Around the continent | Rounding up the big five leagues in Europe
With the current international break in full swing as national teams get set to embark on friendlies and World Cup qualifiers alike, 101 Great Goals is happy to bring you a round-up of the situation at the top of the top five leagues in Europe.
From the neck-and-neck horse race at the top of the Premier League, a city divided in Serie A, and a resurgent Barcelona hopeful of tracking down their bitterest rival, the final leg of the club calendars across the continent are gearing up for a handful of potential blockbuster stories.
The Premier League is, without question, the most-watched and reported-on league in the world, so this update should not come as a surprise to, well, anyone.
But perhaps what has come as a shock to many is how Liverpool have blitzed the competition in recent weeks to close the gap to Manchester City when Pep Guardiola’s outfit looked all but certain to eventually be crowned champions of England for consecutive seasons for the second time in the club’s history while winning the league in four of the last five seasons. In that light, with Liverpool the only other club to win the league in the last half-decade, perhaps there is no one better than Jürgen Klopp’s Reds to try to outstrip City come to the end of the season, especially with Liverpool boasting a better goal difference (+55 vs +50) and a higher xG (72.0 vs 67.0) than Man City at the time of writing.
Arsenal would disagree when it comes to debating on what the story of the season is in England, however, as Mikel Arteta’s young guns are on course to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17. But they could be made to fight for every yard over the next 10 matchdays as a pair of bitter rivals in Tottenham and Manchester United are not far behind. The Gunners do have a match in hand over both clubs, however, and their current run of form (5-0-1) has them picking up more points across the last six fixtures. This will undoubtedly be tight until the end.
There once was a period this season where Real Madrid seemed sure-fire favourites to lift yet another La Liga crown in their illustrious history. Though they still sit relatively comfortably with a nine-point lead over Unai Emery’s Sevilla, their decimation at the hands of Barcelona with club legend Xavi at the helm of somewhat of a revolution that has taken hold in Catalunya has given some a moment of pause.
Regardless of the fact that Barça still remains 12 points adrift of their bitter domestic rivals, the 4-0 thrashing of Real could serve as a rallying cry for the rest of the season as the Blaugrana remain locked with Atlético Madrid level on points (54) for third but could pull ahead of Sevilla if they win their match in hand on the back of Xavi’s men now boasting the second-best offensive record in La Liga.
Real Betis have put their name in lights all season as well in the Spanish top flight this season as their current position (fifth) would be their highest finish in Spain since the 2004-05 campaign that saw them come fourth if the 2021-22 campaign ended today. Their recent resurgence of late, after placing sixth last season, has been another breath of fresh air for supporters of Los Verdiblancos and the continued influence displayed by Nabil Fekir (six goals and six assists in La Liga) cannot be understated.
Bayern Munich topping the Bundesliga table, and star striker Robert Lewandowski blitzing the goal charts to the tune of 31 goals and with an outside chance of hitting 40 goals in the league in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately for many football fans, the constants that can usually be applied to the German top-flight paint a picture of frustration that leaves many labelling the Bundesliga a ‘one-horse race’ year on year.
Yes, Bayern is a juggernaut that dwarves all before them in Germany, but their financial might is what separates them from the rest of the field. But this season, even that might have not given the Bavarian giants a real measure of comfort as domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund are just six points off the pace and many of their performances this season have been without Norwegian starlet Erling Haaland who has missed 10 matches through injury but has still managed to smash 16 goals in just 17 appearances.
As for the rest of the top-six, the remaining field looking to push for guarantees spots in Europe are separated by just four points in what is a typically hotly-contested position in the table in Germany. The biggest story is perhaps Christian Streich’s high-flying SC Freiburg who sit level in fourth with RB Leipzig on 45 points as they remain just seven matches away from their first-ever appearance in the Champions League and their highest finish in the Bundesliga since the 1994-95 season when they placed third behind Dortmund and Werder Bremen. What’s more, is that Streich’s Breisgau-Brasilianer boasts the 18th-best defensive record in the top five leagues in Europe. Not bad for the Black Forest outfit.
Last season proved to be one where the city of Milan was at the head of the class in Serie A after Inter Milan topped the table and won their 19th Scudetto, with historic rivals AC Milan finishing runner-up. Now, the red and blue halves in the capital of Lombardy are at it again this time around but with I Rossoneri currently sitting six points clear of I Nerazzurri (third), who still have a match in hand to fall back on which could see them draw level with SS Napoli but pull ahead by superior goal difference.
Both clubs have done an expert job in supplanting Juventus – currently in fourth – at the top of the food chance across the last two seasons, which would be the first time Juventus did not win back-to-back Serie A titles since 2008-10 when – you guessed it – Inter and Milan won the league those two years. But Juventus could also be made to look over their shoulder as well even though they are mathematically still in with a chance to win the league, with neutral fan-favorite Atalanta Bergamo sitting in fifth and could pull within five points of La Vecchia Signora should they haul three points in their match in hand while they look to outpace AS Roma (on the same point total at current) for a top-five finish.
In what is the most lopsided points-differential in Europe’s big five leagues, Paris Saint-Germain sits comfortably atop Ligue 1 with a 12-point cushion and nearly look nailed-on to secure their eighth league title in the last eleven years, while remaining inside the top two across that same period when they failed to end the dominant power in any given year.
The front three of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Neymar perhaps has not been the dominant force that many would have expected it to become under Mauricio Pochettino this year as none of the three superstars currently tops the Ligue 1 goal chart while Stade Rennais boasts the best offensive output in the league ahead of the Parisians.
But the expected gap between PSG and the rest of the top clubs is hardly a surprise; what has been, however, is the season that Jorge Sampaoli’s Olympique de Marseille has embarked on with French starlets Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba being key pieces throughout. OM will have it all to do still with nine matchdays left, however, with Rennes and OGC Nice within one and three points respectively. Even more so, RC Strasbourg is enjoying a brilliant campaign in their own right as well, and with their current position of fifth in the table being good enough to match the last time they finished in such a lofty perch which was back in 1979-80; the season after they won their only league title.