Commentary

Curtain comes down on the 2015-16 season in Europe

By Samuel Charles
@SoccerIsArt

Leicester City was a revelation in more ways than one this season, while there are always compelling storylines, Europe’s top leagues and the Champions League have only become more and more predictable recently, which is yet another reason we should all savor these now famous Foxes, who won’t be sneaking up on anyone anytime soon.

Here are some of the season’s highs, and a few lows:

Tottenham and Chelsea play the blues. After running roughshod over England last season, Chelsea staked its claim as the worst defending Premier League champion ever. Posting 87 points a season ago under Jose Mourinho, the Blues finished this season under Guus Hiddink with just 50 points, 31 behind Leicester, with Mourinho fired just seven months after winning last year's title.

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Tottenham's title chase fell apart late, with both Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele suspended near season's end for assaulting opponents. Tottenham’s embarrassing 5-1 loss at now relegated Newcastle United on the final matchday saw Spurs squander their chance to finish above London rival Arsenal for the first time since 1995, which only required a draw.

"I think this was my worst day as a manager in England or Spain," Tottenham coach Maurico Pochetinno said on the last day of a great season.

Scoring by League: Bundesliga 2.82 goals per game, La Liga 2.74, Premier League 2.70 Serie A 2.58, Ligue 1 2.53 goals per game.

Champions League qualifiers (in order of finish): Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal*: Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City*; Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach*; Juventus, Napoli and AS Roma*; Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and AS Monaco*.
*Enter into UCL playoffs

Top Scorers by League: Luis Suarez 40 goals (Barcelona, Spain), Zlatan Ibrahimovic 38 (PSG, France), Gonzalo Higuain 36 (Napoli, Italy), Robert Lewandowski 30 (Bayern Munich, Germany), and Harry Kane 25 goals (Tottenham, England)

Ibrahimovic set PSG's scoring mark; Kane set Spurs Premier League record. Lewandowski became the highest scoring foreign player in Bundesliga history, with the Pole the first to reach the 30-goal mark in Germany's 34-game season since Dieter Mueller in 1977. Suarez became the first player besides Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win Spain’s Pichichi since fellow Uruguayan Diego Forlan did so in 2009.

Higuain broke the 66-year-old Serie A scoring record, set by Gunnar Nordahl in 1950. The 28-year-old Argentine scored 36 of second-place Napoli’s 80 goals, the highest ratio of his team’s goal by any top scorer. (Higuain 45%, Lewandowski 37.5%, Ibrahimovic 37.3%, Kane 36.2% and Suarez 35.7%.)

And Higuain set the record in style, with a hat trick on the season’s final day, and this overhead kick to break the record.

Assist Leaders by League: Mesut Ozil 19 assists (Arsenal, England), Angel Di Maria 18 (PSG, France), Messi & Suarez 16 each (Barcelona, Spain), Henrikh Mkhitaryan 15 (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Paul Pogba (Juventus)/Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma) both had 12 assists in Serie A.

Ozil, like Cesc Fabregas who had 18 last season, both appeared set to shatter Thierry Henry's Premier League assist record of 20 -- with Ozil at 16 to end December and Fabregas with 15 in last season's first half -- only to fall short.

All five leagues saw different top scorers from last year, with only Messi and Pjanic, both among the assist leaders last year, reappearing on either list.

Relegation and Promotion: La Liga -- Relegated: Levante, Getafe and Rayo Vallecano. Promoted: To be determined. Premier League - Relegated: Aston Villa, Norwich City and Newcastle United. Promoted: Burnley, Middlesbrough -- Sheffield Wednesday faces winner of Derby Country/Hull City at Wembley for final promotion. Ligue 1 -- Relegated: Troyes, GFC Ajaccio and Reims. Promoted: Nancy, Dijon and Metz . Bundesliga -- Relegated: Hannover, VfB Stuttgart. Promoted: Freiburg, RB Leipzig. Playoff: Eintracht Frankfurt from the Bundesliga faces Nurnberg from Bundesliga 2 in relegation/promotion playoff. Serie A -- Relegated: Hellas Verona, Frosinone and Carpi. Promoted: Crotone, Cagliari, and one of six in Serie B playoffs.

The worst of the best. Aston Villa of the Premier League and Ligue 1's Troyes AC were far and away the worst teams among Europe’s top leagues. Each team won just three of their 38 league games, with Villa's 17 points coming while being outscored by 49 goals. Troyes earned 18 points in France with the worst goal difference (-55) and most goals allowed (83) in Europe's top leagues.

But since Troyes, as currently constituted, has only existed since 1986, when it began in France's sixth division, while Villa, founded in 1879, has been a mainstay in England's top division, that has to make Villa this season’s worst team. Next season will be Villa's first during the Premier League era in England's second division.

Return of the Europa League. Sevilla, which won the last two Europa League titles, will face Liverpool on Wednesday in Switzerland with a Champions League birth up for grabs. Last year's change by UEFA, guaranteeing the Europa League winner inclusion in the following year's Champions League seems to be bearing fruit. Several top clubs fielded stronger teams in Europe’s secondary club competition this year.

One could argue Liverpool's road to the final under first-year coach Juergen Klopp was more difficult than Real Madrid's road to the Champions League final. Madrid knocked out Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City to reach the Champions League final in Milan -- while Liverpool knocked out Augsburg, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal in the Europa's 32-team knockout rounds.

Most Valuable Player (not named Ronaldo or Messi): The past few years I've selected the top player in Europe, with the caveat that to include Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the discussion wouldn't allow anyone else recognition (last year's winner was Kevin De Bruyne, while at Wolfsburg).

This season's top player would likely require no such qualifier, and with Euro 2016 and the Copa America shortly upon us, it's hard to see how the Ballon d'Or won't be fiercely contested come fall, or how Luis Suarez's name won't be included.

Suarez didn't just score goals galore -- with 40 in La Liga, eight goals in nine Champions League games, five in three Copa Del Rey games and five goals in two FIFA Club World Cup games -- he also scored timely goals. And with Barca's league title in the balance after its back-to-back treble hopes were dashed in the UCL, Suarez scored 14 goals in Barca’s last five La Liga games, ensuring Barcelona's sixth title in eight seasons.

After arriving at the Camp Nou shrouded in controversy there can be little doubt Luis Suarez is one of the most dangerous players on the planet (with or without using his teeth).

Others (briefly) considered: Ibrahimovic (PSG), Neymar (Barcelona), Mkhitaryan (Dortmund), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid).

Most Valuable Team: Even if this season had provided exciting finishes throughout, the miraculous title run of the Leicester City would never be forgotten, and with the current reality where Barcelona winning its sixth Spanish title in eight years qualifies as competition -- as Juventus claimed its fifth Italian title in a row, PSG won its fourth straight in France and Bayern claimed a fourth straight in Germany -- it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that little Leicester’s fabled Foxes saved us all from Europe’s more and more predictable league competitions.

With Claudio Ranieri playing the role of endearing and humble professor, Jamie Vardy playing the role of goalscoring speedster out on parole, Riyad Mahrez jinking defenders out their cleats with no regard for the orthodox, N’Golo Kante’s inexhaustible midfield presence -- and let’s not forget Jamaica’s Wes Morgan, the Reggae Boy isn’t just the first Concacaf player to captain a Premier League champion, "Captain Morgan" is now the first player to represent any team outside UEFA to captain a Premier League winner.

In a sports world that grows more cynical by the day, Leicester City did something more remarkable than winning the title. Reminding one and all what’s pure about sport, why we fell in love with games in the first place, how we felt cheering on our teams and our heroes as little boys and little girls -- and these sly Foxes carried us all on a most improbable title race, succeeding against the longest of odds.

Which is why it’s no surprise a quarter of a million people turned out for Leicester’s title parade on Tuesday, showing their gratitude to this team that will not soon be forgotten.

1 comment about "Curtain comes down on the 2015-16 season in Europe ".
  1. Garrett Isacco, May 17, 2016 at 9:20 p.m.

    I always watched the EPL as a fan, never rooting for a particular team, but that all changed in January and I started to follow Leicester City and by season end I was cheering hard for their every goal and every victory. I will continue to root for the Foxes.

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