Friday, April 26, 2019

Bayern, Dortmund, Man City and Liverpool fighting for titles – the state of play in Europe´s top fiv

SoccerNews in La Liga 27 Mar 2019

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The Premier League and the Bundesliga look the most likely competitions to provide thrills and spills as the last international break of the season provided teams the chance to catch their breath.

With Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Barcelona seemingly set to romp to their respective title defences in France, Italy and Spain, periods of dominance are continuing across the continent.

It will be an eighth straight title for Juve, assuming their away loss at Genoa before the break is not the start of a shocking slide. PSG are closing in on a sixth success in seven years while Barcelona appear on course for an eighth triumph in the last 11 years.

However, there are two-horse races set to unfold in England and Germany, while a raft of issues – including European qualification, goalscorer awards and relegation battles – are also still to be decided.

PREMIER LEAGUE

A 2-1 win at Fulham sent Liverpool two points clear at the top of the Premier League, but Manchester City will retain their crown if they win each of their eight remaining fixtures due to them having a game in hand. With both sides in the Champions League quarter-finals, the title race looks set to go to the wire. The battle to finish in the top four is also extremely tight – Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all hold out hope of finishing behind likely top two City and Liverpool. That quartet of clubs are also still in Europe, tightening schedules in the run-in. 

At the bottom, Huddersfield Town’s slim chances of survival were dealt a hammer blow in their last game when they surrendered a 3-1 lead in the last 15 minutes to go down 4-3 at West Ham, with Fulham seemingly certain to join them. Cardiff City occupy the final place in the drop zone but Southampton and Burnley will have nervy ends to the season – the Bluebirds go to Turf Moor on April 13. 

Sergio Aguero leads the race for the Golden Boot on 18 goals but Harry Kane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Harry Kane and Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are only one behind City’s all-time top scorer. 

BUNDESLIGA

Arguably even more exciting than the Premier League’s title battle, Bayern Munich are only ahead of Borussia Dortmund on goal difference after Niko Kovac’s men won 13 of their last 14 Bundesliga games going into the break. Dortmund have shown resilience, though, with a last-minute winner at Hertha Berlin in their most recent game keeping them level with Bayern – and Lucien Favre’s side go to the Allianz Arena on April 6 for an unmissable encounter.  

Europa League quarter-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt could cap a stunning season by pipping either Borussia Monchengladbach or RB Leipzig to Champions League qualification. Eintracht’s Luka Jovic has scored 15 league goals to earn links with Barcelona, but Robert Lewandowski is likely to finish as top scorer for the fourth time in his career. Bayern’s marksman is also closing in on 200 Bundesliga goals.  

Bottom two sides Nurnberg and Hannover have an uphill battle to avoid relegation, with Stuttgart facing a play-off. Schalke, a place above, have brought back club legend Huub Stevens as they try to stay out of trouble after six straight losses in all competitions – including a 7-0 Champions League humiliation at Manchester City – led to the sacking of Domenico Tedesco, the 33-year-old’s reputation as one of the world’s top young coaches having suffered a severe dent this term.

LALIGA

With Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid having stumbling seasons, defending champions Barcelona have been mostly unchallenged and sit 10 points clear at the top. Captain Lionel Messi has been typically inspirational, a wonderful hat-trick against Real Betis in the last game before the international break taking him to 29 LaLiga goals this season, 11 clear of nearest Pichichi rival Luis Suarez. Barca face Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. 

The Madrid clubs will jostle for second and third but the race for the fourth Champions League qualification place looks like a thriller. Getafe, fired by new Spain call-up Jaime Mata, are fourth now but are only two points clear of Deportivo Alaves, with early-season leaders Sevilla one further back. 

Huesca’s maiden LaLiga season seems set to end in relegation as they are bottom and seven points adrift of safety. Rayo Vallecano are only a point better off and have reappointed Paco Jemez as head coach in a bid to steer clear in the closing weeks of the season. In 18th are Celta Vigo, who have struggled without injured star striker Iago Aspas, but Villarreal and Real Valladolid can still be sucked into the mire too.

LIGUE 1 

PSG won the title by 13 points last term but this season has been even easier, with Thomas Tuchel’s side enjoying a 20-point gap to Lille ahead of the run-in after winning their last seven league outings despite the absence of injured superstar Neymar. PSG face Nantes in the Coupe de France semi-finals but contriving to lose their Champions League last-16 tie against Manchester United despite a 2-0 first leg win at Old Trafford will mar memories of the campaign. Lille, inspired by Nicolas Pepe – who has been linked with Bayern Munich – will hope to hold off Lyon to finish second. Only Kylian Mbappe – who sits top of the scoring charts with 26 goals – has found the net more than Pepe (17) in Ligue 1 this season. 

Monaco have climbed away from relegation danger since bringing back Leonardo Jardim after the Thierry Henry experiment failed badly. The bottom three are cut adrift with Guingamp in 18th, the relegation play-off place, seven points shy of guaranteed safety. Caen are bottom on 20 points after losing their last three games, with Dijon a point and a place above them. Guingamp have some momentum, though, having taken eight points from five games. Nice are in a mid-table position and have disappointed under Patrick Vieira.

SERIE A

Resting Cristiano Ronaldo backfired for Juventus as they suffered a first Serie A defeat of the season away to Genoa, but Massimiliano Allegri’s men still have a massive 15-point cushion over closest rivals Napoli. Juve’s focus will turn to the Champions League, with a quarter-final against Ajax to come. With Napoli seven points clear in second, Carlo Ancelotti’s side are virtually assured of Champions League qualification. As is the case in the Premier League, there is a clamour for the two other places. Inter and AC Milan are in pole position but Roma and Lazio are four and six points adrift of fourth spot respectively and cannot be discounted just yet, with Atalanta and Torino retaining Europa League hopes too.  

Chievo’s fate is virtually sealed with a 14-point gap to make up if they are to climb out of the relegation zone, with Frosinone highly likely to join them as they are only six points better off. Back-to-back wins have boosted Bologna’s survival hopes while the two teams above them, Empoli and Udinese, have both changed coaches to try and secure a late-season boost. SPAL, a mere two points clear in 15th, are not yet safe either.   

Ronaldo’s 19 goals is a fine return in his first Serie A season but the Portugal superstar is lagging behind the evergreen Fabio Quagliarella, the 36-year-old hitting 21 goals for mid-table Sampdoria to earn an unlikely Italy recall. But Milan hotshot Krzysztof Piątek, signed from Genoa in January, is level with Ronaldo.

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