Eintracht Frankfurt v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga

6 Intriguing Sub-Plots to Look Forward to Around Europe as the 2017/18 Season Kicks Off

The start of the football season has arrived in England, but this weekend the rest of Europe's big leagues will join in the fun.


Bitter sagas, contract rebels and transfer requests (both submitted and ignored) have dominated the headlines, as deadline day approaches and spending reaches possibly immoral levels.


However, look beyond the usual and there are plenty of side stories and sub plots to look out for around Europe this season. 


Here's six to watch out for as a new campaign gets underway...

1. England - Wembley Wobble

Tottenham Hotspur v Juventus - Pre-Season Friendly

Tottenham's stage fright at Wembley is well-known. Mauricio Pochettino's side won just once in four European ties at the home of football last season, as the switch to a bigger midweek venue failed to pay off. In nine competitive fixtures at Wembley since 2007, Spurs have won just twice.


Spurs are the only team to have been in the title race for the last two seasons, and arguably boast the Premier League's strongest starting XI. Had they been facing another campaign at White Hart Lane, they might have been more people's pre-season favourites. However, Pochettino and his players will need to adapt quickly to their new temporary home in order to mount another title tilt.


While their early fixture list is reasonably kind, visits of Chelsea and Liverpool before the end of October ramp up the pressure to get used to the Wembley way fast.


Also watch out for: David Wagner's German revolution at Premier League first timers Huddersfield Town.

2. Spain - Battle of the Basques

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Osasuna may have been relegated last season, but the Basque force remains strong in La Liga in 2017/18.


The region has been notable for providing over-achievers full of homegrown talent for some time, but top half finishes for Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Alaves and Eibar marked a particularly special season in 2016/17 for the Basques.


All four sides have had fairly stable summers, without losing many of their key men. However, Alaves - who also reached the Copa del Rey final earlier in the year - saw Mauricio Pellegrino leave for Southampton and replaced with another exciting young Argentine in Luis Zubeldía.


Top four remains the holy grail for Sociedad in particular, and they are expected to push the likes of Sevilla and Villarreal close next spring. It will also be interesting to see if summer arrival Adnan Januzaj can get his once promising career back on track, after stalling at Sunderland. 


Also watch out for: Malaga have lost star men Carlos Kameni, Pablo Fornals and Sandro Ramirez this summer, but have a reputation for rebuilding with youth. Will another Isco rise from the ashes? 

3. Italy - The Other Title Challengers

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Serie A has the potential to be its most competitive in close to a decade. AC Milan and Inter's remodelling has been the talk of the summer. However, another team that has resisted spending big may actually be the likeliest to prevent Juventus from reaching the summit come May, for the first time since 2011.


Napoli's steady improvement over the last three years has somewhat gone under the radar outside of Italy, but Maurizio Sarri is building something special despite the loss of Gonzalo Higuain.


In 2016/17 Napoli were Serie A's top scorers in their first season without the Argentine, as Dries Mertens in a central role plundered 28 (four more than Higuain managed with Juventus to the delight of the population of Naples). Lorenzo Insigne also sparkled, while Marek Hamsik cemented his role as one of the division's finest leaders.


Despite going from runners up in 2016 to third in 2017, Sarri's team cut the gap on Juve from nine points to four and if the front three can perform with the flair and freedom of last season, Milan will need to spend a lot more money to catch up.


Also watch out for: Atalanta qualified for the Europa League under Gian Piero Gasperini in 2016/17. Can they still compete after losing Andrea Conti and Franck Kessie?

4. Germany - Going Extinct?

Hamburger SV v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga

One of German football's oldest and best supported clubs, der Dinosaurier (the Dinosaurs) are faced with the very real possibility of breaking their remarkable record and being relegated from the Bundesliga for the first ever time in 2018.


Thanks to the upturn in fortunes under Markus Gisdol in the second half of last season, Hamburg avoided the ignominy of the relegation playoff, but worries still remain ahead of the new campaign.


Hamburg were the second lowest scorers in Germany's top flight in 2016/17 and the likes of Bobby Wood and Nicolai Muller will need to provide more firepower to avoid the drop this time around.


Also watch out for: 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco takes over managerial duties at under-performing Schalke 04.

5. France - Great Expectations

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While Neymar threatens to dominate every google search dedicated to the subject of French football this summer, the arrival of two managerial heavyweights in the form of Claudio Ranieri and Marcelo Bielsa adds spice to a league that is partial to an underdog story.


Half eyes around Europe (but particularly in Leicester) will be kept on Ranieri's performance with Nantes - who lost their opening weekend fixture 3-0 to Bielsa's Lille.


The 2016 Premier League winner isn't expected to provide exactly the same sort of heroics with the Canaries as the Foxes, but comparisons will inevitably be drawn. A lack of investment and the loss of young talent Amine Harit point to a difficult task ahead, but if anyone can spring a surprise...


Also watch out for: Lyon may have lost Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso but there are still reasons to believe they could mount a title challenge, with Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir fit and firing.

6. Champions League - The Newbies

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RB Leipzig have already qualified automatically, while Nice, Hoffenheim, Istanbul Basaksehir and Azerbaijani champions Qarabag could all still make the Champions League group stage for the first ever time, should they overcome their playoff opponents this August.


While Hoffenheim present the direct challenge, Liverpool fans will have a watchful eye on Leipzig's Naby Keita, whose performances this season in the spotlight of European football could see competition for his signature rise tenfold next summer.


The likes of Timo Werner, Mario Balotelli, Jean Michael Seri and Kerem Demirbay all have the potential to delight at Europe's top table given the chance.

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