenomenal games. This season has provided for everything.
Across all fronts, football has been beautiful and unpredictable.
I cannot recall a more enthralling season in European football.
And then, there's been Mario Balotelli.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrenGoetze