Most yellow cards, top scorers, relegation and more

    The 2022-23 European soccer season will soon begin, with teams still fine-tuning their squads during an exciting transfer window. From the two-horse race in the Premier League, a new attacking rivalry in El Clasico to the French champions, Paris Saint-Germain, looking for European glory, our insiders share their picks and predictions across Europe’s Big Five leagues.

    Which player will win the Golden Boot? Which team will be crowned champions of Europe? Who will rack up the most yellow cards?

    ESPN FC writers Rob Dawson, Gab Marcotti, Constantin Eckner, Julien Laurens and Alex Kirkland make their forecasts.


    Top four

    Barcelona’s summer transfer window has been ominously successful, strengthening the team in every key area. Xavi’s first season as coach was promising, and now he has the tools at his disposal to take Barca back to the top. Real Madrid won’t be far away, but a repeat of last year’s near-perfect season feels unrealistic. Atletico Madrid should be more consistent this time around — especially if Antoine Griezmann finds his form — and Villarreal have enough quality to take fourth, without the distraction of Champions League football this time.

    1st place: Barcelona
    2nd place: Real Madrid
    3rd place: Atletico Madrid
    4th place: Villarreal

    NFL Betting

    Top scorer

    Robert Lewandowski. At last, some serious competition for Karim Benzema! Real Madrid’s captain top scored in LaLiga last year with 27 goals, nine more than closest rival Iago Aspas, but that’s a league tally Lewandowski has topped in six of his last seven seasons at Bayern Munich. Benzema won’t give up his crown without a fight, and their rivalry will be a lot of fun to watch: not quite vintage Messi vs. Ronaldo level, but not far off.


    Cadiz, Real Valladolid, Almeria. Cadiz only survived by a single point last season — after an improbable escape on the final day — and they haven’t made any significant improvements to the squad this summer. Of the promoted sides, Girona should score enough goals to stay up after adding Taty Castellanos to an attack led by Cristhian Stuani, but Real Valladolid look likely to struggle. Almeria have been active in the market but if they start poorly, manager Rubi will come under immediate pressure.

    Best goalkeeper

    Thibaut Courtois. Sevilla’s Bono won Spain’s Zamora trophy for the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio last season, but there’s no question that Courtois was the best keeper in the country. His Champions League final masterclass came as no surprise to those of us who’d watched him perform miracles all year. Real Madrid’s defence should improve with the incorporation of Antonio Rudiger, too.

    Most yellow cards

    The two dirtiest teams in LaLiga last season were Valencia — then coached by Jose Bordalas — and his previous side, Getafe. While Bordalas is now gone, his replacement at Mestalla Stadium, Gennaro Gattuso, has a similar win-at-all-costs mentality. If we’re going to pick one player, though, let’s go for Getafe’s Urugayan full-back Damian Suarez, who has been one of LaLiga’s most comically enjoyable hard-men for years now.

    Champions League winner

    Just like last year, it’s hard to look beyond the two best teams in the Premier League and Europe: Liverpool and Manchester City. City’s continued ability to choke in the latter stages of this competition is inexplicable given their quality and depth, if no longer surprising; Liverpool will feel they were the better side in defeat to Real Madrid in last season’s final. They have the experience, and the coach in Jurgen Klopp, to go one step further this time. — Kirkland



    Julien Laurens explains why right now he has Chelsea finishing sixth in the Premier League table.

    Premier League

    Top four

    It’s hard to see either Manchester City or Liverpool dropping out of the top four, which leaves two spots for Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and possibly Newcastle. Tottenham have spent well this summer and have had the benefit of a full preseason under Antonio Conte, and Chelsea still look strong despite something of a chaotic offseason. Arsenal and Man United will run them close, but Spurs and Chelsea will make up the top four alongside Man City and Liverpool.

    1st place: Manchester City
    2nd place: Liverpool
    3rd place: Spurs
    4th place: Chelsea

    Top scorer

    Harry Kane. He’s a proven Premier League goal scorer and Conte is a master at getting the best out of his centre forwards. Tottenham should have a good season, which means plenty of chances for Kane. The only issue will be whether or not he can stay fit and how much the World Cup in Qatar takes out of him ahead of the second half of the season.


    Brentford, Bournemouth, Fulham. Brentford went through a poor spell last season when it looked like they might get dragged into the relegation scrap, and they’ve lost Christian Eriksen to Man United. As for Bournemouth and Fulham, it’s always difficult for newly promoted sides, and as things stand, their summer recruitment doesn’t look good enough to keep them up.

    Best goalkeeper

    Man City and Liverpool are both thrilling attacking teams, but they’re also very good defensively — mainly because opposition teams hardly ever have the ball. It means Brazilians Ederson and Alisson are the two prime candidates for the Golden Glove, and with City set to be without centre-back Aymeric Laporte until at least September, Alisson looks a good bet to claim the title.

    Most yellow cards

    Granit Xhaka. At 29 years old, the Switzerland midfielder isn’t going to change the way he plays now. Whether Mikel Arteta wants him to or not, he’s still going to fly into tackles and get on the wrong side of referees. Only three players had more bookings than Xhaka last season and he’s a good shout to top the list this time around.

    Champions League winner

    Manchester City. Pep Guardiola has got Man City regularly reaching the latter stages of the Champions League and they will get over the line sooner rather than later. They are too good a team not to. A lot will depend on how quickly Erling Haaland settles and whether he can influence the biggest games at such a young age, but all the ingredients are there for a first Champions League triumph. — Dawson



    Arne Friedrich explains why Bayern Munich is hopeful that Sadio Mane can replace some of Robert Lewandowski’s production.


    Top Four

    Before Sebastien Haller’s testicular tumour diagnosis, I would have confidently picked Borussia Dortmund to win the championship. However, with their new first-string striker missing large chunks of the season, Dortmund drop back to two in my power ranking. This leaves Bayern Munich as the only logical choice to win the league, and for an 11th time in a row, with Dortmund finishing second. Behind the two powerhouses, things become unpredictable, as both RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen have strong squads but may struggle in the first half of the season.

    Leverkusen should recover from early setbacks quicker, as Florian Wirtz will come back from his knee injury at some point and help them reach third place. Fourth goes to VfL Wolfsburg — not necessarily the most exciting side in the league but one that gets the job done under former Bayern boss Niko Kovac.

    1st place: Bayern Munich
    2nd place: Borussia Dortmund
    3rd place: Bayer Leverkusen
    4th place: VfL Wolfsburg

    Relegated teams

    This season could be the season in which Augsburg finally go down. The small club located 40 miles northwest of Munich has been in the Bundesliga since 2011 and outside of one or two outlier seasons, Augsburg have usually been in survival mode. Enrico Maassen, their new manager, has no top-flight experience, as he coached Dortmund’s reserve team most recently and semi-professional sides before that. While Maassen is undoubtedly talented, keeping Augsburg in the league might become an impossible task.

    The second team that will be relegated is Werder Bremen, who have made smart signings following their promotion, but still don’t possess enough quality to finish above the relegation zone.

    Top scorer

    If Patrik Schick could stay healthy, he could easily be one of Europe’s elite strikers. Ankle issues and other injuries have impacted the Czech’s career quite significantly, yet if he is fit, he turns into an almost unstoppable goal scorer. Schick is tall and technical, agile and astute — in short, he has it all. With decent distribution from his teammates at Bayer Leverkusen, he should be able to score 25 goals.

    Best goalkeeper

    This could become a close race between Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and Dortmund’s Gregor Kobel, given that these two will work behind stable defences and rarely make any mistakes. While Neuer has been among the best goalkeepers in the world for a decade, Kobel had his breakthrough rather recently. Still, it seems nothing can really rattle the 24-year-old Swiss. He will put up a great fight against Neuer, but has to yield to Germany’s no. 1 one more time.

    Most yellow cards

    This could be a close contest, because a couple of players in the league have made a habit out of picking up yellow cards. Even the highly gifted English international Jude Bellingham gets in the books every other weekend, even though he seems head and shoulders above most of his opponents. Be that as it may, I pick Mainz’s Stefan Bell to receive the most yellow cards. The 30-year-old is just a little bit too slow and, at the same time, quite old-school in his approach to defending. Some mistimed tackles and tactical fouls will get him to at least 10 bookings this year.

    Champions League winner

    We should never get carried away by early-season results, but Bayern Munich’s performance against RB Leipzig in the German Supercup last weekend makes you think that this side might be better now than before Robert Lewandowski left. Without a traditional target player up front, manager Julian Nagelsmann will exploit some of the tactical ideas that have been in the back of his mind since he arrived in Munich. If Bayern keep their team healthy, they are my pick to win the cup next June. — Eckner



    Paulo Dybala receives a hero’s welcome as he is unveiled as a Roma player.

    Serie A

    Top four

    I write this with a massive caveat. The window doesn’t close until the end of the month and Serie A squads, for a number of reasons, are likely to see major overhauls between now and then. So I reserve the right to make different predictions come Sept 1. That said, I think we’re looking at another Milanese derby for the title, with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving the needle towards Inter (though “Prince” Charles de Ketelaere” is a fascinating boost for Milan).

    I have Juventus at third, though Paul Pogba’s injury situation needs to be closely monitored. And Jose Mourinho’s Roma, with the addition of Paulo Dybala, look well placed to pip the Kalidou Koulibaly-less Napoli to fourth.

    1st place: Inter
    2nd place: AC Milan
    3rd place: Juventus
    4th place: Napoli

    Top Scorer

    I think it’s a three-way race between Lukaku, Lazio’s Ciro Immobile (hey, he’s already won it four times) and Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic. I’m picking Lukaku because I think Simone Inzaghi will tweak the attack to make it more centre-forward focused, while Immobile is a year older and Juve still have unanswered supply chain questions for Vlahovic (How will Chiesa bounce back from his injury? How fit will Pogba be? What condition is Angel Di Maria in?)


    Sampdoria, Salernitana, Cremonese. I have a soft spot for Cremonese, but they lost four key contributors to their promotion run who returned to their parent clubs on loan (Marco Carnesecchi, Gianluca Gaetano, Nicolo Fagioli and Caleb Okoli). Salernitana pulled off a miracle last year, but lightning rarely strikes twice. Sampdoria are a mess financially and are operating on a shoestring: it’s down to them and Lecce, and I’m backing Lecce to stay up.

    Best goalkeeper

    Mike Maignan. He conceded the fewest goals in Serie A last season and defensively Milan remain very strong. Inter should run them close, but it’s not clear to me who their starting keeper will be, so Maignan is the safer bet.

    Most yellow cards

    Gianluca Mancini of Roma. He led the league last season and Roma are likely to be fired up again this year. Roma as a team had the second-most yellow cards last season and Venezia have been relegated, so they look well-placed to take the crown here. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of Jose Mourinho’s intensity causing you to take more risks than you normally would.

    Champions League winner

    Manchester City. I really don’t know, and may well change my mind many times between now and the start of the season. I feel that Pep Guardiola is due and, bearing in mind how difficult it is to repeat, how last season took so much out of Liverpool, how Bayern have unanswered questions, how Paris Saint-Germain have a new coach, how Kylian Mbappe didn’t join Real Madrid and how Erling Haaland’s season won’t be affected by the World Cup, I’ll say City. — Marcotti



    Frank Leboeuf reacts to Thiago Silva’s comments about wanting Neymar to join him at Chelsea.

    Ligue 1

    Top Four

    Paris will be too strong for Ligue 1 once more. New manager Christophe Galtier can’t mess it up and the team played well in the Trophée des Champions with Lionel Messi and Neymar looking sharp. It is far more interesting to look behind PSG at who can finish in the top four. Lyon have done an impressive recruitment (Lacazette, Tolisso, Tagliafico). Monaco will compete, Lucien Favre can do good things at Nice who recruited well. Marseille, who are already going through a crisis with new manager Igor Tudor, will miss out.

    1st place: PSG
    2nd place: Lyon
    3rd place: Monaco
    4th place: Nice

    Top scorer

    Kylian Mbappe. He finished with 28 goals last season, 27 the year before, and 18 prior to that. So it is three seasons not going over the 30 goals a season mark, like he did in 2018-2019 with 33 and this is the year when he will get over 30 again. After extending his contract at PSG and having more responsibilities, he will be even stronger on the pitch. With Messi and Neymar looking sharp already, and Paris’ good recruitment this summer (Vitinha, Ekitike, Sanches, Mukiele), Mbappe will star even more than usual.


    Auxerre, Clermont, Lorient, Troyes. This season, four teams are going down as Ligue 1 is moving back to an 18-club league instead of 20 so it is vital to stay up. It is a battle between six clubs: the two promoted sides, Auxerre and Toulouse as well as Brest, Lorient, Clermont and Troyes. Toulouse have been smart this summer and their project is promising. For Auxerre, it will be tough. Same for Lorient and their new manager Regis Le Bris. Clermont lost their best player Mohamed Bayo, while there are tensions between players and manager already at Troyes.

    Best goalkeeper

    Walter Benitez won it with 14 clean sheets last season. He since left for PSV Eindhoven and has been replaced by Kasper Schmeichel. My winner for this season is Donnarumma. The PSG defence will be stronger with a back 3 and Galtier has chosen the Italian as his number one so he will play every league game unlike last season, and will keep many clean sheets. Alexander Nubel and Monaco could be up there too, alongside Patrick Pentz at Reims.

    Most yellow cards

    Facundo Medina. There are a few contenders. Marco Verratti “won” this award last season with 12, ahead of Lille’s Benjamin André and Lens‘ Facundo Medina with 11. Medina was also 3rd the season before with 11 again. I think he should be top this season. He is an aggressive defender in a team which presses a lot. So it is the right fit!

    Champions League winner

    PSG, finally, this is their year (I write this every summer). The squad is much better than last year, more balanced, younger and more French, even. New manager Christophe Galtier will make this squad click and the magic of Messi, Neymar and Mbappé, as well as the leadership of Sergio Ramos, will do the rest. “Paris, Champion of Europe” sounds great. — Laurens

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