Conte to Man Utd, Messi for the Ballon d'Or and 10 football predictions for 2019

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With the Copa America, Women's World Cup, African Cup of Nations & much more to look forward to, the next 12 months will be huge for football fans

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    #1 Juventus will win the Champions League

    Real Madrid are rebuilding and do not possess the same class as bygone years. Barcelona have Lionel Messi and a huge gap to their next best players. Bayern Munich are a side in transition with no great tactical mind in the dugout. Manchester City are burning themselves out.

    The stage would appear to be set for another contender to go to the semi-finals and beyond in the Champions League. This year it could finally be the turn of Juventus.

    Having signed Cristiano Ronaldo with the express short-term goal of winning the Champions League, the perennial Italian champions appear right on track.

    While their European performances before Christmas were occasionally indifferent, they have the strength, quality, experience and match-winning nous to go far.

    It could be a first European title for 1996 for the Bianconeri.

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    #2 Mourinho to end up back at Real Madrid

    Contracts at the biggest clubs come with few certainties for managers and Real Madrid is no different. Santiago Solari got off to a good start at Santiago Bernabeu, but few would back the Argentine to still be in charge come next season.

    The sacking of Jose Mourinho by Manchester United means the Special One’s shadow will loom large over the coming months, especially as club president Florentino Perez is known to still be an admirer

    It would be a sensational return to management for Mourinho, who has unfinished business both at Real and at the top level in general.

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    #3 Antonio Conte becomes the best fit for Manchester United

    It looks as though Manchester United will try hard to lure Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham this summer. They need to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was signed from Molde as a stopgap following the sacking of Mourinho.

    Pochettino, however, has benefited from patience at board and support level at Spurs. Neither is guaranteed at Old Trafford. With a new stadium to move into and a bright generation ahead, Pochettino might well consider his future best served in London.

    In any case, Antonio Conte appears a much better fit for a club of United's profile. He is currently out of work and waiting for the best job he can get. Moreover, he is proven at Premier League level having won the league with Chelsea and is capable of taming even the most rowdy of dressing rooms.

    He is made for winning at the top level and the sooner Ed Woodward realises it the better.

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    #4 USWNT to retain the Women's World Cup

    The preeminent team in the women’s game are the United States, and they enter the summer’s World Cup as strong favourites to retain their trophy, last won in 2015.

    Only four countries have ever won the tournament throughout its history, with Germany, Norway and Japan matching the US’s achievement and only the Germans retaining it to this point.

    The US said goodbye to a number of their best-ever players after the 2015 tournament but should be at full strength come June having gone through 2018 without once tasting defeat.

    This year’s dark horses appear to be reigning European champions Netherlands, who boast one of the world’s best in Barcelona’s Lieke Martens.

    Hosts France will also need to be watched as the core of a very successful Lyon side forms the backbone for Les Bleues.

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    #5 Premier League's English managers will continue to die out

    By the time the 2019-20 season kicks off the number of English managers in the Premier League could well be at an all-time low.

    Sean Dyche is struggling in charge of Burnley with the Clarets looking set for relegation just one season on from finishing seventh. Despite all his good work at Turf Moor, the club could opt to dismiss him to preserve their Premier League status.

    If he keeps his job and they do go down, he might be joined in the Championship by fellow Englishman Neil Warnock. He has done well to keep Cardiff City so competitive to this point when many predicted they would be cut adrift, but they lack class and could yet go.

    That would leave the septuagenarian Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace and Eddie Howe, who will not struggle for offers if he decides to leave Bournemouth.

    With Daniel Farke at Norwich and Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds leading the promotion charge from below, the number of top flight English managers could well be reduced further.

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    #6 PSG to lose a crown jewel

    UEFA’s decision to reopen its investigation into the state of Paris Saint-Germain’s finances angered many at the French club and means their Financial Fair Play trouble is far from settled.

    Since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments in 2012, PSG have come onto the radar due to their big spending.

    The twin signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in 2017 outraged many across the continent as it seemed beyond reason that PSG could stay between the financial lines and still afford the purchases.

    To satisfy UEFA’s breakeven requirements, the Parisians could well be forced to sell off some of their assets this summer, as they did last year when offloading around €100m worth of talent.

    First to go would be either Neymar or Mbappe, two players guaranteed to bring in world record sums and both coveted by the biggest clubs in the world.

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    #7 Messi will reclaim his Ballon d'Or

    Lionel Messi finished 2018 as the world’s best player, the position he deserves to occupy. Unfortunately for the Argentine, the individual prizes were carved up long before December.

    Luka Modric carried off the big one this year largely as a result of winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. However with no World Cup to fight for this year, focus will return to the club game.

    There, Messi is reigning supreme. He is embarrassingly better than any other player in La Liga and in the Champions League for that matter. He will score, assist, create more than anyone else.

    He is deserving of the Ballon d’Or and if Barcelona can get close to the big trophies then he will be ready to take home a sixth Golden Ball.

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    #8 England for the Nations League

    The first-ever Nations League will reach its conclusion in June in Portugal. It was a memorable group stage with the Netherlands sealing qualification at the death against Germany while England and Switzerland also qualified late on in exceptional circumstances.

    While the final four lacks a standout world power like a France, Germany or Belgium, the mini-tournament will be no less intriguing.

    Portugal won the European Championships in 2016 and will have Cristiano Ronaldo back in contention. Switzerland and the Netherlands have a core of emerging talent, meanwhile, but the team to watch will be Gareth Southgate’s England.

    The Three Lions brought the feelgood factor back to the national team with their semi-final tilt at the World Cup but with Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho, they have the talent to produce the goods in Portugal in summer.

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    #9 Brazil and Neymar will reign supreme

    Brazil will enter the Copa America on home soil as runaway favourites. After the devastating World Cup loss to Germany in the semi-finals in 2014, they recovered to win the Gold Medal at the Rio Olympics two years later. Anchored by Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, the Selecao had too much for Germany and exacted a small piece of vengeance.

    Now they have the honour of once again being the best South American team out there and have the breadth of talent to take home a ninth continental title.

    Argentina remain adrift with or without Lionel Messi while Chile are not the same team who won two in a row in 2015 and 2016.

    Expect Brazil to see off all comers come July with Neymar in the frame to be regarded as the best player of the tournament.

    The AFC Asian Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations and the CONCACAF Gold Cup will also be settled this year.

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    #10 Klopp will end Liverpool's wait for a title if...

    Could Jurgen Klopp be the man to lead Liverpool back to the promised land? There is an entire generation of supporters who have never seen their club win the league. The last time it happened was in 1990, before the Premier League was implemented.

    But this is their best chance yet to break that streak. They have conceded only eight goals all season and are swatting teams away for fun.

    If they can capitalise on Manchester City’s recent stutter by beating Pep Guardiola’s team on January 3 then there would appear to be no significant hurdles left in the way.