In Depth

Football in 2018: France rule the world, Man City’s century, It’s (Not) Coming Home

A look back at some of the top footballing moments of the past 12 months

From mega transfers and trophy wins to great goals and social media memes, it’s been a memorable 12 months in the world of football.

On the international stage, France lifted the Fifa World Cup in Russia, with Kylian Mbappe winning fans worldwide with his superb performances.

In European club football, Real Madrid claimed their third successive Champions League title, after beating Liverpool in the 2018 final.

And in England’s Premier League, Manchester City broke records with their 2017-18 title-winning campaign.

All amazing stuff, but what are the top moments in football of the past year? Here’s our pick.

Fantastic France

The 2018 Fifa World Cup will be remembered chiefly for the total 169 goals, Harry Kane’s golden boot, Germany’s early exit and the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR).

But surely the top highlight of Russia 2018 was the performances of Didier Deschamps’ all-conquering French side, who lifted the trophy in Moscow on 15 July.

Drawn with Australia, Peru and Denmark, France won twice and drew once to top group C with seven points from three games.

In the round 16, Argentina and Lionel Messi were sent packing as Les Bleus won 4-3 in the classic of Kazan. Goals from Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe (two) and Benjamin Pavard secured the win, with Pavard’s long-range effort voted goal of the tournament.

Raphael Varane and Griezmann were on target in a 2-0 quarter-final win against Uruguay, before Samuel Umtiti’s header gave France a 1-0 victory against Belgium in the final four.

The magnificent final then saw Mbappe starring once again, as France beat Croatia 4-2 in Moscow. His strike against the Croatian side meant Mbappe ended the tournament with four goals and helped him secure the title of the World Cup’s best young player.

Real rule Europe… again

Real Madrid went into the 2017-18 season looking to secure a third successive Champions League trophy.

Managed by Zinedine Zidane, the all-star Real team featured Cristiano Ronaldo up front, captain Sergio Ramos in defence and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield.

Real finished behind Tottenham in the group stage but proved too strong for Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, winning 5-2 on aggregate.

In the quarter-finals, Ronaldo starred against his then future club Juventus, scoring an unbelievable overhead kick in a 3-0 first-leg win in Turin. But Real needed a controversial late penalty from Ronaldo to reach the semi-finals. Juve were winning 3-0 in Spain before Ronaldo netted the 97th-minute spot-kick.

In the semi-finals, a 4-3 aggregate win against Bayern Munich set up a final clash against Liverpool, who beat Roma 7-6 on aggregate in their last-four clash.

Wales star Gareth Bale then emulated Ronaldo with a superb overhead kick of his own as Real beat the Anfield side 3-1 in Kiev.

However, what happened in the weeks afterwards shocked the football world…

Ronaldo leaves Real as transfer fees go crazy

On 31 May, five days after winning the Champions League, Real Madrid head coach Zidane left the club. Then on 10 July, the unthinkable happened for Real fans - Ronaldo announced that he was also departing the Bernabeu.

After 450 goals, two La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and three Fifa Club World Cups at Real, Ronaldo signed for Italian side Juventus in a deal worth £99m.

Ronaldo’s transfer was one of many big moves this year.

Indeed, transfer spending across Europe hit record highs in 2018. According to The Guardian, the January 2018 window saw clubs in the top five European leagues spent a total of £817.1m on 574 deals. And that was followed by 1,523 deals worth £4.03bn in the summer window.

The players involved in the big-money signings included Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool to Barcelona, up to £142m), Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool, £75m), Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao to Manchester City, £57.2m), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea, £71.6m) and Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City to Manchester City, £60m).

City’s century

The main Premier League story of 2018 was Manchester City’s domination of the English top-flight. Pep Guardiola’s side won the 2017-18 title with a record 100 points.

After going 22 matches unbeaten from the start of the 2017-18 season, City suffered their first defeat on 14 January, when they were beaten 4-3 by Liverpool in a thriller at Anfield. But Guardiola’s side would lose only one more match - 3-2 at home against Manchester United - as they stormed to the title.

The season also saw City set Premier League records for most away points (50), most points ahead of second (19), most wins (32), most away wins (16), most goals (106), best goal difference (+79) and most consecutive victories (18).

Five City players - Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero - were named in the PFA Team of the Year, and Leroy Sane won the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

The club’s record-breaking season was captured in an Amazon Video documentary series called All or Nothing: Manchester City, released in August.

The question now is, can anyone prevent City from defending their title? Liverpool fans will definitely be confident...

It’s (Not) Coming Home

For England fans, the summer of 2018 was a memorable one - and we’re not just talking about the glorious weather.

Expectations of Gareth Southgate’s young Three Lions squad were fairly low when they headed off to the World Cup, following the disappointments of previous major tournaments.

But in a surprise turnaround in Russia, England captain Harry Kane led from the front to take the Three Lions to the semi-final stage, and ended as the tournament’s top scorer, with his six goals securing the golden boot.

A first ever victory in a World Cup penalty shoot-out was another highlight for England fans, who began to dream of lifting the trophy. However, a 2-1 loss in the last four against Croatia meant that Southgate’s side missed out on reaching the final.

Although Kane’s goals, Jordan Pickford’s saves and Southgate’s waistcoats were undoubtedly highlights, perhaps the most memorable aspect of England’s World Cup run was the social media memes inspired by 1990s hit Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home).

From Shrek and Only Fools and Horses to Peaky Blinders and The Wolf of Wall Street, a whole range of TV shows and films featured in England #ItsComingHome World Cup memes - which then became #ItsNotComingHome when the trophy instead went to France.

Yet despite that ultimate disappointment and “52 years of hurt”, England fans will always look back at that superb summer in Russia with fondness.

And with England in the Uefa Nations League finals in 2019, perhaps football might yet come home? Roll on June...

Ole returns to Old Trafford

No football round-up would be complete without a Jose Mourinho saga. After months of speculation the “Special One” was sacked by Manchester United on 18 December and within days former Red Devil Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as the club’s caretaker manager.

Solskjaer takes charge of United’s first-team until the end of the season and the club also revealed that it will conduct a “thorough recruitment process for a new full-time manager”.

Candidates for the full-time position include Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

It promises to be an action-packed second-half of the 2018-19 campaign...

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