40 Bold Predictions for World Football in 2014

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

40 Bold Predictions for World Football in 2014

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    It's shaping up to be a massive year in football.

    This summer, the 2014 World Cup will stand out as pinnacle of the calendar, but the entertainment runs far deeper and far wider than any one tournament can reach.

    It may only be the beginning of our journey, but we've worked to provide some answers as to what one can expect to see unfold over the next 12 months, looking at all corners of the 2014 schedule.

    Whether it's Europe or South America, club or international, we've looked to delve as deep as possible in our predictions for what occurs between now and December 31, 2014.

    Of course, certain competitions take priority over others and there are bound to be omissions along the way.

    Disagree with a prediction or feel there's a more logical route to be considered? Let us know in the forum below.

1. West Ham, Fulham and Sunderland Relegated from Premier League

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    Just as the race for the Premier League title has been one of the closest in recent memory this season, the fight against the drop looks likely to be decided on margins just as fine.

    However, in the end it will be Fulham, West Ham and Sunderland who descend into the Championship, two of which are already residing in the bottom three.

    Gus Poyet's arrival hasn't sparked the rise from the ashes that some were expecting at the Stadium of Light, whereas the Hammers are lacking in all departments under Sam Allardyce.

    Rene Meulensteen has come upon a similar issue as his Sunderland counterpart and has inherited the oldest squad in the Premier League at Craven Cottage, which is likely to have its impact as the campaign wars on.

    Crystal Palace will be saved by the structure that Tony Pulis has injected into the squad—and particularly their defence—whereas Cardiff City's willingness to spend may be their saviour in January.

     

2. Chelsea Reclaim the League Title

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    Jose Mourinho's return to the Premier League has already come with its darker patches, but ultimately, the Special One will prove critics wrong and take back the title that he last won almost eight years ago.

    As things stand, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool would be considered the Blues' main rivals to become 2013/14 champions of the English top flight.

    However, the strongest squads of those four undoubtedly belong to Chelsea and the Citizens, two rosters boasting the sort of depth one needs in order to challenge across the course of nine months.

    However, it's the west Londoners who then have an edge in terms of pedigree, with players who are more experienced in the ways of winning and coping with the pressure of balancing European commitments alongside a domestic season.

    City's home form would assuredly see them go the whole season as one of the biggest threats in the division, but Chelsea are capable of coming out on top of the clutch clashes and will eventually reap the rewards under their returned helmsman.

3. Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool Clinch Top Four

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    And with Chelsea ruling the roost, it will be Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool who occupy the rest of England's Champions League qualification spots, in that order.

    What that of course means is that Manchester United will have to settle for Europa League participation, David Moyes failing to summon up the same end-of-season form that was so common under his predecessor's rule at Old Trafford.

    Last season saw Brendan Rodgers' side undergo an impressive second half to the season, and with Daniel Sturridge soon returning to fitness along with what could be a busy January transfer window, Liverpool could once again impress as they close their campaign.

     

4. Luis Suarez First Player Since Cristiano Ronaldo to Surpass 30 Goals

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    And a great deal of that Liverpool ecstasy will come as a direct result of Luis Suarez's fine work in front of goal, which will be enough to see him claim a maiden Premier League Golden Boot award.

    The Uruguayan international already has 20 goals to his name at the midway point in the season, benefiting from the injury that's kept Sergio Aguero from sticking as close to his tally.

    Robin van Persie finished the campaign on 30 goals in 2011/12, but it isn't since the 2007/08 campaign that a player has scored more than 30, Cristiano Ronaldo accomplishing the feat for the first time since Alan Shearer had 12 years earlier.

    Suarez will joined that most esteemed of ranks and lead his side to the Champions League football they've craved so agonisingly for what seems like an eternity.

5. Big Sam Next on the Chopping Block

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    Despite signing a new contract at the club barely six months ago, Sam Allardyce and West Ham United will be the next manager/club partnership to split this year.

    The Hammers' boss may have brought the club back to the Promised Land from the Championship, but has failed to build on last season's 10th-place finish.

    In fact, Allardyce's tactics have once again come under fire from some for lacking in progression, which may be one of the factors in why the club are intimately involved in a relegation scrap at the moment.

    Winning only three Premier League matches so far this season, the east Londoners have struggled in both attack and defence this term, with no one area in particular standing out as the most obvious weak point.

    Instead, it makes for a sorry story in multiple parts of the squad, and unless it's something Big Sam can address swiftly, David Gold and David Sullivan will be forced to make a change. 

6. Elche, Real Valladolid and Real Betis Lose La Liga Status

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    With just seven points separating 20th and 14th in the Spanish top flight right now, La Liga's relegation race is no foregone conclusion.

    That being said, there are a host of clubs who stand to see the drop come May, with Elche, Real Valladolid and Real Betis being the unfortunate three this season.

    Real Betis and Real Valladolid currently sit five and two points away from safety, respectively, and have accumulated goal differences which are significantly worse than most others in the division.

    Elche are something of a less obvious choice given that they're sitting in 14th right now, but are still only two points away from the bottom three.

    After winning 10 of their 17 points by mid-October, Fran Escriba's side have gone off the boil in a major way and are slipping further and further down the ranks.

    The club face a horrible task in their end-of-season run-in, with Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Barcelona, Sevilla and Malaga awaiting them in their last six games.

    unless the season can be salvaged by that point, there won't be a great deal of hope for Elche in taking points from the closing encounters.

7. Atletico Madrid End 18-Year League Title Drought

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    Imagine a world in which neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid are reigning La Liga champions.

    It's assuredly difficult given that it hasn't been a reality since early 2005, but 2014 will bring an increased sense of parity to Spain's elite, with Diego Simeone leading his Atletico Madrid side to La Liga glory.

    Los Rojiblancos currently sit level on points with Barcelona and have a squad that balances depth and talent on an extremely even scale, so much so that Gerardo Martino will find his first season at the Camp Nou ends up being fruitless in the league.

    Barca will play host to Atleti on the final day of the season, where it's likely this head-to-head will be decided, although it also depends largely on how far each club goes in the Champions League race.

    In the end, however, it will be Madrid's forgotten boys, having not won the La Liga crown since 1996, who emerge as victors. 

8. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad Settle for Top Four

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    And it will be Barcelona and Real Madrid who are left to settle for a runners-up place in next season's Champions League, with Real Sociedad not too far behind.

    Despite Neymar's arrival, La Blaugrana have looked slightly stagnant at times this season, not boasting the same dominance across the pitch as they once might have, while Los Merengues continue to show signs of struggle against the bigger outfits.

    At this moment, fourth place is the hardest of the Champions League spots to call, with Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal and Sevilla also launching early claims for European football.

    However, it will be La Real who come out on top of the end-of-season run-in, four of their last six matches coming against lower-half opposition.

9. Cristiano Ronaldo Finds Small Comfort in Pichichi Prestige

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    Real Madrid may not find much glory in terms of league silverware this season, but one player who will be able to take some joy from the La Liga campaign is Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Although Atletico's Diego Costa currently leads the pack with 19 goals this season, it's in the latter half of the campaign that Ronaldo's scoring form will really take flight.

    Last season, 20 of the Portuguese's 34 goals were scored after the winter break, and the 28-year-old will once again find the months of January through to May as more hospitable.

    Not since the 2006/07 campaign has Ronaldo scored more goals after the new year than he has before it, and Real's leader will finish as La Liga's top scorer for the second time since moving to Madrid later this term.

10. Paco Won't See out the Season at Rayo

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    Despite all the good work that's been put into Paco Jemez's project at Rayo Vallecano, something has to give for the Madrid outfit.

    Unfortunately for the manager, it's he who people will look to heap some portion of the blame upon by default, and rightly so.

    After doing so well to finish around mid-table last season, Ray now find themselves sitting 19th in La Liga, having lost six of their last eight games and facing a downward slope.

    Before the campaign is through, the board's patience will have worn too thin with Paco who, despite his close ties to the club, will find his position in the manager's seat untenable.

11. Eintracht Braunschweig, Nuremburg and Freiburg Finish Bottom of Bundesliga

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    Although there are bound to be a bevy of twists and turns along the way, the Bundesliga's bottom three will end in May as it did in 2013, with Eintracht Braunschweig, Nuremburg and Freiburg as its inhabitants.

    The former two of those three clubs have looked some way off the pace for the majority of the season thus far, and currently sit four points away from safety.

    Freiburg's case is somewhat more debatable given that the side have had a Europa League campaign to contend with, but it's ultimately Christian Streich's attack, or lack thereof, that will let the Brazilians of Breisgau down.

12. Bayern Munich Break Bundesliga Points Record (Again)

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    As if the dominance that came in 2013 wasn't enough, Bayern Munich's indomitable march will continue through 2014 and the numbers will reflect it.

    Last season saw Jupp Heynckes lead Die Roten to winning the league title, setting a new record of 91 Bundesliga points in the process.

    Sixteen games into the 2013/14 campaign and Bayern already have 44 points to their names with just 48 more needed until a fresh accolade is theirs.

    That means that in their next 18 games, Bayern can either afford to lose twice or draw three games. In the first half of the season, the Bavarian bruisers have dropped just four points, so the target is certainly within sight.

    Whether it's a result of Bayern actually growing as a club themselves or due to Borussia Dortmund's drop this term, Pep Guardiola will ensure his side retain their title, and in style, too.

13. Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg Complete CL Quartet

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    Borussia Dortmund's injury-ridden start to the season means that hopes of reclaiming the Bundesliga title are out of reach, but qualification for the Champions League given the hand they've been dealt is still admirable in its own right.

    Juergen Klopp's side will have to settle for third place behind current runners-up favourites Bayer Leverkusen, progressing further and further under Sami Hyypia's tutelage and looking steady as ever.

    Wolfsburg will be the ones fighting hardest to ensure that this premonition materialises, with one place and two points currently separating them from the top four.

    However, the latter end of the season has proven to be the most testing for Borussia Monchengladbach in recent campaigns and is set to take its toll once more, with Wolfsburg's form as impressive as ever.

    Dieter Hecking's outfit are currently nine games unbeaten and head into 2014 with a firm idea of what it is they need to do to continue on an upward trajectory.

14. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Claims the Bundesliga's Golden Boot

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    An eventuality that will rest entirely on just how much Klopp decides to use his asset, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is more than capable of clinching the goals necessary to finish as Germany's top scorer this term.

    In his first season playing in the Bundesliga, the Gabon international has already netted nine goals and is just two scores away from current Golden Boot favourite and teammate Robert Lewandowski.

    As the season wages on, Aubameyang, who managed to bag a hat-trick on his German league debut, will only grow more comfortable in his Signal Iduna Park surroundings, showing what value he was as a summer pickup. 

15. Bundesliga Bosses Spared the Axe for Remainder of the Campaign

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    The Bundesliga has already been through its fair share of changes this season, so it's only right that the German top flight hold off on the hiring and firing for now.

    Jens Keller's bad start to the season with Schalke would make him one of the more likely candidates to leave, but the Miners are just showing signs of finding some solidity, so the best choice may be to continue giving their current boss his chance for now.

    Nuremberg, on the other hand, have found another type of consistency in that their propensity for draws is like no other. Still without a win this term, Gertjan Verbeek could be another boss in trouble, but it may be uncalled for when the team are just starting to play some better football.

16. Catania Set New Record For Lowest Serie A Points Tally in Current Format

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    Since becoming a 20-team league in 2004, Serie A has never had a team earn less than 22 points in a single season—until later this year, that is.

    Catania are currently rooted to the bottom of the Italian top flight and have just 10 points to their name after the first 17 fixtures of the season.

    What's ironic is that the club's home defence is actually one of the finest in Italy, but the main issue is that the club just can't find the back of the net, scoring a lowly 10 goals this term.

    In the remaining 21 games, Catania must score 13 points to ensure they don't literally set a new low for the division.

17. Juventus Win Scudetto by Biggest Margin in Years

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    Although form has slumped somewhat in Europe, the one place that Juventus have been able to remain consistent this season is in their domestic league campaign.

    Antonio Conte's side have been as inhospitable as ever amongst the rest of their Serie A peers, currently finding themselves top of the pile with five points of daylight between them and a Roma side that's swiftly losing its shape.

    The ongoing rise of the Bianconeri combined with the falls of Napoli and Roma this season could make for the biggest gap seen between a triumphant Juve side and their runner-up since the 10 points that lay between them and Inter in the 1994/95 season.

    Conte's batch of superstars are only growing more confident as the campaign goes on, but the same can't be said of their competition, which will lend itself to Juventus eventually winning this season's title by 10 points or more.

18. Both Milan Clubs Miss Champions League for First Time in More Than a Decade

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    For the first time since 2001, this season will result in neither Inter nor Milan qualifying for Europe's elite tournament through their league placement.

    Both enduring fairly ragged periods in their respective histories, it's Milan, currently struggling to even cement a mid-table spot, who are by far the worst off of the two.

    That being said, neither of the clubs concerned can be jovial about the current state of affairs at the San Siro this term.

    In their place, Roma and Napoli will account for Italy's Champions League places behind Juventus, although Inter can still hold out a hope of claiming fourth.

    Save for some sort of miracle in the Coppa Italia, both teams will be missing from the continent's most prestigious tournament next season.

19. Carlos Tevez Gets Life in Serie A off to a Golden Beginning

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    Carlos Tevez's move to Juventus has provided a great fuel behind the club's initial push for top spot in Serie A, and it's something the Argentinian will continue to supply.

    What isn't quite as assured is that Giussepe Rossi, who currently heads Serie A's scoring charts with 14 goals, will remain fit for the entire campaign or that Fiorentina will indeed continue on with their same success going forward.

    Tevez currently has 11 goals to his name and will stay consistent throughout the season, eventually taking benefit of Juve's extended consistency, leading the club to league honours and claiming the league's top scorer award along the way.

20. Massimiliano Allegri Replaced by Clarence Seedorf as Milan Manager

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    Massimiliano Allegri's time as Milan manager is drawing to an end. 

    The former Cagliari recently told Gazzetta dello Sport via Independent that he had spent his last Christmas at the club and that this summer would signal the end of his time at the San Siro.

    Clarence Seedorf has been associated as one of the favourites to land the position next in a move that would make sense for both.

    Though the Dutchman is still technically a player with Botafogo, the Rossoneri are in need of a player whose felt what it means to succeed with the club during their very best times. Seedorf has certainly done that, winning two Serie A titles, two Champions League crowns and two UEFA Super Cups as a Milan player.

    Adriano Galliani should be behind the move to bring Seedorf back to the San Siro and inject some winning mentality back into a squad that's lacking it at the moment.

21. Montpellier Relegated, Ajaccio Fate Sealed in April

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    Barely two years after winning the Ligue 1 title, Montpellier will experience the lowest honour that the division has to bestow: relegation.

    Jean Fernandez's time as boss of the south-coast club came to its end in December, but Rolland Courbis may have an impossible task on his hands. Montpellier have still yet to win under their new manager.

    Along with the former French giants, last-place Ajaccio and Sochaux will also see the drop.

    The former of those two clubs is looking especially prepared for Ligue 2 football next season, with only nine points to their name and a sole win under their belts.

    Unless a great change can be enacted in the second half of the season, Ajaccio are looking at the possibility of being relegated as early on as April, should they replicate their first half of the campaign and be unable to rescue an 18-point deficit.

22. Paris Saint-Germain Pip Monaco in the Big Spenders Race

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    Paris Saint-Germain will prove the bookmakers correct by living up to their favourites tag and winning a second consecutive Ligue 1 title this season.

    Laurent Blanc's first season at the helm of the Parisian outfit has gone swimmingly thus far, his side currently three points ahead of fellow big spenders Monaco.

    However, the PSG stars have been through this period of the campaign before and have a better idea of what's needed to make a success out of their recent fortune.

    It's the depth in resources that Blanc possesses that will prove particularly crucial in this head-to-head, Monaco not having had the time yet to make full use of their millions.

23. Monaco and Lille Stroll to Champions League

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    France's top flight is among the most segregated in terms of its teams' power distribution.

    Like many leagues, Ligue 1 has a noticeable distance between the very lowest teams and those higher up, but the same can be applied to the top clubs and those lower, especially this season.

    As things stand Lille are the only club who have showed any sign of challenging cash-rich PSG and Lille for the very highest honours, and it's they wo'll claim the third Champions League spot this term.

    However, there is then a nine-point drop-off between third and fourth, with only 11 points separating fourth and 16th.

    In any case, Lille and Monaco will be featuring in the Champions League next season, Ligue 1's other servants forced to fight for the scraps.

24. Montpellier Name Three Managers in One Term

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    Montpellier are missing former boss Rene Girard
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    Having more than one manager in a single season is disappointing; having three is edging closer to embarrassment.

    And it's embarrassment that may tip the Montpellier hierarchy, headed by businessman Louis Nicollin, into hiring a third boss should Rolland Courbis fail to resurrect the club's hopes of a respectable finish this term.

    As aforementioned, it hasn't been long since the club were named champions of the division, and it's precisely that sense of loss that may trigger a knee-jerk reaction for the club, currently in 17th and having not won a league game since early October.

25. England Fail to Make It to Knockout Round

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    The World Cup is as open as any other tournament, the platform on which dreams become reality and any dog can have its day.

    This will not be England's day, though, as 2014 has handed the Three Lions a hefty task in overcoming Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica during their trials in Group D.

    Two of those sides have immense World Cup experience and boasts squads capable of beating any other in the world potentially, having both featured well at the 2013 Confederations Cup. The other is Costa Rica.

    What's more, England have the unenviable task of making a trip to Manaus during their group campaign, and will have to survive the sweltering heat of one of Brazil's hottest locations, which others will be more accustomed to.

26. Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina Make World Cup Semi-Finals...

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    One of the riskiest premonitions worth making is that of what path a World Cup will take, but we've undertaken the task nonetheless.

    Holders Spain will finish top of Group B, while hosts Brazil, alongside fellow hopefuls Argentina and Germany, will come out first in Groups A, F and G, respectively.

    Along the way, Brazil will have to make their way past the challenge of Group B runners-up Holland before fending off either Colombia or Italy in the quarter-finals..

    Meanwhile, Spain have the ability to overcome any of Group A's other "also-ran" teams, be it Croatia, Mexico or Cameroon, as well as winning their quarter-final meeting against Uruguay, just as they did in last year's Confederations Cup.

    For Argentina, it's a case of beating either Switzerland or Ecuador in the Round of 16—both of whom are within the South Americans' grasp. That's before facing the winner of Belgium and Portugal's encounter, both teams posing their own challenges, but Alejandro Sabella's side ultimately have the attacking gumption to overcome either.

    And lastly, Germany will make their way past challenges from Russia and France before meeting Brazil in the penultimate stage of the competition.

27 ...But It's the Hosts Who Go on to Win the Whole Thing

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    In the end, though, it's the winning outfit that will be remembered most fondly, and Brazil head into a home tournament with the stars aligning nicely for their return.

    As well as boasting a thriving squad with as many world-class talents as any other, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men have the hotly discussed benefit of playing in a familiar climate, something that's bound to upset the hopes of Europe's hopefuls.

    Scolari has been confident in his side's chances throughout the build-up to this competition and quite rightly so.

    The Selecao's main strengths undoubtedly lie in their attack, but 2013's Confederations Cup success was a sign of how the Brazilians can very much compete across the board, and 2014 is their year.

28. Lionel Messi Grabs 2014 World Cup Golden Boot

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    Having scored 10 goals during Argentina's qualification campaign, Lionel Messi is already showing that, as part of one of the world's most in-form attacking nations, he can thrive as the offensive jewel many would hope him to be.

    However, it's all about whether or not the Barcelona superstar will finally come to the fore for his country in a major international tournament.

    With Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria poised opposite them at the group stage, Argentina certainly have the possibility to notch up a decent goal tally in the early phases of the competition before then continuing their run against one of Group H's bastions.

    As long as Messi can continue to shine for Sabella's side as he already has over the last two years, the pint-sized poacher will finally succeed at that which he's failed to during his international career thus far.

29. Real Madrid Win 2013/14 Champions League

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    Having made the semi-finals of the competition for the last three seasons in a row, 2014 will be the year that Real Madrid finally make that vital push forward in the Champions League.

    Under Carlo Ancelotti's command, Los Merengues have a manager whose experience in Europe runs as deep as any other.

    In his playing days, the Italian won two European Cups with Milan before going on to triumph in another two tournaments, this time as manager in the Champions League.

    Now, with a fearsome squad once again at his disposal, Ancelotti will show that while a 38-match league campaign may not be his forte, gearing a squad of superstars up for those crucial continental clashes certainly is.

    Throughout group qualification, Real finished as highest scorers with 20 goals and dropped just two points in total, in good shape to continue on once they overcome Schalke in their knockout encounter.

30. Zlatan Ibrahimovic Wins Champions League Golden Boot

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    Paris Saint-Germain's movement up the Champions League rankings has been swift, showing that money can indeed buy one happiness in some instances.

    A great chunk of that success is thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will continue to impress during the latter stages of this season's Champions League.

    The Parisian club have shown in recent years that they most definitely can compete with the bigger clubs and are no minnow, a two-legged tie against Bayer Leverkusen being next on the agenda.

    Once they move past that, PSG will have bigger goals in mind, but Ibrahimovic will always have the target on the side of overcoming some of his more individual rivalries, which is certainly within his talents.

31. Shakhtar Donetsk Win 2013/14 Europa League

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    To this day, Shakhtar Donetsk remain the only Ukrainian club ever to have won the UEFA Cup or Europa League, a mantle they'll solidify by triumphing in the tournament for a second time this term.

    Having dropped out of the Champions League, Shakhtar's usual routine of being able to devote further resources to their European endeavours as a result of their domestic dominance will once again take effect.

    Although the club's attacking prowess didn't really rise to the occasion during this season's European attempts so far, Mircea Lucescu's side have looked defensively solid for the most part, and are bound to give a good portion of attention to their European run, unlike other giants.

32. Roberto Soldado Wins Europa League Golden Boot

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    Although Tottenham's domestic start to the season hasn't been up to scratch, Spurs have impressed in their Europa League tasks, coping well with a lower standard of opposition thus far.

    There, Roberto Soldado has found a groove in the squad, scoring five Europa League goals so far this term and only a few away from the top scorer overall.

    With Emmanuel Adebayor making a comeback in the first team under Tim Sherwood, Soldado may grow more accustomed to a place on the bench at White Hart Lane, which is likely to mean an increased amount of Europa League minutes. 

    The north London outfit have the potential to find fortune in their buxom supply of top European talent with an impressive Europa League run, even if it's not getting the job done on home shores.

33. Franck Ribery Wins 2013 Ballon D'Or

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    Having been decisive in so many of Bayern's momentous occasions throughout 2013, Frank Ribery will edge out favourite Cristiano Ronaldo and take this year's Ballon d'Or, set to be announced later this month.

    The Frenchman stands out as the odd one out between other shortlist finalists Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, in that his talents lie not just in scoring, but are more spread across provision, as well as adding the finishing touches himself.

    Ribery assisted the vital goal in last season's Champions League final that would help Bayern Munich on their way to a historic treble, but added an edge to Die Roten's campaign throughout that few would be able to match.

    Granted, team achievements and trophies may count for nought when discussing individual accolades, but the question of whether Bayern would have won all those competitions were it not for Ribery's presence is one that will undoubtedly play on the minds of those voting.

34. Cristiano Ronaldo Wins European Player of the Year

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    It won't be long before a certain Real Madrid phenomenon gets his redemption, however, and what better way to make up for missing out on one international award of individual recognition than by winning the next one available?

    Ribery will find his UEFA Best Player in Europe trophy stripped of him, given to the man who leads Real's attack through thick and thin.

    The Portuguese's 35 goals in just 26 appearances for both club and country this season have already been a revelation to watch and it's only set to improve as the months wear on.

    Success in Europe will only invigorate the notion of Ronaldo winning his first European Player of the Year award, but in truth, Los Merengues could win no silverware and the 28-year-old would still be in with a great chance.

35. Atletico Mineiro Win Back-to-Back Copa Libertadores Titles

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    Not since the Boca Juniors of 2001 has a team won two consecutive Copa Libertadores titles in a row, but Atletico Mineiro's stars will seek to ensure that honour is revived later this year.

    The Galo were creaky in patches of their 2013 triumph, winning five of their six group stage games, but ulitmately only ever really looking uncertain in the very late phases.

    Now, the Brazilians have a far larger responsibility in defending their title, but have a coach as well-travelled as any other in the shape of Paulo Autuori, who will serve them magnificently in attempting to overcome the odds once more.

36. FC Seoul Exact AFC Champions League Revenge

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    A South Korean club has featured in each of the last five AFC Champions League finals, and FC Seoul will have considered themselves unfortunate not to have triumphed in their two-legged affair with Guangzhou Evergrande in the season just ended.

    However, Choi Yong-Soo's side aren't likely to simply roll over and accept that bitter loss without so much as a whimper and will be back to exact their vengeance in 2014.

    Through last year's edition, the Korean giants showed great signs of development, and along with their foreign acquisitions, it was actually the native stars who gave Seoul great cause for some comforts.

    Choi's men are likely to once again challenge for the latter spots this time around and will have another means of motivation pushing them toward the end goal.

37. Jupp Heynckes Named FIFA World Coach of the Year

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    Although he may be one of several FIFA Coach of the Year candidates now retired from the game, Jupp Heynckes' 2013 achievements certainly won't go without their recognition.

    After leading Bayern Munich to the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB Pokal crowns last season, it's only right that the German boss be rewarded for his efforts in kind.

38. Wayne Rooney Signs Manchester United Contract Extension

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    Wayne Rooney is no stranger to contract speculation, and with just 18 months remaining on his current deal, the topic is once again being fiercely discussed in Premier League circles.

    David Moyes' arrival at the club is something of a double-edged sword in that Manchester United have slumped after Sir Alex Ferguson's departure, but Rooney is the one star who's thrived in the new manager's arrival and is arguably playing the best football of his career.

    It's a fine line to call between committing to a club that will ensure an individual spotlight, but can't guarantee silverware at this moment in time, or jumping ship for greener-looking pastures but risking a drop-off in individual output.

    Ultimately, the 28-year-old will put pen to paper over what could by all means be his last deal as a Red Devil, seeing out his prime years at Old Trafford in all likelihood.

39. Robert Lewandowksi Scores 20 Goals for Bayern Munich Before Year's End

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    It's finally happening, and soon, one of the most anticipated (although not always for the right reasons) transfers can finally go ahead this summer.

    NBC Sports recently confirmed that Robert Lewandowski would undergo a medical at Bayern Munich. Given that his contract expires this summer, the Borussia Dortmund forward will then have plenty of time to settle in over the summer at the Allianz Arena, with no overlap in between.

    Pep Guardiola will then proceed to get the best out of Lewandowski, who will pay back the incessant two-year interest that Bayern held in his talents by bagging 20 goals for the club before the 2015 New Year's celebrations have arrived.

40. Vincent Tan Sells Cardiff City

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    Music to the ears of many a Cardiff City fan, yes, but still an eventuality that's some way from happening.

    That being said, one can't rule out the possibility of Vincent Tan performing a 180-degree turn and attempting to sell Cardiff City on for a profit, almost four years after initially purchasing a controlling stake, since when he's gone on to take them to the Premier League.

    The Malaysian billionaire's ownership of the club has been a controversy-ridden story of late, mostly because of the contentious sacking of Malky Mackay, not to mention changing the club's colours from blue to red.

    However, it may all yet become a tad too stressful for Tan, whom a lot of the Welsh club's support would be happy to see the last of.