Football NewsSunday 1st January 2017

12 bold predictions for 2017: Simeone leaves Atletico, Poch to Barcelona

12 bold predictions for 2017: Simeone leaves Atletico, Poch to Barcelona

1. Atletico fail to qualify for Champions League, Simeone joins Inter

This is the unfathomable prediction that might somehow come to pass. Atletico Madrid bounced back emphatically from their poor start to the season (which saw Antoine Griezmann suggest that the Colchoneros could end up "fighting relegation") but Diego Simeone's men subsequently dipped again and now find themselves nine points adrift of top spot.

Villarreal and Sevilla have joined the top-four conversation, meanwhile, and Real Sociedad have been in rampant form. All three of those teams are currently ahead of sixth-placed Atleti, and Simeone's time in the Spanish capital looks to be coming to an end – not least after his contract was cut short by two years in September.

 

2. Liverpool sign Sergio Rico

Sevilla will always, to a certain extent, be a selling club, with young talent developed, polished and let go for a profit. Sergio Rico has impressed this season and Liverpool need an upgrade between the sticks, so keep an eye on this potential transfer as the year progresses.

3. Man United qualify for Champions League

 Arsenal have been stuttering in recent weeks, while Jose Mourinho's side have belatedly hit their stride. The two sides look to be moving in different directions at present, and United's current momentum arguably makes them favourites in the race for fourth. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is providing some much-needed creativity and dynamism, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is scoring goals, Paul Pogba has found his feet and the likes of Ander Herrera, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick are also impressing. The Champions League awaits.

4. James moves to Old Trafford

James Rodriguez doesn't seem to have a future at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Zinedine Zidane preferring other options. If United do qualify for Europe's premier club competition, the Colombian playmaker could be the perfect No.10 in Mourinho's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

5. Emery doesn’t last the season

It's been a half-season to forget for PSG, who romped to the title in 2015/16 but currently find themselves behind both Nice and Monaco in the Ligue 1 standings. Unai Emery has failed to find the right balance despite having a hugely talented squad to work with, and the ex-Sevilla boss could pay for continued underachievement with his job.

 6. Real Madrid win consecutive European Cups

The gift of Zinedine Zidane keeps on giving: the former France international simply refuses to lose, no matter how poorly his team play. Real Madrid's ability to continue winning despite being far from their best is an ominous sign for the rest of Europe as los Blancos look to become the first team to retain the Champions League in its current format (Milan last achieved the feat in 1990).

There are probably stronger teams in the competition but, as The Guardian's Sid Lowe put it, Zidane has won more trophies (three) than he's lost games (two). Don't rule them out.

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7. Pochettino replaces Luis Enrique at Barcelona

Luis Enrique has come under pressure at Barcelona this term, with individual brilliance often masking strategic errors. He could be on his way out of Camp Nou at the end of the campaign, with Tottenham boss Pochettino a potential replacement.

And why not? The Argentine may have previously managed local rivals Espanyol, but his strong belief in a high press to retain possession will go down well with fans of Catalonia's biggest club.

 8. Man United sell De Gea

The dust has since settled on 2015's fax-machine fiasco, when Real Madrid's attempt to sign David de Gea was thwarted in comic fashion. This story might not be over yet, though: Keylor Navas hasn't looked his usual self since before the Copa America, and Madrid retain an interest in Spain's No.1 goalkeeper.

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9. Milan return to the Champions League

Vincenzo Montella has done a brilliant job at San Siro, turning Milan from mid-table also-rans into Champions League challengers. With plenty of youthful verve within the Rossoneri's squad, Montella will be confident of taking the seven-time European champions back to the biggest stage of all.

10. Veratti and Fabregas swap teams

Chelsea have been linked with a move for PSG metronome Marco Verratti in the January window, but the French giants won't want to sell him midway through the campaign.

The Italian could demand a move away from the Parc des Princes in the summer, though, while Chelsea would be willing to let Cesc Fabregas leave if they're able to secure an upgrade. It's a logical swap.

11. Arsenal beat Bayern but finish outside top four

A Champions League is the only thing missing from Arsene Wenger's medal collection, and the Frenchman will fancy his side's chances of finally overcoming Bayern Munich – in something of a transitional year under Carlo Ancelotti – in the knockout stage of this season's tournament.

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Progression to the quarter-finals could come at a cost, though, with Manchester United and Tottenham both hot on the Gunners' heels in the Premier League. This might be the year that Arsenal slip out of the top four.

12. Valencia relegated to the second tier

The mess at Mestalla might be beyond repair; Valencia are no longer just treading water, they're drowning. There's certainly enough talent in the squad for Cesare Prandelli's charges to win their battle against relegation, but the club is in disarray and crisis is never too far around the corner.

What's more, Sporting Gijon and Granada have shown signs of life in their recent outings, which spells bad news for los Che.

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