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European Soccer 2012-13 Preview: Manchester City or Manchester United? Barcelona or Real Madrid?

The 2012-13 European club soccer season stars in earnest tomorrow morning. Here is a concise overview of the major story lines to whet your appetites.

Manchester Duel: Man City’s epic rally swiped the Premier League title from Man United on goal difference. Heading into 2012-13, those rivals should be the same two teams left grappling near the mountain top. City have stayed pat, with their sole signing Jack Rodwell a prospect for the future. They will be hoping better continuity, improved form outside their home stadium and a full season of Carlos Tevez will spur them forward. United have taken the opposite tack and reloaded. Lord Ferg landed Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa (17 goals and 14 assists in Germany last season) and reigning EPL player of the season Robin Van Persie. Neither, however, is their long sought dynamic midfielder. Chelsea injected $110 million worth of virile young attacking talent (Oscar, Hazard, Marin), but will it be enough to close off a 25-point gap from last season? Arsenal and Tottenham, losing or set to lose their best players respectively, should be shooting for mere Champions League qualification.

Barcelona or Real Madrid? These should again be Europe’s two best teams, overwhelming domestic favorites and clear continental ones. So, what’s new? Barcelona reigned in their expenditure this offseason, the one exception being Euro 2012 standout Jordi Alba who fills their hole at left back. Arsenal’s Alex Song may firm up the midfield. A healthy David villa, returning from a longterm injury, would also be a welcome addition. The biggest change will be managerial, where Tito Villanova steps up to the number one job, replacing departing icon Pep Guardiola. Real Madrid has done little, besides offloading some bench players and pursuing Luka Modric. Their domestic deal should make compelling theatre, though both clubs will be fixated on the continental prize.

Serie A Instability: Serie A has been rocked by scandal and statue decline, though even by Italian standards this season could be especially agonizing. Coming off their 28th (err…30th) title, Juventus have supplemented their squad, most notably by bringing back sprightly attacker Sebastian Giovinco from Parma. Their quest to repeat, however, will happen without manager Antonio Conte, suspended for a season for his knowledge of match-fixing while he was at Siena. AC Milan, who finished just behind “the Old Lady,” released a stable of overpaid veterans and sold their two best players to PSG. Disappointing sixth-place finisher, Inter Milan remains talented, though hamstrung by crushing debt and a bloated payroll. This could be the season for a lurking power, such as Lazio, Napoli, Udinese and Roma, to step forward.

Divided Germany: Borussia Dortmund have usurped power from traditional aristocrats Bayern, winning back to back Bundesliga titles. Die Shwarzgelben should be favorites to triumph again in 2013. Stars such as Polish striker Robert Lewandowski stayed. New signing Marco Reus should be an able replacement for the departing Shinji Kagawa. Their stern defense and lethal counterattack play will be formidable. Bayern Munich have too much talent not to be a factor. They should add some talent and depth with striker Mario Mandzukic and Spain midfielder Javi Martinez. Their best addition, though, may be simply returning refreshed from their summer break. Bayern lost the league title, lost the German Cup final and blew the Champions League final on penalties at home. Most proceeded from there to an underwhelming effort at Euro 2012. Not known for their mental resolve at the best of times, Bayern could easily begin this season in a funk.

The Juggernaut: Qatari financial backing has converted Paris St. Germain from a backwater haven for violence and neo-fascism into a swank destination for European stars. Last summer they made a statement, signing $58 million Argentine Javier Pastore. This year, after signing the two best outfield players in Serie A, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Thiago Silva, PSG will hope to reflect their ambition on the field. They will be shooting for their first Ligue Un title since 1994, after upstarts Montepellier narrowly beat them out last year. They also will expect a decent showing in the Champions League. Ligue Un has become difficult to predict, with five different winners the past five seasons, though new giants PSG will be the undisputed favorite.

[Photos via Getty]

 

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