A year full of surprises in world soccer is coming to an end. Not many people would have bet on Lille winning the Ligue 1 title. Same for Chelsea winning the Champions League, especially after firing then-manager Frank Lampard midseason.
How about Italy taking home the trophy at Euro 2020 despite not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup? Or Atletico Madrid topping La Liga for the first time in 25 years?
In that same vein, we’re going to try our luck at making some bold soccer picks for the new year.
Bold Predictions for 2022
Haller and Ajax Going for Glory
At +1400 to win the UEFA Champions League and +600 to reach the final in the sportsbook, Ajax are my favorite bet for both.
Manager Erik Ten Hag and Ajax suffered heartbreak three seasons ago when Tottenham dashed their hopes of making the final. With more experience and a ridiculously impressive Group Stage under their belt, the Amsterdam side have what it takes to make the final. I think they will and could shockingly go on to win the competition.
They’ve already beaten Borussia Dortmund twice and have a favorable fixture in the Round of 16 vs Benfica. There’s no telling what could happen from there.
Star striker Sebastien Haller flopped at West Ham but he has since proven his doubters wrong. The Ivorian international one upped Lewandowski and led the entire 32-team Champions League Group Stage field in goals.
He also made history as the only player to score in his first six Champions League matches. He’s only seven goals away from equalling Cristiano Ronaldo’s single-season UCL record and I think he’ll come very close. If Ajax make the final, he’ll need a goal per game to tie it.
Arteta’s Arsenal Making Strides
It’s been a wild ride for Arsenal and their long-suffering fanbase this season. The Gunners, starved of European competition, lost their first three matches of the season in a calamitous fashion. They failed to score a goal and conceded nine as fans and pundits alike were calling for Mikel Arteta’s head.
Arteta and technical director Edu went on a spending spree before the transfer window closed to try to patch up the holes in the team. Infusing an already young team with even more youthful talent, like promising GK Aaron Ramsdale and right back Takehiro Tomiyasu, seems to have done the trick.
Not to mention the stellar play of Hale End graduates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. The duo is an exciting young attacking core for the Gunners to build around, along with livewire Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli. Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White have also formed a formidable partnership in the center of defense.
With this group, the Gunners have miraculously gone from last after three weeks to fourth place in the Premier League. When Arsenal beat West Ham 2-0 on Wednesday and overtook them in the top four, there was a palpable energy that hasn’t been seen at the Emirates for a long time.
Many disagree with Arteta’s methods, especially as he stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy. He does, however, seem to be instilling discipline in a young team that has been a great soccer bettingpick recently.
Rivals Tottenham and Manchester United may be more likely to make the top four, but I think Arsenal will be playing in the Champions League next season for the first time in six years.
The Year of Salah
Despite some excellent form, Liverpool forward Mo Salah wasn’t named to the 23-man FIFPRO World XI shortlist. Salah was, however, shortlisted for the Ballon D’or in 2021 and I think 2022 could be a special year for him, Liverpool, and the Egypt National Team.
Salah, with 15 goals, is currently the Premier League’s top scorer by a five-goal margin and is top-three in the Champions League. He also leads the league in assists, with 9.
His Liverpool are 2nd in the Premier League and won each one of their six group stage matches in the UCL to finish first in the group. They’ll take on Inter in the Last 16 in February.
His pace, creativity, and clinical finishing strikes fear in the heart of any defender who comes up against him. It’s frankly time the best African footballer got his due respect and 2022 could be his best chance to win the Ballon D’or.
If he can help his teams win two of the Premier League, Champions League and Africa Cup of Nations I think the award is his to lose. Otherwise, expect Robert Lewandowski to finally get his moment.
Speaking of Lewandowski, he is the top scorer in Europe’s five leagues. The Polish international has a ridiculous 18 Bundesliga goals to his name through sixteen matches.
Many thought the Bayern Munich superstar was robbed when Lionel Messi was awarded the 2021 Ballon D’or over him. Lewandowski responded by equalling Gerd Muller’s record for most Bundesliga goals in a calendar year with two goals vs Stuttgart.
For betting online, he’s certainly the best pick to win the Bundesliga Golden Boot. Can he win Europe’s Golden Shoe for a second straight season?
Salah, my Ballon D’or favorite, will miss a month for the Africa Cup of Nations. Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior have shared goal-scoring duty and been electric for La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
Schick is an intriguing pick who seized the spotlight at Euro 2020 and has continued a good run of form. His Leverkusen side should be playing Champions League football next season.
Immobile won the award two years ago and he very well may need close to 30 goals if struggling Lazio are to challenge for Europe.
Last but not least is Dusan Vlahovic, the young Serbian international striker. A clinical finisher, Vlahovic has been Fiorentina’s talisman, totaling 15 goals through 17 matches to lead Serie A. He’s a huge reason why Fiorentina are fifth in Serie A and he’s drawing interest from top clubs
He could earn himself a big move and payday this Summer by continuing to bang in goals left and right. As Viola’s main offensive outlet, Vlahovic will get plenty of chances. Don’t be surprised if he scores more than Lewandowski this season.