12 Days of Football 2018: Twelve Dreamers Dreaming
On the 12th Day of Football, UEFA gave to me
Twelve Dreamers dreaming,
Eleven Keepers Keeping,
Nine Ladies Playing,
Eight Managers Managing,
Six Games Amazing,
FIVE GOLDEN GOALS,
Four Calls Blown,
Three French Clubs,
Two title races and
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City
Welcome to the final instalment in It's Round and It's White's second annual holiday football celebration. Over the past 11 days, we've given you a different aspect of the 2018 calendar year to sing about. What better way to end the song than with a dozen parties who either dared to dream in 2018 or gave us reason to do so for future seasons. Ben Lang has selected his top twelve future stars. Here they are.
A World Cup run, a blistering heatwave and the unlikely revival of waistcoats. Thanks to Gareth Southgate’s side, it was a summer to remember for England as the Three Lions defied the odds to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990.
Southgate’s diverse and youthful side played a fearless brand of football, overcoming Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden on their way to the semi-final against Croatia. The Colombia victory was particularly memorable for Jordan Pickford’s heroics helping England to their first World Cup penalty shoot-out success.
Captain Harry Kane stole the headlines in Russia, scoring six goals, becoming the first Englishman to win the Golden Boot since Gary Lineker in 1986.
The nation’s “summer of love” eventually came to a crushing end at the Luzhniki Stadium when Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time winner consigned the Three Lions to a 3-2 defeat.
England built on their promising World Cup with a 3-2 success over Spain that helped them qualify for the Nations League semifinal. There is plenty more to come from this England side.
“Allez! Allez! Allez!”
The Italian disco hit quickly became the soundtrack to a season in which Liverpool embarked on a memorable Champions League adventure that culminated with their appearance in the final at Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex.
The Reds have a rich history on the continent. They added another chapter in 2018. After topping their group, Jurgen Klopp’s fearless side saw off Porto in style, leading to a mouth-watering tie against Manchester City. Liverpool raced to a 3-0 lead in the first leg at Anfield, then came from behind to win 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium against the eventual Premier League winners. They then beat Roma 7-6 on aggregate to book their place in the final against holders Real Madrid.
Klopp’s side received wide plaudits during their European journey. Most was reserved for the Reds’ attacking threat, comprising Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. The trio combined to score 29 goals throughout their Champions League campaign. Salah spearheaded the Reds’ charge with 10 goals and consistently brilliant performances.
Following their European success last season, Liverpool sit atop the Premier League table heading into the New Year, while also preparing for a Champions League Round-of-16 tie against Bayern Munich.
On March 5th 2017, Atlanta United played their inaugural competitive game. Just 21 months later, the Georgia-based side clinched the MLS Cup with a 2-0 victory over Portland Timbers. Some feat.
Atlanta were led by former Barcelona and Argentina manager Gerardo Martino, who led his side to finish second place in the Eastern Conference. The Five Stripes dispatched saw off New York City FC and New York Red Bulls in the play-off semi-final and final respectively to reach the MLS Cup.
In their two-year history, Atlanta established themselves as the best-supported team in MLS with an average match attendance of 53,002. Their gate regularly surpasses 70,000 for a single match reveals how quickly the club has grown.
The Five Stripes used their frenzied support to their advantage during the season, winning 17 games at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and losing only two.
Top scorer Josef Martinez shattered the league's regular-season  and combined scoring records with 35 goals in 39 appearances. The Venezuelan was awarded League and MLS Cup MVP trophies.
Since their cup win, Martino has left the club to manage the Mexico national team. He was replaced by shortlived Crystal Palace boss Frank de Boer.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have long held a duopoly in La Liga. In the past decade, Atletico joined the hegemony. The trio have been the only serious title candidates during the period. This year, Sevilla has joined the fray.
Pablo Machin’s side topped the table at times in the season's first half. They completed the fall session sitting third, five points behind leaders Barcelona but ahead of Real Madrid. After an indifferent start to the season, Sevilla’s 3-0 success over Real in September was the statement victory that proved they should be taken seriously.
Los Rojiblancos recruited well during the off-season to replace big names such as Steven Nzonzi and Joaquin Correa. Andre Silva was a particularly productive summer addition. The Portuguese scored eight goals in the first 19 matches. Goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik performs well between the sticks, anchoring the defence, affording Machin a solid foundation on which to build.
Signings complemented the players already at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Ever Banega and Wissam Ben-Yedder also enjoyed a fruitful half-season.
Their title challenge stalled in December. Victory over Girona sandwiched between two draws against Valencia and Leganes while Barcelona found its stride. However, Sevilla remain very much in the mix entering the New Year. It will be intriguing how they fare in La Liga's second half.
Lyon asserted their status as Europe’s best female side after clinching the Champions League for a third consecutive year and fifth time overall. The French side overcame Wolfsburg with a dramatic 4-1 extra-time victory in Kiev.
England’s Lucy Bronze was part of the side, claiming her first Champions League winners’ medal after transferring from Manchester City. Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerbeg spearheaded her side’s charge to the trophy with a goal in the final. Amandine Henry, Eugenie Le Sommer and Camille Abily also made the scoresheet.
Lyon continue their love affair with the tournament.T heir Round-of-16 tie against Ajax ended 13-0 on aggregate. Les Lyonnaises face a finals rematch in the quarters. Wolfsburg once again stand in their path as they seek a fourth title on the trot.
While preparing to host the 2018 World Cup, Russia failed to win in seven friendlies. The host population was excited about a great sporting show coming to Russia, not so much with their side’s prospects.
Then Russia cruised to a 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. Setting the tone for the tournament, pessimisim quickly turned into optimism.
Their next game brought a 3-0 victory over Egypt that secured their place in the knock-out stage. Their next outing saw them fall to defeat against Uruguay. With Spain on the horizon, expectations dwindled to pre-tournament levels.
When Artyom Dzyuba’s penalty cancelled out Spain’s early lead, taking the game to a penalty shoot-out that the hosts won 4-3, the home crowd could scarcely believe it. It was a milestone for football in Russia.
Russia crashed out in the semi-finals on penalties against eventual finalists Croatia, but not before Mario Fernandes had scored a late extra-time leveller to make the score 2-2. Such moments will live long in the memory of Russian football fans and inspire a new Russian footballing generation. Here was a country where football well and truly came home.
The Championship is renowned for its many twists and turns. Results are difficult to predict and the bottom-placed side is often capable of beating the league leaders. Last season, there was one constant thread in the Championship. Wolves were always the team to beat. They ended the season with 99 points, securing their promotion in mid-April.
Following a 15th-place finish in 2016/17, Nuno Espirito Santo was appointed manager. The £16 million summer purchase of Ruben Neves was a statement signing that expressed Wolves’ intentions for the season ahead. Nuno went on to form a side that became extremely comfortable with their identity. They took the league by storm with their aggressive brand of football and always looked favourites for promotion.
Over the summer they made a number of impressive recruits including Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio and Diogo Jota on a permanent deal, earning the nickname FC Portugal in the process. Regardless, they looked suitably equipped for life in the top-flight.
It is unsurprising then, that Nuno’s side adapted to the Premier League very well. They sit in seventh after a stunning 3-1 victory away to Tottenham Hotspur last time out. Could 2019 see Wolves push for a place in Europe? You wouldn’t put it past them.
In 2017, Jadon Sancho turned his back on Pep Guardiola. The South Londoner, just 17, was already frustrated at his lack of first-team opportunities at Manchester City.
Sancho's move to Borussia Dortmund was widely questioned by football fans. But after earning his stripes at Die Borussen last season, he is now an integral part in a side six points clear atop the Bundesliga table.
Having started the season as a substitute, the 18-year-old carved a path into Lucien Favre's starting line-up over the past two months. His flair and trickery produced seven goals and ten assists before the winter break.
Gareth Southgate took notice. Sancho fits the England manager's prerequisites for a Three Lions player. The teenager made his national debut in October.
Sancho broke the mould with his decision to move to Germany in 2017, but his move inspired others to make a similar transition. Ademola Lookman and Reiss Nelson are also plying their trade in the Bundesliga. Sancho is not only a supremely talented footballer. He is a trend-setter.
This was the night of a lifetime for Roma fans. The 4-4 aggregate scoreline only tells part of the story. Roma staged the most unlikely of comebacks to slay European heavyweights Barcelona. This came just one year after Barca had mounted a comeback of their own, coming from 4-0 down to beat PSG 6-5 on aggregate.
Heading into their quarter-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico, Barcelona were strong favourites after a comfortable 4-1 victory at Camp Nou. But Roma had other ideas.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s side boasted a stellar home record in the competition, having won every home game without conceding a goal. Edin Dzeko scored an early goal to reinforce belief. Daniele De Rossi then fired home from the spot before Kostas Manolas headed the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to seal a victory on away goals for the Italian side. At this point, the Stadio Olimpico erupted.
Roma may have failed to progress further than the semi-finals, but this result will go down as one of the great Champions League comebacks.
It takes a heap of talent to inspire your country to a World Cup victory. To do it at 19 requires something even more special. Over the summer, Kylian Mbappe was special. His relentless talent helped France win the 2018 World Cup.
Mbappe was born into a Cameroonian-Algerian-French family in working-class Parisian suburb Bondy. He grew up idolising Cristiano Ronaldo and players who are now reaching the end of their careers. He’s now usurping their fame.
His style is direct and ferocious. He showcased it in France’s 4-3 victory against Argentina, surging from his own half into the Argentinian box to earn his side a penalty. He went on to score two goals to win the game, half his four goals in the tournament.
Mbappe also delivers at club level. He scored 16 goals in 19 games for PSG this season, recording a further 10 assists. His performances throughout the year earned him fourth place in the Ballon d’Or voting, one place higher than Lionel Messi.
Mbappe has already achieved an extraordinary amount for a 20-year-old. He has further goals to accomplish. His talent is enormous, his hunger limitless.
Since the Class of ’92 invested in Salford City in 2014, the club has gone from strength to strength. Their third promotion in four years came in 2018 when they won the Vanarama National League North.
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt targeted promotion to the Championship within 15 years from their takeover. Now sitting in the play-off positions in the National League, they are on track.
Over the summer, Salford added a number of new additions. None were more intriguing than Adam Rooney. The striker moved from Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen to North-West England in a wholly unexpected move. It showed the calibre of player Salford are able to attract even at an early stage in their journey.
Salford’s rise is not admired by everyone, particularly non-league clubs who have been left behind by the club’s newly discovered wealth. However, there can be no doubting that 2018 has been a year of excellent progress for Salford City.
In the same year as the men’s team’s successful summer, Phil Neville’s women’s side provided England football fans with hope for next summer by booking their place in the World Cup. The Lionesses finished top of their group, ahead of Wales by five points. They beat the Dragons on August 31st to secure their place in the tournament.
Following their semi-final defeat in 2015, Neville’s side will feel confident of going one better this time around. They boast a wealth of talent in their ranks, including Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and Beth Mead.
Their qualification came during an exciting year for women’s football which saw the birth of the Women’s Super League. This new format aims to increase the sport's profile and ensure all top-flight teams are earning full-time wages.
While also improving the overall quality of the league, reformation has signalled more interest and coverage of women’s football since the start of the season.
Women’s football is on the up. It may even come home this summer.
Happy New Year.