Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A: 24 things we're excited for in the 2021-22 season

Nedum Onuoha said that he won't read into Man City losing the Community Shield to Leicester City in Community Shield. (1:05).This weekend sees the Premier League, Bundesliga, and LaLiga start, while Serie A will begin on August 21. Ligue 1 is already in play, but the real show has yet to start (more later).- ESPN+ viewers' guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, moreThe club game is reviving everywhere you look in Europe. We asked Gabriele Marcotti and Mark Ogden to share their excitement for the 2021-22 season.Jump to: Premier League | Bundesliga | LaLiga | Ligue 1 | Serie A | InternationalsMessi in Paris, Van Dijk returning for Liverpool, and Haaland hoping that they will star at the next World Cup. The 2021-22 season is full of exciting things we can't WAIT to see. ESPN IllustrationSeason starts Friday, August 13Number of teams: 20Manchester City: Reigning champions1. De Gea back to his bestDavid De Gea, who is only 30 years old, could still play at the top level for another decade. However, the Manchester United goalkeeper needs to regain the form that made him the best keeper in the world.- Watch ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. Only)- Do you not have ESPN? Get instant accessMaybe it's too late to reverse the decline after three years. However, I believe that Raphael Varane's signing from Real Madrid will provide De Gea with the central defensive partnership at Old Trafford. This will allow him to concentrate on his job and be the best keeper he can.Varane and Harry Maguire can gel at centre-half and will eliminate the inconsistencies that have plagued De Gea's confidence and form. -- Mark Ogden2. Van Dijk's returnVirgil van Dijk was injured in the cruciate ligament last October, which shattered Liverpool's season. It also left a big hole in the Netherlands' plans to host Euro 2020. Both club and country were reminded of how crucial the central defender was to them both.Liverpool managed to salvage their season with a late surge that secured Champions League qualification. However, Van Dijk's return for Jurgen Klopp's side during preseason is a big boost for the club’s prospects.However, the big question is now whether Van Dijk can return to his best and become a cornerstone of Liverpool's football team. It will take him time to get back to his best, and there will be mistakes along the way. His 10 month absence from Liverpool showed how important he was to the club, so his return to fitness is a huge plus. -- Ogden3. 3. Will Tuchel's honeymoon in Chelsea continue?Six months later, the only other manager to win Champions League for Chelsea was fired. Thomas Tuchel is a much more experienced manager than Roberto di Matteo in 2012, but Stamford Bridge continues to be a tough place for any person who falls below the required level. Tuchel has set the bar very high.Frank Lampard was replaced by the 47-year old German tactician in January. Since then, Chelsea has achieved a top four finish, an FA Cup final, and a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in Porto, which earned them European club football's highest prize. In his 30 games under his leadership, they have lost only five.Lampard was more strategic than Tuchel, but Tuchel's success was due to his willingness to accept Chelsea's short-term thinking. Roman Abramovich is a tough owner and managers don't last very long. So why not get together and enjoy the ride while it lasts.Play 1:36 Chelsea would be an 'huge menace' with Lukaku Nedum Onuoha claiming that Romelu Lukaku, a proven striker, would make Man City aware of a move to Stamford Bridge.This approach is more difficult to sustain over a 38 game Premier League campaign. However, Tuchel has at least the benefit of a preseason to mold a team more in his own image. The Blues have also identified the need for a top centre-forward and Romelu Lukaku is on the verge to return to the club. With the stakes for Tuchel high, his adaptation will be the manager's main concern. James Olley4. Kane's moment to reckonHarry Kane would like to leave Tottenham Hotspur in order to win trophies. Although Manchester City continues to show interest in Harry Kane, Spurs remain reluctant to let him go.To make a deal with City, or any other club, Kane would need to be close to Tottenham's valuation of 150 million. However, Kane's season is sure to be fascinating to watch, regardless of how the market develops. He could either stay at the club he doesn't want to play for or join the team that has been crowned champions three times in the last four years. It's interesting to note that the team won the Premier League title last year despite not playing consistently with a centre-forward.Kane is an exciting prospect, as he operates in a forward-line that includes Jack Grealish (Riyad Mahrez), Phil Foden, Ferran Tores, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres. A sliding-doors moment awaits. Olleyplay 2:01 Marcotti: Kane won't be released from Tottenham Spurs by a gentleman's deal Gab Marcotti isn't sure why Harry Kane believed a gentleman's contract would suffice to get Kane out.5. Verdict on the Premier League Man City investigationPremier League investigations into Manchester City's alleged financial fair-play violations have been ongoing since March 2019. However, you won’t be able to know much because the investigation has been kept secret. City was unable to appeal to the High Court of London in July to stop the investigation into their challenge to the jurisdiction of arbitrators to investigate this case. It has now emerged that they are continuing to investigate the financial transactions of the reigning champions after more than two decades.Lord Justice Males was one of three judges who heard the appeal. He stated that "it is a matter for legitimate public concern that so few progress has been made in the past two-and-a half years, during which the club has been twice crowned Premier League champions." To maintain supporters' trust, football needs transparency. This investigation must be completed. -- Mark Ogden6. 6. Can Solskjaer live upto expectations?Each Manchester United manager that has been following Sir Alex Ferguson, including Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and David Moyes has said at different times that they haven't had the backing necessary to challenge for the Premier League title. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, has admitted that he could not have received more support from the board following the arrivals Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and this summer.Although the challenge of grabbing the trophy from Pep guardiola's champions is daunting, there is optimism at Old Trafford that the team is strong enough. Ole, it's your turn. Rob Dawson7. 7. Can Pep win again the Champions League?He will return. Manchester City will again go. Guardiola was so close to winning the Champions League in May. This is the closest Guardiola has come in 11 years. But he failed again. Tuchel and Chelsea ruined his dream and he will need to wait until he achieves the "Holy Grail".The question is, how much longer? Only a few more weeks? The Citizens will become even more powerful with Jack Grealish's arrival. Harry Kane could soon be playing in Blue Sky colors, which would complete the game for English champions.Guardiola can learn, but is he ever able to? What can Guardiola learn from the disappointment of 2021's final defeat to Chelsea? If Grealish is quick to adapt and Kane does not forget how to score goals between London, Manchester and London, then he will be able to lead this team to European glory. The pressure is higher than ever with Lionel Messi's arrival at Paris Saint-Germain. -- Julien Laurensplay 1:28 How will Grealish fit in Guardiola's Man City plans? Mark Ogden discusses the use of Jack Grealish by Pep Guardiola and asks if Man City really needs him.8. Arsenal's young core comes togetherBukayo Saka has 19. Emile Smith Rowe has 21 years. Gabriel Martinelli and Ben White are both 23. Kieran Tierney has 24 years. Albert Lokonga, Nuno Tavares and Nuno Tavares are also 21-year-olds who just arrived.While the Premier League season is over, they have demonstrated that the other players can also contribute. It will be interesting for Mikel Arteta to use them to create a team that can take Arsenal to where they want. -- Gabriele MarcottiSeason starts Friday, August 1318 teamsReigning champions: Bayern Munich9. Promotion for the biggest football underachieversSV Hamburg is the only major club that has not been able to pull its weight for as long as SV Hamburg. However, German football needs these former European champions to reclaim their winning formula and get back to the Bundesliga.Hamburg was the only club that had spent their entire history in the top league until 2018's relegation. They have won six German titles and three DFB Cups. In 1983, they lifted the European Cup, three years after defeating Nottingham Forest in the first final.Hamburg has now spent three seasons at 2. Bundesliga and Germany's second-largest city have spent three seasons in 2. Hamburg will eventually get it right, and the Bundesliga will be stronger and more exciting if they challenge again. -- Ogden10. Big year for BellinghamJude Bellingham was 18 years old in June. However, much is to be expected from him over the next year for club and country. In recognition of his outstanding debut season, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was awarded the Bundesliga's Silver Arrow award (Newcomer to the Year) by fellow professionals.Bellingham is a midfielder with a level of authority and calm that surpasses his years. This is why he was the 17-year old who moved the most money in the world to play in midfield and also how he became the youngest English player to begin a Champions League match in October. England was quick to notice.Although he was somewhat of a surprise selection in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad, his character and respect were evident when he made a late substitute appearance against Croatia in the first game. England had hoped to win the match against Croatia. He was the youngest participant at the Euros.Dortmund finished third last year and will need their key players to continue the good work. Jadon Sancho has left for Manchester United, and Erling Haaland's tenure with the club is fast approaching. Bellingham could be the kind of midfielder England need to have, and if he can continue his promising start by playing in top-level matches on a regular basis. Olley11. A fresh challenge for Jesse MarschThe Bundesliga's coaching circus has seen seven of the eight top clubs change managers in recent months. Jesse Marsch is the person with the greatest stakes and who has made the biggest leap from their previous jobs.Play 1:11 Jesse Marsch's move from U.S. Soccer to RB Leipzig is a 'great deal' Gab and Juls discuss RB Leipzig’s appointment of Jesse Marsch manager for next season.American tactician Marsch did an amazing job at FC Salzburg, winning the Austrian Bundesliga twice and the Austrian Cup once again in two seasons. This is more than he deserves. However, Leipzig and the German Bundesliga are quite different. Marsch has this opportunity to prove that he can handle the challenge and will succeed in such a competitive environment.Nagelsmann's Leipzig finished second last year, seven points behind Bayern. He missed many opportunities for Leipzig to challenge the champions more. Although Dayot Upamecano, a defender, and Ibrahima Konate were lost in the transfer window due to illness, Die Roten Bullen signed great players in Josko Gvardiol and Brian Brobbey. The excitement surrounding Dominik Zoboszlai the playmaker, who Marsch has worked so well with in Austria, is also evident. He has yet to make his Leipzig debut. They just need some Marsch magic. -- Laurens12. What will Nagelsmann's Bayern be like?Nagelsmann is still the most popular young manager. He has five seasons of top flight management and turned 31 in August. But now Nagelsmann must perform at Bayern, which can be a completely new game. The transition should not be too difficult on paper. Bayern is used to pressing plus possession. There are however other dangers.How much will the old players be able to buy in to the new boss, despite his talent? You can't rely solely on track records to win people over. Bayern's veterans have won every trophy in sight, while Nagelsmann has yet to win one.In what ways will the coaches' upper echelons stay out of his way? There is a fine line between public support for the coach and interference from higher ups. Sometimes they are two sides of one coin. He had the perfect balance at Leipzig. Bayern is a completely different story. Previous managers who won trophies will attest to this.Julian Nagelsmann will feel pressure like never before when he is in charge of Bayern Munich. Sven Hoppe/picture Alliance via Getty ImagesHow will he handle the immense size, scope and pressure of the Bayern job. He was a great performer at TSG Hoffenheim, Leipzig and other media attention areas, but he is hardly as good as what he will face in Munich. MarcottiSeason starts Friday, August 1320 teamsReigning champions: Atletico Madrid13. 13. Will Aguero rediscover the form he used to be?Sergio Aguero, of all the players who have something to prove or need to bounce back in 2021-22 is the most important. His move to Barcelona comes after a disappointing season in Manchester City (seven league games, four goals), and numerous injuries.Aguero must impress now that Messi is gone. Aguero will be playing in a league that is less intense than the Premier League. However, he just turned 33 so his fitness is still a concern. This week's news about a calf injury that could cause him to miss as much as 10 weeks of play is already proving it.Aguero was part Argentina's Copa America-winning team this summer. However, he didn’t play much and his performances at the tournament weren’t very encouraging. This is not a good sign considering the competition for places in Barca. Aguero will be required to play regularly alongside Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay.Aguero should be prepared, otherwise his move to Camp Nou could quickly go sour. -- Laurens14. Ancelotti vs. Madrid Fans (and Perez).Although it may seem strange to say this, it seems that Carlo Ancelotti was the "continuity solutions" manager after Zinedine Zidane's departure (again), much like Zidane (his former assistant), was after Rafa Benitez. Florentino Perez, club president, wants it (until that he decides not to). A guy who can deal with the media well, keeps the stars happy, and has enough playing styles to fit any player.Play 1:08 Gareth Bale can get back to his best under Carlo Ancelotti. Steve Nicol is skeptical that Gareth Bale can revive his Real Madrid career under Carlo Ancelotti.They will also deliver results.It's difficult to believe that Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe won't suddenly walk in the door -- as some Spanish dailies hope -- so he will need to work with Zidane's team of players, plus David Alaba and Sergio Ramos, all of whom are one year older. He will need to match or exceed Zidane's results while still generating a positive vibe.This seems to be easier than the former. MarcottiFRENCH LIGUE 1Season starts Friday, August 620 teamsReigning champions: LOSC Lille15. Messi in ParisIf you haven't heard, the greatest-ever Barcelona player (and possibly the game) is about to join Paris Saint-Germain. His contract with LaLiga was not able to work due to the restrictions of the salary rules. He is now leaving for a new challenge. One he didn’t want but one that he will enjoy in pursuit of new trophies, and hopefully, a return to the top of the Champions League.The trophy that has proved so difficultly to find for the French super-club is undoubtedly the reason he is there. It is also the reason the club wants to complete their list of awards. He shows how he works with Neymar, his former Barca teammate. In the coming months, Kylian Mbappe will be revealed as well as Gianluigi, Italy's top-ranked goalkeeper, and Sergio Ramos (his former rival in El Clasico). One thing is certain: We will be watching. James Tyler16. Excitement around revamped NiceThe British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe must have been excited about the new offer in Nice's first summer as owner. His club just got the best manager in league. Christophe Galtier led Lille to a remarkable, but unexpected, Ligue 1 title last year, and Ratcliffe hopes that he can do the same on the Riviera.Nice spent their offseason wisely and quickly, and some very exciting young talents arrived this summer: Calvin Stengs and Justin Kluivert, Jean-Clair Todibo, Pablo Rosario and the experienced Mario Lemina. Kasper Dolberg, Youcef Atal and Hicham Boudaoui are just a few of the talented players in the team.STREAM ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ Dan Thomas is joined with Craig Burley, Shaka Herlop and other experts to bring you the most recent highlights and discuss the major storylines. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S only).Galtier, who is known for his ability to improve young players' skills, will have Walter Benitez and Dante as support. There's plenty to be excited about at every level of the Nice project. -- Laurens17. 17.It's a transfer that continues to make little sense. In 2019, Arsenal signed William Saliba from Saint-Etienne for 27m. Yet, he has yet to make a single appearance for Arsenal. The 2019-20 season he was on loan at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Gunners fans expected that the young centre-back would be given the chance to show his skills under Mikel Arteta. Arsenal failed to lend him again last summer and shipped him to Nice in January and Marseille for the next campaign.Saliba, who is just 20 years old, has plenty of time. However, he could be three years into a five year Arsenal contract and still not have ever played for the club. This year is crucial, whether to gain momentum in advance of a permanent move that would bring stability to his career or to finally have a chance at establishing himself at Emirates Stadium.Saliba will be joined by Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal player), and Konrad de la Fuente (American international). This is part of a massive overhaul of Marseille's squad, which has made 10 signings so far, hoping to improve on last season's fifth place finish. -- OgdenAfter eight years in Barcelona, Konrad de la Fuente, an American international, moved to Marseille this summer. NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images18. Gomes to fulfill his potential in FranceManchester United was disappointed when Angel Gomes, a player with a lot of supporters and coaches, decided to move to Lille last summer.He spent last season in Portugal on loan at Boavista. Now he is back in France for preseason. There will be lots of eyes on him, especially if he has a chance to play with the French champions. Gomes, who will be 21 this August, is at the stage in his career where he wants to make promise into reality. -- Dawson19. What can Lille do for an encore?Christophe Galtier was replaced by Jocelyn Gourvennec, a surprise appointment. Mike Maignan, goalkeeper, and Boubakary Soumare were also sent off (to AC Milan and Leicester City), but there are still many questions. To the dismay of fans, who hoped for some growth at this stage, it feels like an uphill battle. MarcottiITALIAN SERIE ASeason starts Saturday, August 2120 teamsInter Milan: Reigning champions20. 20.Although it isn't the most well-known or expensive deal of the summer, it could be a great one for AC Milan. Olivier Giroud arrived in San Siro to become Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s No. 2 but the 2018 World Cup winner could be the X-factor in an exciting season for the Rossoneri.They have a strong and deep team, and the Frenchman will bring his experience and winning mentality. He has won numerous trophies in every place he played, including Chelsea and Montpellier. He also won European trophies and domestic titles, as well as a World Cup. This is what Milan was lacking, with Ibrahimovic being the only "serial" winner in the dressing room. Giroud's debut goal for the Italian giants, though in a friendly against Nice was a great moment that made Milan fans feel really positive about this season. -- LaurensOlivier Giroud will bring experience and a winning mindset to an AC Milan on the rise. Claudio Villa/AC Milan via Getty ImagesInternational21. 21. Ronaldo will break the men's international goals recordIt is only a matter time before Cristiano Ronaldo surpasses Ali Daei to be the greatest goal scorer of international men's football. Portugal's captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, was equal with Daei (ex-Iran striker) on 109 goals during Euro 2020. However, he lost to Belgium in the round 16 which denied him the chance of breaking the record.Portugal's next match is in Faro against the Republic of Ireland on Sept. 1. Before clashes with Qatar (Sept. 4), and Azerbaijan (7 September 7), it's safe to assume that Ronaldo will score a record-breaking 110th goal during one of those fixtures. Ronaldo will make history with this goal. -- Ogden22. 22.Norway qualifying for the 2022 World Cup at Qatar is something I want to see in the 2021-22 season. This is not based on distant Norwegian ancestry, nor a desire to go back in time to the 1990s when Egil Olsen's long ball Norway team was playing. It's based on a determination to see Erling Haaland on the most important stage.World Cups are about the best football players being able show their talent. Qatar will undoubtedly be a better tournament with Haaland involved, especially as the next World Cup is likely to be when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo leave the international stage. Norway is in a difficult qualifying group with Turkey and the Netherlands. Only the top team will be guaranteed to qualify for Qatar. However, they are just one point away from the top spot so Haaland's hopes of reaching the September qualifiers are still alive. -- Ogden23. 23.It looked as if Aloysius Maria van Gaal (or Louis, to his friends), had decided to end his coaching career. However, five years later, after insisting that he had retired to his villa, in Portugal, he was named coach of the Netherlands for the third consecutive time. He did it just one week before his 70th Birthday.After the Euro 2020 exit of Frank de Boer, Louis van Gaal will now be in charge of the Netherlands. Broer van den Boom/BSR Agency/Getty ImagesMany believe Van Gaal is the man of yesterday in football coaching. He was a great coach in the 1990s and 2000s. However, he did lead the Dutch to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal will have to decide if this is too much, but it will be interesting to see if his patient possession philosophy can still work in this era of fast counterattacks and high pressing. -- OgdenFinally...24. Crazy scenes from the pitchAll is well. We will see fans in the stadiums again this season, thanks to an easement of COVID-19 measures. It's also hoped that we will soon return to full capacity in all top leagues.Fans are the lifeblood and soul of football. This has been a well-known cliche, but it is now undisputed. Last season was another great season of football, but it was often dull and forgettable without the fans. With fans back in stadiums, I would love to see the wild celebrations when a late winner is announced. I want to hear the chanting and see the players share the joy of winning or scoring with the fans.I want loud stadiums back and the flags and banners that bring them to life. It will hopefully happen soon and safely. -- Ogden