Richard Buxton:It’s just not football anymore
Beautiful Game disrupted in 2019 by VAR and never-ending changes that include new title contenders and managers
Disruption became the order of business for the Beautiful Game in 2019.
A year of never-ending change brought about no shortage of headlines or protagonists.
The implementation of the video assistant referee (VAR) in the English Premier League has proven more ill than good, with a number of contentious rulings on an almost weekly basis.
Technology was supposed to solve controversies over the fine margins in games, having been successfully implemented in the Bundesliga and Serie A, yet VAR remains a bone of contention with players and supporters alike, by needlessly scrutinising passages of play to the nth degree.
Armpits are now the bizarre yardstick against which offside rulings are increasingly measured.
Virtually no EPL club is immune to it at the midway point of the current campaign. Points lost at the hands of VAR, even at this stage, belie several teams' true positions in the table.
Manchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion have been the biggest losers, with a drop of three and five places respectively. As the viral Twitter hashtag declares: It's just not football anymore.
But even VAR cannot take away from Liverpool's swaggering procession towards the EPL title, having broken Manchester City's two-season stranglehold on English football's top honour.
Juergen Klopp's team continue to sweep all before them and look set to end a 30-year wait for domestic success in a pattern which has been reflected throughout Europe's top five leagues.
In Klopp's former Bundesliga parish, Bayern Munich will see out the calendar year in the same position that they ended 2018, with a new breed of challengers now sitting in their once rightful place in the form of RB Leipzig and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Serie A, similarly, is benefiting from a changing of the guard as Juventus presently find their dream of a ninth consecutive Scudetto tempered by a resurgent Inter Milan, spearheaded by Antonio Conte and his United misfits Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
Barcelona continue to sit pretty atop La Liga, but now have to contend with the threat of Real Madrid again snapping their heels. Only Lionel Messi's continual source of brilliance has spared the Spanish champions from repeating their Champions League semi-final capitulation.
Uncertainty and chaos has also allowed familiar faces to make anticipated returns to the spotlight.
Real's ignominious end to a three-year reign as European champions paved the way for Zinedine Zidane to return to the Bernabeu while others similarly found favour elsewhere.
So often a bringer of destruction wherever he goes, Jose Mourinho actually prospered from it for once with his polarising appointment as Mauricio Pochettino's successor at Tottenham Hotspur.
Everton's malaise under Marco Silva opened the door for Carlo Ancelotti's surprise yet long-awaited EPL comeback.
Hopes of the three-time Champions League winner besting Liverpool for a third time in two seasons augurs well ahead of next month's FA Cup clash at Anfield.
Ancelotti was not the only one seeking to disrupt the old order as Amazon laid siege to the EPL's native broadcast coverage of games by restricting it to online streaming on two occasions this month alone, with further plans set to be rolled out in the New Year.
The international stage has seen its fair share of returning heroes, too, not least when Luis Enrique stunned the footballing world with his reappointment as Spain manager little under three months after he had mourned the loss of his nine-year-old daughter to bone cancer.
La Roja head into Euro 2020 on a firm footing, having successfully qualified under Enrique's predecessor Robert Moreno, but others are arguably better placed for next summer's Finals following the inaugural Nations League, which heaped further demands on elite-level players.
Portugal reaffirmed their standing as European Championship holders after winning Uefa's newest international trophy on home soil against the much-fancied Holland - thanks largely to the exploits of Manchester City's Bernardo Silva and the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, however, had to settle for being third-best in individual endeavour as Virgil van Dijk laid siege to the game's top personal accolades as his imperious form for Liverpool helped him trump both the Portugal captain and Messi to the Uefa Player of the Year award.
Finishing a narrow second to Messi in the Ballon d'Or standings confirmed that the contest to crown the world's greatest player is still based far more on popularity than it is actual form.
Yet the Dutchman's inclusion was a welcome change from the usual striker-laden shortlist.
As a new decade approaches, the once predictable nature of football appears at an end.