LONDON: As we reach the turn of a new year, Arab News examines the state of play across Europe’s top leagues and what we can expect in 2019.
FOUR HORCE TITLE RACE?
While the other teams chasing Barcelona in La Liga would rather be in the Catalans’ position, there is no denying that a genuine title race is emerging in Spain and Atletico Madrid and Sevilla must be delighted with their positions in the table (second and third respectively) as the league stops for the winter break.
Atletico are just three points behind Barca and find themselves in a battle with the Catalonia club for the first time since their improbable title win in 2014, and Sevilla are having their best season for a decade. Throw into the equation that newly-crowned FIFA World Club champions Real Madrid have a game in hand and can close the gap between them and Barcelona to five points, you cannot rule Los Blancos out at any stage. We certainly hope La Liga stays this open in the second half of the season, and we get an exciting title race in Spain again.
NAPOLI CLINGING ON
Speaking of title races, we wrote on this page before the season began that we had high hopes for a much closer battle between Juventus and Italy’s other top clubs. That has failed to materialize, with “La Vecchia Signora” miles ahead of the pack with 16 victories from their 17 games so far this season. The Turin club are a whopping 16 points clear of Inter Milan in third place and eight points ahead of Napoli in second. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo has paid dividends for Juventus, the Portuguese has scored 11 goals this season and is only two behind the top-scorer Krzysztof Piatek of Genoa. Napoli scraped to a 1-0 win over lowly Spal at the weekend to keep their hopes alive of catching Juventus, but it seems inevitable the reigning champions will win an eighth scudetto in a row. The only glimmer of hope for the Neapolitans will be Juve’s obsession with landing a third European crown, which might distract them domestically. But, in truth, they will be clutching at straws.
DORTMUND STAYING STRONG
The German league, like the rest of Europe’s top competitions, has also stopped for the winter break and Borussia Dortmund are in the driving seat. They had built a nine-point gap over eternal rivals Bayern Munich before a shock defeat to Fortuna Dusseldorf last weekend saw that gap close to six points. Borussia Monchengladbach had threatened to muscle their way into contention, but a defeat to leaders Dortmund at the weekend saw them drop nine points back and they will need a small miracle to overhaul the “Big Two” in the second half of the season.
WHO WILL BLINK FIRST?
The Dutch league is not usually on most people’s radars given the dominance of PSV Eindhoven and Ajax in recent years, but an epic battle between the two has broken out this season, and it will be a case of who blinks first in the new year. PSV’s near perfect record (just one defeat to Feyenoord) this season has been matched by Ajax who have won 15 of their 17 games to remain two points behind the reigning champions, having scored (60) and conceded (8) exactly the same as PSV. Feyenoord are 10 points back in third, so the rest of the season will be a straight shootout between Eindhoven and Amsterdam’s finest, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Definitely one to watch.