Europe’s top leagues come to an end this weekend with no suspense about the potential winners.
Teams in La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 will play their final games with most players concerned about the upcoming World Cup, or their holiday plans. The Premier League and Bundesliga already wrapped up last weekend. The only surprise this season where league titles are concerned was the battle between Juventus and Napoli in the Serie A.
Whereas all the other competitions finished, or likely will finish, with double-digit leads for the leaders, Napoli made Juventus work for a seventh consecutive title. Elsewhere, Manchester City accumulated a historic 100 points with a 19-point lead over Manchester United in England and Bayern Munich finished 21 points ahead of Schalke in Germany. Barcelona has a 12-point lead with one game remaining in Spain while Paris Saint-Germain waltzed to a 15-point lead over Monaco in France with one unimportant game remaining.
For all their dominance domestically, these teams failed to meet expectations in Europe.
Manchester City were dark horse contenders for the Champions League, and a solid run in the competition was expected considering the talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. City’s early season form, and the fantastic play that came with it, heightened expectations that a good run would occur barring disaster. That disaster came in the form of a confident, energetic Liverpool team and City were brushed aside over two legs. There’s no need for Guardiola’s side to be too concerned though.
The Citizens still have a fantastic squad with depth and experience. Yaya Toure’s departure means a new midfield addition is likely and the arrival of a left-back will free up Fabian Delph play his more natural role. If he stays. One major question will be whether Guardiola makes the right decision when City reach that stage again. He hasn’t made much of a dent on this competition since his Barcelona days. Next season would be a good time to start.
Barcelona will end the season with a double but it certainly feels underwhelming.
The Blaugrana were bailed out time and again by Lionel Messi in games big and small. The loss of Neymar decreased the squad’s attacking verve and Ernesto Valverde’s approach didn’t help. That was clear in the embarrassing collapse against Roma in the Champions League. The former Athletic Bilbao manager essentially trotted out a supercharged version of his former Bilbao squads this season. The defensive solidity was a welcome change but it made Barcelona reliant on Messi’s magic against well-organized opposition.
The squad will likely see an overhaul as it seems Valverde had a hard time trusting Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes in midfield. Barcelona fans would certainly have no problem with the latter getting the boot. The major issue will be Andres Iniesta’s departure and, again, central defense. It’s possible that Valverde, if he stays, will fit Philippe Coutinho in that role but there is still a lack of overall depth in the squad. It also matters that there are few real difference makers on the bench unlike their rivals, Real Madrid. Valverde will have to change something next season beyond players. If he wants to remain solid and is as averse to the 4-3-3 as he seems then a 4-2-3-1 with Messi behind Suarez would be better than the 4-4-2 we saw so much of this season.
Bayern Munich sacked Carlo Ancelotti early in the season and they probably aren’t upset with the result. Had they matched Real Madrid’s clinical finishing in the Champions League semifinal then they would be looking at a possible treble. There will certainly be some major decisions to make over the summer. Jupp Heynckes’ stint at the club is one, and overhauling an ageing squad is another. Bayern still has no problems domestically with the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery but the wing duo no longer have a major impact in Europe. The overall depth of the squad is okay but making James Rodriquez a full-time member of the squad should be a priority. Another forward to back up, or possibly replace, Robert Lewandowski would be a good addition.
A large part of Bayern’s success next season will depend on who is at the helm. They should return to the latter stages of the Champions League but it will be a long road.
Juventus. No more Gianluigi Buffon means a new era begins. It was sad to see the legendary goalkeeper’s last European game end as it did, especially after what was almost a fantastic comeback. Europe still eludes the Old Lady though Maximiliano Allegri led the side to another double this season. The domestic success came with some ups and downs. By the way, if you haven’t watched the Juventus series on Netflix then do so. It’s fantastic. Allegri’s decisions in certain games nearly cost Juventus another Serie A title just as much as Napoli’s collapse won it for them. The core of the squad makes for a serious contender in Europe but fresh faces are needed in defense and midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain already have a new coach, as BBC reports Thomas Tuchel has taken over from Unai Emery. That was expected after the disappointing defeat to Real Madrid in the Round of 16. The league is a given for this squad with Tuchel in charge. The possibility of Neymar’s departure will be a major cause for concern though. The Brazilian left Barcelona to be a leading force in a Champions League contender but saw his side fail miserably without him. A replacement for Thiago Motta’s experience in midfield will be necessary but, barring any major departures, Tuchel has a lot to work with. His inexperience in the Champions League may be the one thing that works against the Parisians.
My piece for The Boot Room on what the rest of the season holds after a fascinating first half of 2016/17
The end of 2016 sees most of Europe’s top leagues take a break from what has been a fascinating first half of the 2016/17 season.
Chelsea lead the pack by six points but only four points separate second place Liverpool from fifth placed Tottenham. Manchester United seems to finally be picking up some steam and can certainly challenge if they get through this period unscathed. Last seasons surprise title winners, Leicester City, are only three points away from safety but a period without Champions League football should bring some good results. Of the promoted sides, Middlesbrough and Burnley are almost halfway to the vaunted 38-point safety net.
There have been the usual eye-popping results in the Premier League so far this season with Leicester thrashing Manchester City, Bournemouth’s comeback win over Liverpool and the Swansea/Crystal Palace slug-fest among them. Arsenal, however, continue to be the enigma they are each season. There will likely be more twists and turns before the season ends but it might come down to a race between Liverpool and Chelsea given their lack of European commitment.
The biggest surprise so far is in France, where Nice hold a two point lead heading into the break. Lucien Favre’s side have done extremely well so far, beating Monaco, Marseille and Lyon at home while tying Paris Saint-Germain away. The French champions lie in third, behind Monaco and ahead of Lyon, while Marseille have moved up to sixth. PSG’s domestic form has been shocking, with four losses already to date, and the recently appointed Unai Emery is on the hot seat. Just like the leaders in the Premier League, Nice have no European commitments while their main challengers do. Monaco may just have the best chance to haul them in if Emery can’t right the ship but Nice have certainly made Ligue 1 much more interesting this season.
Juventus haven’t been as dominant as in recent seasons but the Old Lady leads the league with a game in hand on her rivals. Roma and Napoli continue to fight it out for the role of challenger but Juventus has beaten both teams already this season. The surprise of the season in Italy is the resurgence of AC Milan. Vincenzo Montella’s reputation has certainly been enhanced by the work he has done reviving a fallen giant. Without much money to work with, and a mixed bag of talent at his disposal, Montella has his side sitting fifth and in the hunt for a Champions League spot. Only two point separate Milan from second place Roma and if they get a few reinforcements in January they could solidify a Champions League spot. While Montella hopes to end the season as he started a fellow Italian is trying to undertake a similar revival in La Liga with Valencia.
Each league has had its share of surprises in the first half of the season and there’s more to come.
There have been managerial changes aplenty at some of Europe’s top sides to go along with the usual player transfers. Those changes have undoubtedly played a role in the current scenario in Europe’s top leagues as new managers taking time adapting to new clubs and, sometimes, leagues has certainly had an effect.
The first half of the 2016/17 season brought plenty of surprising moments on the pitch. The big teams each have their issues to deal with, whether it be new managers, players in poor form or navigating multiple schedules. There’s sure to be more in store as we get into the business end of the season.
I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning of the season. It’s still early days but some of the performances and results have been fascinating, and hopefully they hold up.
The topsy turvy nature of the Premier League is old news at this point but there is a valid argument that things are going as expected as the top six sides in the country currently occupy the top six spots. They’ll vary position etc throughout the season but you get the feeling that overall that won’t change.
As the article points out, there’s plenty going on in Europe’s other top leagues.
Newly promoted Red Bull Leipzig is right on Bayern Munich’s coattails while Borussia Dortmund sit in fifth. That’s down to underwhelming performances from those two. In France, Nice leads all comers with Mario Balotelli heading the attack, though their lead was cut to three points before the international break. Still, Monaco look likely to give Paris Saint-Germain a good run for their money this season. The Serie A remains the least suspenseful league with Juventus’ four point lead. AC Milan’s bright start to the season has made things exciting and there’s always the possibility that Roma and/or Napoli finally put up a good challenge. And La Liga is fun as always. Six points separate first from fifth and the performances of Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao mean things won’t be easy for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. They’ve all suffered shock results to lower teams already as well so there’s sure to be more drama as the season goes on.
I’ve been thinking about whether or not Ligue 1 would be more competitive at the top next season with the expected, and possible, changes at PSG. I guess many could scoff and say no but the author takes a look at what may be. Lyon remain the best bet for neutrals searching for a challenger to cheer on. Really hoping for a Marseille resurgence.
Good piece. It was strange that Mathieu Valbuena left Ligue 1 for Russia in the first place and it’ll be interesting to see how Hatem Ben Arfa does.
Interesting questions. I don’t think Di Maria is a gamble but the others may be. Nobody can stop PSG. Zlatan won’t be the top scorer. Bielsa’s way will continue at Marseille and Lyon will do it again. Maybe not second this time though. So there are the answers to the questions.
Okay, it isn’t a bad thing financially and confirms the status of French academies as excellent creators of young talent but is that good enough?
After all that progress is Lyon just happy to let some their major driving force, Alexandre Lacazette, go and basically end up six and done in the Champions League? The best clubs find a line between creating talent and being successful on the pitch as well. It may not be embarrassing that Ligue 1 sees such a talent exodus every summer but it’s not something to tout with great pride either. I’d like to see more French teams than just PSG challenging in Europe.
Very interesting list. If Arsenal didn’t have the plethora of midfielders available I would be mad if we didn’t go for Andre Ayew. My favorite Ghanaian, and possibly African, player. Maybe we shift Walcott permanently to centre-forward, have Ox and Welbeck on the right and him and Sanchez on the left? No? I’d probably do that in Football Manager to be honest.
As suspected after last week’s results, four of our seven leagues now have champions. Juventus in the Serie A and Chelsea in the Premier League have joined Bayern Munich and PSV in winning the title in their leagues. Now only La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Primeira division remain.
It doesn’t seem likely that any of those will go to the wire but they are still tight enough that things could change.
Primeira Liga(31) and Eredivisie(Round 32)
Benfica still holds a three-point lead in the league after a big win over the weekend, while Porto and Sporting Lisbon also won.
No games for the Eredivisie this weekend with only two more rounds remaining. Not like it matters I guess.
Ligue 1(Round 35)
Paris Saint-Germain has made up their game in hand and now officially have a three-point lead with three games remaining. All the other big boys won as well, with Lyon keeping pace and Monaco retaining their Champions League spot ahead of now fourth-placed Marseille by five points. If Marseille can beat Monaco in their next encounter then the duo could switch places before the season is done.
Ligue 1 highlights here
Serie A(Round 34)
Juventus decided now was the time to clinch their Serie A title after two rounds during the previous week. A 1-0 victory over Sampdoria was enough, while Roma won to retain second place and Napoli, despite a win, still remain in a Europa League spot. AC Milan lost to Napoli and still remain mid-table but Inter are sneaking closer to a Europa league despite a draw.
Serie A highlights here
Bayern Munich did Bayer Leverkusen a favour during the weekend by fielding a weakened side which allowed Leverkusen to win and close the gap to Borussia Mochengladbach to two points. Schalke won while Borussia Dortmund drew but the chance of getting into Europe is still their for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they are only three points off a place.
Bundesliga highlights here
La Liga(Round 35)
Two high-scoring victories during the week keep Barcelona at the top of the table as they followed up a 6-0 win over Getafe with an 8-0 win over Cordoba. Real Madrid kept pace so the two-point lead remains but they are both pulling away from the pack. Only four points separate third place from fourth and three points separate fourth place from fifth. Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla are the teams in those positions, in that order, and that could change when Atletico Madrid play Barcelona.
La Liga highlights here
Premier League(Round 35)
Three games left to go and the “best league in the World” is relegated to a relegation battle and fight for Champions League spots. We shall see what happens. Chelsea huffed and puffed to the title with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, Arsenal beat Hull, Manchester United lost to WBA, Liverpool beat QPR and Manchester City beat Tottenham. The top six side remain the top six sides though.
Premier League highlights here
We now have two league champions, and basically a third and fourth in Italy and the UK.
Bayern Munich wrapped up the Bundesliga title during the weekend to join PSV in the Netherlands. The other two leagues may be wrapped up by the end of the weekend but things in La Liga the Primeira Liga and Ligue 1 are still somewhat interesting. We have some midweek games to look forward to that could change things a bit more.
Primeira Liga(30) and Eredivisie(Round 32)
The big game between Porto and Benfica ended in a draw but the title race is still on. Only three points separate the sides and a slip from Benfica could see it becoming a tie game. Sporting Lisbon won big over the weekend but that’s not really news.
Vitesse Arnhem and AZ Alkmaar are still fighting it out for the last European spot but nothing else changes in the Netherlands. PSV continued their winning ways while both Feyenoord and Ajax drew their games.
Ligue 1(Round 34)
Paris Saint-Germain still has a game in hand, which they play today, but they are tied on points with Lyon after their big 6-1 win over Lille. Marseille somehow holds on to a European spot despite a thrilling 3-5 loss to Lorient. Lyon and Monaco both won their games over the weekend. All that means there is still some possibility for things to change before the season ends as Monaco only hold a two-point lead over St. Etienne for the final Champions League spot. Marseille is five points behind.
Ligue 1 highlights here
Serie A(Round 32)
Juventus almost seem to be toying with their Serie A chasers at this point, maybe with a focus on the Champions League. A loss to Torino means they have a 14-point lead in the league. Napoli won their game while Inter beat Roma and Milan fell to Udinese. Now Roma is behind Lazio in third, and the last Champions League spot, with Napoli right behind them. Sampdoria holds unto the last European spot with a number of teams close behind including a late-surging Inter.
Serie A highlights here
A 1-o win over Hertha Berlin was enough for Bayern Munich to clinch the Bundesliga title with a 15-point gap. Bayer Leverkusen drew, Schalke lost and Borussia Dortmund continued their resurgence. The top four teams are pretty much set but things are getting interesting in the race for the Europa League, as Dortmund is now within three points of grabbing a spot. Hope it happens.
Bundesliga highlights here
La Liga(Round 33)
There’s still little change in the top six teams in La Liga after the weekend. Barcelona’s win keeps them 2 points ahead of Real Madrid, who also won. Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Valencia also won as well, meaning a perfect weekend for the big sides. The battle for fourth spot between Sevilla and Valencia is interesting as only two points separate the sides.
La Liga highlights here
Premier League(Round 34)
Chelsea moved one step closer to the title after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal and it was a pretty weak showing from the big sides this weekend. Manchester City was the only side to win while Manchester United got hammered by Everton. Tottenham and Liverpool, the best bets for the Europa League, both drew their games. Things could still change in terms of who gets what place between second and fourth but otherwise things are set.
Premier League highlights here