With Manchester United, Paris St Germain, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Barcelona winning their leagues with ease, the big five leagues have been short of title excitement. The best entertainment was in Holland, but even there Ajax won with a game to spare, whilst in Portugal the most dramatic title race saw Benfica surrender their unbeaten run and lead in the penultimate match of the season to Porto.
But it is in the cups where the 2012-13 season has been so magnificent. Rarely has Europe been given so many unpredictable cup competitions to keep the campaign exciting. For a start there has been the Champions League. On the face of it, the best four teams were in the last four, and the best two in the final, but at least it was different, with two Germans sides meeting for the first time.
In England though, the FA Cup was won by a Wigan Athletic side who were also relegated. That was refreshing. A small team upsetting one of the big sides, as Manchester City succumbed to a last minute winner against their relegation haunted opponents. Usually it is the big side that wins the game with a late goal, but on this occasion, it was the other way around. England’s other cup competition was similarly refreshing, with Swansea City beating Chelsea, Norwich edging Tottenham, Arsenal losing to Bradford, Manchester City to Aston Villa and Liverpool also to Swansea. In the end Michael Laudrup’s Swans won the first trophy in their illustrious history, to mark a wonderful campaign for the Welsh side. And they did against the first fourth tier team to reach a cup final in England for decades in Bradford City, who beat Wigan and Aston Villa as well as Arsenal on their way.
Across the channel the French Cup has also been exciting. Lyon, the holders of the French Cup, were beaten by Epinal of the lower leagues, whilst Paris St Germain were knocked out by Evian, who meet Bordeaux in the final of the competition. The Coupe de la Ligue was similarly refreshing, with two teams who hadn’t got to a final in years, St Etienne and Rennes meeting in the finale.
Spain saw fewer major upsets, with Barcelona knocked out by Real Madrid and they went on to reach the final where they met La Liga’s third place side, Atletico. But how refreshing it was to see Real beaten on their own turf by their city rivals, who had not beaten them for 14 years previously.
In Italy Juventus succumbed to Lazio, whilst Roma beat Inter Milan. That set up the first ever all Rome final in Italy’s cup competition, which was a refreshing first, and so Lazio came to beat their city rivals to claim the trophy. And then there was the Portuguese cup final, perhaps the most dramatic of all. Benfica, beaten to the title at the last by Porto, and beaten in the final of the Europa League by an inferior Chelsea in the last minute, then went on and lost the cup final too, 3-1 to Vitoria Guimaraes. How many cups can a team lose in such a short space of time?
That Benfica went from the treble to nothing in such a short space of time typified the madness of the 2012-13 season. The leagues may have been predictable, but the cups were anything but, and for that this season will be a memorable one.