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Opinion

Dare I say it: European football title races are, well, exciting

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Roar Rookie
25th February, 2021
6

Ladies and gentlemen, we are on the precipice of something special that, based on recent history, will not be repeated for a very long time.

Four of the top five European leagues are on course to crown a different champion from the year before. In England, France, Spain and Italy last season’s premiers are currently out of first place and, aside from France, are far enough away that they may already be out of the race.

The only previous title holder in first place and looking to add another title is Bayern Munich. The last time we had four new champions was 2012/13 and the same occurred the year before, but before then there was not this level of change since 2003-04. This is great for football and football fans.

Instead of saving our excitement for the relegation race, we have the ability to hold our breath as we wait to see who will be the new champions.

Looking back across all the major leagues to the 1992-93 season, the first Premier League, there have been 28 seasons (27 in the Serie A as there was no champion in 2004-05). In the first ten years, the average amount of change over at the top in the ‘big five’ was 3.9, basically four new champions per year, including two seasons where all five were different.

In the last ten years, this has dropped to just 2.2 changes per year, almost half meaning the same teams win repeatedly. In this period we saw for the first time a year when all five champions stayed the same in 2018-19.

This era has been punctuated by Juventus winning the last nine Serie A, Bayern winning the last eight Bundesliga and PSG winning seven of the last eight Ligue 1. Interestingly the leagues with the biggest turnover at the top are the Premier League, a new champion in all but one year, and La Liga with seven different champions. To see this level of turnover for the first time in ten years brings to life the argument that these leagues still have merit and that the Champions League is not the only real league left.

To see how it is all unfolding, let’s start with the Premier League. The big six who have dominated for decades are no more. Arsenal are a shadow of the teams we saw under Arsene Wenger, ‘The Chosen One’ has not delivered at Tottenham and Liverpool, well, where has it all gone wrong?

Jurgen Klopp smiles

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Manchester City are on track to regain the title that Liverpool won last season. If they can hold their lead over Manchester United and Leicester, who are ten points behind having played the same amount of games, this will be their fifth premiership since their first in 2012. It seems a lay down affair, however with the crazy results and evenness of the competition from top to almost bottom the lead is far from unassailable.

City are not as dominant as they have been but with the way they have played over the last two months in all competitions, recording 16 wins from 16 starts, it is hard to see anyone catching them. In fact, they may take home all four trophies they are competing in. Even so, the next three months will be hard going as fatigue may start to play a part and open the door for teams not as heavily involved in other competitions.

But what about the current title holders Liverpool? Such a fall from grace.

They’re in the sixth spot, with the potential to fall further once Everton and West Ham play their additional games. They are 19 points behind City and their only hope for silverware is the Champions League, but looking at who is still in the draw that hill looks even steeper to climb than the Premier League.

In Ligue 1 we are seeing results that no one would have expected. PSG, last season’s champions, are currently sitting in third, four points adrift of Lille who are surprising everyone (except maybe themselves) with a brilliant run in the league and the Europa League. Also ahead of PSG by one point are perennial powerhouses Lyon, the team of the 2000s who won seven straight titles. Lyon started slowly and have built nicely but still look to be a bit off the pace of PSG and Lille.

Again this will be an intriguing battle and will go right down to the last game. We probably can’t rule out Monaco either, on 52 points they are two wins away from Lille and only two points behind PSG. They have tasted success before and may have the energy to come home strong.

Neymar

(Photo by Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

La Liga was basically a one-team race a month ago with Atletico Madrid seemingly unstoppable at the top on the back of ex-Barcelona player Luis Suarez’s bag of goals. February has not been kind in any competition and they have well and truly got the wobbles with one win, two draws and two losses in all competitions to open the door to the chasing pack.

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On 55 points and with a game in hand they are still in a good position but if they continue to drop points they will feel the pressure very quickly with a chasing pack of three: Real Madrid on 52 points, Barcelona on 50 and Sevilla with 48 the likely contenders. Sevilla also have played one less game and can jump ahead of Barcelona.

The next few months will be an arm wrestle with a potential for multiple lead changes, a far cry from the last few years when Real Madrid and Barcelona had the competition all but won by this stage of the competition.

The era of Italian dominance for Juventus appears to be over, despite the best efforts of an ageless Cristiano Ronaldo who continues to score a mountain of goals. This league is the most open with six teams within ten points of each other. In top spot is Inter Milan on 53 with a win and half gap to the resurgent AC Milan, who sit on 49. Juventus are a further four back on 45 but have a game in hand so will be knocking very loudly over the next few weeks.

Right behind them are Roma on 44 and Atalanta and Lazio both on 43. There are some big matchups coming in the next month that may well decide who takes the title away from the Turin fortress. Again this will be a very intriguing battle with all teams capable of taking out top spot come season’s end.

Juventus's Cristiano Ronaldo

(Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

Lastly, in the Bundesliga, it is nowhere near as open and seemingly a two-horse race. With all teams having played 22 games and with 15 to go it is Bayern in front by two points on 49 leading Red Bull Leipzig on 47 who are searching for their first title. The next two in line are five points back on 42 and they are VFL Wolfsburg, chasing their first title since 2009-10, and Eintracht Frankfurt, also searching for their first title for the period recorded.

It is by no means over yet but with possibly the best player on the planet right now on Bayern, Robert Lewandowski, who is scoring goals like he is playing toddlers, it is hard to see even the small gap being overcome. Early in the season it was wide open as Bayern struggled with some uncharacteristic losses but a few favourites have fallen away, most notably the constant bridesmaids Borussia Dortmund who have struggled this year and sit 13 points behind Bayern on 36. If they don’t click into gear soon they may face the prospect of not playing major European football for the first time in almost ten years.

There is still a lot of football to be played in the leagues, European championships and country-based cups. The pack for each league is very tight and there promises to be some enthralling games and title chases, a welcome relief from the norm and a breath of fresh air to even the most ardent supporters of teams who thought the monopoly or duopoly of leagues would continue.

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So sit back, set your alarms, put the coffee on and get ready for two of the most exciting months football has had to offer in a great many years and revel in watching the best football players on the planet battle it out for supremacy.