By The Rex Factor
Some club teams in Europe will be lamenting the international break that will halt league play until the end of the month, while others will welcome it with open arms. The very best players in their respective countries will be busy with World Cup qualifiers starting March 23, while those who do not get called up will earn a little time off.
So where do things stand in the top European leagues at this point? Let’s look into it.
In England’s Premier League, Chelsea has a commanding 10-point lead over Tottenham at the top of the table and look poised to win the title as soon as late April. Spurs lead Manchester City by two points and Liverpool by three. Manchester United are in fifth, four points behind Liverpool, with Arsenal two more back of United in sixth. Everton are level with Arsenal and those seven are all but set in stone barring any shocking developments. The relegation race might get interesting, but as of now Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland are locked into the final three slots and would go down to the Championship if the season ended today.
In Germany’s Bundesliga, Bayern Munich now has a stranglehold on the trophy once again. They have 62 points and lead Red Bull Leipzig by 13 with just nine matches remaining. Borussia Dortmund have been impressive in European play but a bit of a disappointment in the league, sitting in third with just 46 points through 25 fixtures. Hoffenheim is in fourth on 45, with Hertha Berlin in fifth five back of Hoffenheim. The two automatic relegation positions seem settled, with Ingolstadt on 19 points and Darmstadt on 15. Hamburg sit in 16th place with 27 points but are just eight behind eighth-place Freiburg. There is significant congestion in the middle-to-lower part of the table that will have to be sorted out in April.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have created a bit of separation at the top of the La Liga table in Spain and figure to be fighting to the end. Los Merengues finished second last season despite winning the Champions League title and will hope to return a Liga crown to the Bernabeu in May. They have to be considered favored, as Real Madrid have a game in hand over Barca and a two-point lead in the table. Sevilla sit on 57 points in third, six behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid is two back of Sevilla and comfortably in fourth. Sporting Gijon are on 21 points and five away from 17th-place Leganes. Gijon are trailed by Granada (19) and Osasuna (11), and all three are heavy favorites to get relegated unless something drastically changes.
Serie A in Italy is not a complete runaway, but Juventus sit on 73 points and have a commanding lead over Roma (65) and Napoli (63). Lazio sit in fourth on 57 points and fifth-place and an Europa League spot is up for grabs between Inter Milan (55), Atalanta (55) and AC Milan (53). Relegation places are not etched in stone but Empoli sit in 17th on 22 points and Palermo (15), Crotone (14) and Pescara (12) are not anywhere near Empoli at this point.
Finally, in France’s Ligue 1, there’s a true title race. AS Monaco have 71 points and have backed up the strong league efforts with a quarterfinal berth in the Champions League this term. Monaco lead Paris Saint-Germain by three points at the top, with Nice in third on 64 points with eight fixtures left for each of those sides. Lyon are far back in fourth, with 50 points. From there, Marseille are in fifth four back of Lyon. There are no truly bad teams in France and the relegation race should be as exciting as the title chase. Lorient and Bastia sit at the foot of the table with 25 points each, and Nancy are on 28 and in the relegation zone as well. But only 11 points separate that side and eighth-place Rennes (39), so Ligue 1 action should be as meaningful as any in Europe over the next couple of months.
Most of the teams competing in the knockout stages of Champions League play in 2017-18 are likely to come from the aforementioned leagues, which makes seeing how things play out in each of them interesting, even if the trophy race is already decided in most of them.