The old adage that “it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings” is often quoted when a team is running away with the league; the manager wants to show that the team must keep fighting until it is mathematically impossible they can’t be caught, the media want an exciting story and the fan, well we like to dream right until the bitter end. Women of larger proportions are preparing to belt out their piece, however, as the title races across Europe begin to hot up and the season finale draws closer.
In France, our singer is already on the podium and just waiting for the moment that Paris Saint-Germain are crowned champions. The French leaders may have lost last night but they remain a country mile (23 points) ahead of 2nd with only 10 games still to play. It is all but wrapped up and their attentions now turn to the Champions League against Chelsea in midweek. Lyon will be proud of their efforts last night, but they have been as powerless as the rest over the course of the season in stopping the PSG juggernaut.
In Spain, Barcelona have the title all but wrapped up after Atletico Madrid effectively ended any slim chance their neighbours Real had of getting back into contention. Barca have moved 8 points clear of Atleti with 12 games to go, and although it would be a fabulous story if Simeone’s men were to catch them up, it can’t realistically happen. Barca, with their lethal front three of Luis Suarey, Lionel Messi and Neymar, have their eyes on the Champions League too, but that will undoubtedly not prove a distraction to them. They have the class and ability to win every competition this season and they are fast becoming the ‘next Barcelona’!
Italian champions Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A last night with victory against early front-runners Inter Milan. Roberto Mancini’s side have dropped off after their fast start and now risk dropping out of the Champions League qualifying spot. Juventus moved 4 points clear of second place Napoli, who will hope they don’t choke in their game in hand to keep the pressure on the Old Lady. With Juventus still in with a decent chance of Champions League progress after a battling 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich, the race is still very much on for the Scudetta. This is one of the most exciting races in recent years in Italy but Juventus’ experience and star studded squad could be the difference. Not a single note will be heard from our opera singer for a good month yet.
The German title could be all but decided by the weekend, when the second Klassiker of the season will take place between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The champions elect host Mainz 05 on Wednesday night before heading north to Dortmund on Saturday evening. Whilst neither side are at their fluent best, both are still collecting points and sailing away from the chasing pack. Dortmund were helped by a crucial (and in my opinion harsh) red card for 1899 Hoffenheim captain Sebastian Rudy on Sunday, as they eventually ran out 3-1 winners having trailed at the break. They will face an equally stern defence on Wednesday when they travel to promoted side Darmstadt. If the Klassiker is won by Bayern it will open up an 11 point gap at the top of the table with 9 games to go, assuming both sides win in midweek. That should be unassailable, even with Bayern being distracted by the Champions League and talk of unhappiness with manager Pep Guardiola. Our lady is warming up backstage.
And finally, England. The Premier League has dazzled this year, although not in Europe. The Europa League still holds promise for Spurs, who face a tough match up with Borussia Dortmund, and one of Liverpool or Manchester United. The Champions League has less to offer, with both Chelsea and Arsenal staring down the barrel of an early exit. Manchester City are the only hope. In the league, Leicester City continue to steal the show, whilst new-look Spurs have been quietly impressive. With 5 points separating Leicester from the traditional big guns, Arsenal, this could be quite the run in. Spurs will be quietly confident of finishing above their neighbours this year, providing Europe doesn’t become a distraction, whilst Leicester will continue to push for the title in one of the biggest shocks in recent history. In England, our singer hasn’t even reached the stadium yet!
So, where to keep your eyes on as the season reaches its climax? The Champions League is the main event, with all the big teams still in and everything to play for. Likewise in the Europa League, an often overlooked competition with plenty of talented sides remaining: Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, Fenerbache, Athletic Bilbao, Villareal and Lazio all join Dortmund, Spurs, United and Liverpool in the next round. So for the main part, keep your eyes on European competition.
It goes without saying that the Premier League will have the most exciting run in, but Serie A is certainly one to watch. I said at the start of the season that Juventus will have stiffer competition this year and whilst they will probably still win it, there is certainly an exciting run-in for the neutral. France and Spain are pretty much wrapped up, but the second derby of the season could be embarrassing for Real if they don’t pick up form soon. Germany is often written off early, but the race for the Champions League places are certainly worth watching. To be honest, if you love football in any form then there will be matches worth watching every weekend. Keep watching folks, there are plenty of fat ladies left to sing!
Ali Haggis, Editor