As intriguing as the current edition of the Champions League may be, there’s a chance the 2009-2010 tournament could be one of the strangest, parity-rich events in football history. Seems someone has taken the snow globe that is European football, given it a good shake and the flakes aren’t landing where people expect.
The tables in Germany, Holland, Portugal and even Italy don’t resemble what we’ve come to expect as status quo, and as a result, the trickle-down to next year’s Champions League could be fascinating. Not only could you have some very fresh names, faces and kits in the fray, but they’ll be usurping some very established entities, including a couple of past champions.
Starting in Italy, where Inter Milan is in the lead with 24 points, you’ve got a gaggle of teams behind Mourinho’s men that includes Napoli, Udinese and Genoa, all within four points of the top, and all within at least a shot of getting into the qualifying rounds. And standing on the outside looking in would be Juventus, Roma and Fiorentina, three teams that are in the hunt in this year’s Champions League.
Not even England is immune to this phenomenon. Despite the Big Four of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United being entrenched as the top four, Hull City had a prominent spot near the top of the table for much of the opening weeks, and they’re still within reach in sixth position with 20 points, only one shy of the top four.
The best story might be in Germany, where Hoffenheim has been at the tippity-top of the Bundesliga alone until this weekend. Hoffenheim may be in there for the duration; it’s won five in a row and now shares the lead with Bayer Leverkeusen. Bayern Munich is charging hard and it will be tremendous to watch if Hoffenheim can find a way to hang on.
Az Alkamaar, meanwhile, took over the lead in the Dutch Eredivisie and has the lone automatic Champions League group stage spot right now. Behind AZ? Well, sure, Ajax is there, but so is NAC Breda and Groningen. Breda and Ajax are tied on points with Az, and Groningen two points out.
In Portugal, if things ended today, F.C. Porto and Sporting would be OUT altogether. OUT. Sporting, which has already earned a spot in the knockout round, is five points out, and Porto’s miserable start has it even further back. Leixoes is in the lead. Who? Leixoes. Nacional da Madeira is three out and Maritimo five back. Benfica is the lone giant in the top three. And Benfica is somewhat woeful as far as big clubs go.
It’s early, but it’s fun to look ahead and acknowledge what these minnows are doing. The longer it goes like this, the more fun it becomes. And perhaps next August, you just might seeing a Champions League draw with clubs such as Hoffenheim, Az Alkamaar and Leixoes joining Inter, Chelsea and Barcelona in Pot 1. Now how much fun would that be?