Champions League, relegation and golden boot winners: The state of play across Europe

By Lewis Michie

The 2017/18 season is drawing to a close across many of Europe’s top leagues. While the stories playing out in England are much publicised, some of the on-going battles for Champions League and Europa League spots, relegation dog fights, World Cup squad places and golden boot races will provide plenty of entertainment and intrigue over the coming weeks. We are going to look at how everything is shaping up in the German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A

Bundesliga

 

The story in the Bundesliga mirrors many of Europe’s top leagues – the title race is done and dusted but there is plenty of competition yet to be played out across the rest of the league. Bayern Munich confirmed their six triumph in a row one week ago, completing their goal earlier than Barcelona, Manchester City, Celtic and PSG (Although all of them can confirm their league title wins this weekend, or shortly thereafter).

The Bundesliga still provides plenty to fight for, with two Champions League spots and an additional two Europa League spots up for grabs – a third Europa League spot will go to the DFB Pokal winner, however, with the four semi-finalists occupying places in the top five, that spot will likely be transferred to the team who finish seventh. There are also two automatic relegation spots, and a relegation playoff will follow for the team who finish in 16th place.

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The best of the rest in the league is currently Schalke – they are just a point ahead of third-placed Dortmund and only nine points separate themselves in second, and Hoffenhiem in seventh. Julian Nagelsmann’s side will still consider themselves to be in contention for a Champions League spot, along with the two aforementioned teams, Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig. Hoffenheim sit five points off fourth-placed Leverkusen, meanwhile Leipzig and Frankfurt – both on 46 points – trail Leverkusen by just two.

With five games remaining, Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart will both still have slim hopes of winning the final Europa League spot. The middle of the Bundesliga is so tight that a host of teams – all the way down to 13th place Hannover – could still have a tiny chance of taking that final Europa League place, however that is extremely unlikely to happen with 15 points to play for and a ten point gap.

With similar fixtures among them, it would not be surprising to see the teams currently occupying the Champions League places retaining them. Of the five sides Frankfurt likely have the toughest run in, with away games against Bayer Leverkusen, champions Bayern Munich and then Schalke on the final day. Meanwhile, Leipzig, who sit behind Frankfurt on goal difference, will only face one side from inside the top half of the table – do not be surprised for Leipzig to leapfrog Frankfurt and be the only likely challenger for the three others competing for Champions League football.

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At the bottom of the Bundesliga, Cologne know they need a near perfect end to the season to avoid relegation. Eight points adrift of safety, the club will know the relegation playoff spot is likely their only hope in securing a fifth successive year in Germany’s top division. Currently holding that spot is Mainz 05, who sit six points ahead of Cologne. Sandwiched in between them are a club who are no strangers to a relegation fight – Hamburg finished in the relegation playoff spot in both the 13-14 and 14-15 seasons, and narrowly avoided doing so again last season – they are only a point ahead of the bottom side.

Both the bottom two will need miracles to avoid spending next year in the Bundesliga 2, but there will almost certainly be a battle for Mainz. They are only two points behind Wolfsburg, and trail Freiburg by three, but both sides could easily find themselves tugged into the fight. Freiburg already have the advantage of points and they’ll play all of the bottom three, as well as only facing one team from the top half – giving them a clear advantage. Already dead last, Cologne almost definitely have the hardest run of fixtures. They’ll play the top two sides as well as facing crunch games against both Wolfsburg and Freiburg – which they will undoubtedly need to win.

There will certainly be no Bundesliga golden boot race, with Robert Lewandowski sitting on 26 goals. Two players sit joint second on 13 goals, Freiburg’s Nils Petersen and former Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who of course moved to Premier League Arsenal in January. Once the inevitable is confirmed, the Pole will have completed a hat trick of golden boot successes – five more goals will leave him on 31, his most goals in any Bundesliga season and just one more than that will surpass Aubameyang’s tally from last season and make Lewandowski the highest scorer in a league season since Dieter Muller netted 34 for Cologne in the 76-77 season.

La Liga

 

With seven games to play, similarly to Germany – the La Liga title has seemed destined to return to Barcelona for a while. They are 11 points ahead with a far superior goal difference and, while not looking convincing in Europe, Ernesto Valverde has come in to lead Barca to domestic dominance. The main narrative surrounding his side is whether they can avoid defeat in the next seven fixtures – completing an invincible season.

Valverde’s side will face both Valencia and Real Madrid, as well as another two sides from the top ten before the season finishes, so they certainly have a few decent challenges to prevent them completing the amazing feat. However, with both the El Classico and Valencia games taking place at the Nou Camp you’d be more likely to bet on Messi and Co not tasting the bitterness of defeat this season.

Similarly to the Bundesliga, La Liga holds four Champions league spots, as well as two Europa League spots with a third place available to the team who finishes seventh, depending on the result of the Copa Del Ray final.

 

The Champions League spots are more or less decided, Real Madrid currently sit 15 points ahead of Real Betis in fifth, and with 21 points to play for it’s incredibly unlikely the top four will change. However, there will still be a battle on for who finishes where within the top four. Real Madrid currently sit fourth, which only provides a spot in the final round of qualifiers for the Champions League (Although a third successive Champions League win in tandem with a fourth place finish for Real would transfer this to the third placed side). There are only four points separating second place Atletico and Real, with Valencia tucked in-between – so there is still plenty to play for within the Champions League spots.

Teams as far back as tenth placed Eibar will still feel they have a shot at a Europa League spot. Eibar trail sixth place Villarreal by seven points, with Sevilla, Girona and Celta Vigo in between. Sevilla will face Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final, so they are guaranteed to be in the Europa League next term (a competition which they have famously won five times in the last 12 seasons). Finishing seventh would mean they qualify through their Copa Del Rey final appearance. Finishing sixth would pass on the Copa Del Rey spot to the team who finishes seventh, while finishing outside of the top seven would see them qualify through the cup, preventing any teams between themselves and sixth competing in the Europa League next season, despite finishing ahead of them.

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Most of the sides involved in the race for Europa League places will have a mixed bag of fixtures. Villarreal however, will face an uphill battle to retain their current position. They will face Sevilla, Celta Vigo, Valencia, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the final weeks. Meaning they’ll face two sides they are battling for positions with, as well as three of the five teams ahead of them. Girona – who were promoted to La Liga last season from the Segunda Divison, may have the most advantageous fixture list – only facing two sides who sit above them – Valencia and Real Betis – and the other five fixtures consisting of four teams in the bottom half, and Eibar who are very close to the bottom half. Villarreal look likely to drop out of the Europa League spots, Sevilla should be able to at the very least finish seventh and Girona have more than half a chance of clinching onto one of the qualification spaces.

La Liga is without a doubt the most boring of the three leagues we are looking at as the season draws to a close. Not only have Barcelona run away with the league and the Champions League spots are decided, but the three clubs currently occupying the bottom three will need miracles to escape. Malaga are rock bottom after only winning four times this season. Currently holding 17 points to their name, the likelihood of a club who have scored just 19 times all season making up the 14 points between themselves and 17th place Levante is about as likely as a club other than Barcelona finishing as La Liga Champions this campaign. Las Palmas are ten points adrift with by far the worst goal difference in the league, so similarly to Malaga they are as good as gone. Deportivo La Coruna look the only side with an ounce of hope. Levante are the only team they could realistically swap places with, as 16th placed Alaves are a further four points ahead.

 

Neither side has a particularly easy run in, but with Deportivo needing to make up eight points on Levante, the fixture list won’t give them much hope. The 99-00 La Liga Champions will face no less than four sides from the top seven – including Barcelona. Levante must face the Catalonian side; however, they will also face three sides from the bottom eight – including basement boys Malaga. Should the relegation scrap come down the last day, Levante would have a significantly easier test. Both sides would travel, with La Coruna facing Champions League side Valencia, while Levante square up with Celta Vigo.

Lionel Messi currently leads Cristiano Ronaldo by six goals in the race for the golden boot. With Madrid still in the Champions League – While Barca were knocked out by Roma – Ronaldo is likely to see less game time in the next seven games as Zinedine Zidane rotates his side. This would normally make Messi the clear favourite, however, with Ronaldo’s current form anything is possible. The Portuguese has scored 25 times in all competitions since the turn of the year. Ronaldo has scored 15 goals in his past seven La Liga games, meanwhile, Messi has scored nine in his past seven fixtures. A repeat of both men’s goalscoring fortunes in the following seven would see them both drawn on goals scored.

 

Serie A

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Italy’s top Divison is one of the only top European League that could see a real title challenge over the final few weeks of the season. Although, results over the next couple weeks could see that challenge fade away. Serie A is in an identical situation as La Liga, there are seven games remaining, four Champions League spots, two Europa League spots (With another likely to be available depending on the Copa Italia outcome) and three automatic relegation spots.

Juventus and Napoli are the two sides aiming to end this season in possession of the famous Scudetto. Juventus are currently in pole position to win their seventh league title in a row as the Turin side are four points ahead of their Naples rivals, and are set to host Maurizio Sarri’s side next weekend in what could be the crucial fixture in this race. Napoli however have shown they cannot be written off – providing a perfect example of this last week, scoring twice in the closing stages of their game against Chievo to secure all three points and keep their title aspirations alive.

 

Neither side have a particularly easy close to the season, but it’s tough to say one has it tougher than the other. This is why their one on one battle could be so crucial. Napoli will have to travel to take on three Europa League qualification hopefuls AC Milan, Fiorentina and Sampdoria as well as hosting solid mid table sides Udinese and Torino. They then finish their season at The Stadio San Paolo against a team that could be clawing for their Serie A status – Crotone.

Juventus will face both Sampdoria and Crotone as well – crucially they will have to play both before their visit from Napoli, completing a run of seven games in just 22 days. The League title could be more or less wrapped up by the following weekend when Massimo Allegri’s side travel to lock horns with Inter Milan. Juventus finish the season with home games against mid table Bologna and relegation threatened Hellas Verona, however those games come either side of a double header – first facing Milan in the Copa Italia final, and then travelling to Rome to face Champions League semi-finalist Roma in the League. The League is far from decided, but with four more points, a home tie against their challenges and experience on their side, Juventus look good money for their seven consecutive success.

There could yet be a battle on for the Champions League places in Italy. Napoli and Juventus will certainly hold two, however, Lazio, Roma and Inter Milan will all be fighting for the remaining two –with the former two on 60 points and Inter 59 – meanwhile AC Milan eight points adrift have slim hopes. Arguments could be made for all four sides. Lazio have scored far more goals than the other three, possessing lethal striker Ciro Immobile. Roma have the momentum of their fantastic Champions League journey on their side – although the adverse to this could be the fixture congestion resulting from that run. Inter have a water tight defence, only the top two conceding less this campaign, while their city rivals AC Milan look revitalised under returning legend Gennaro Gattuso.

 

Lazio, while currently leading the pack, likely face the biggest challenge with their remaining games. All the sides they’ll face – including Roma and Inter – are in the top half of the table, other than Crotone. Inter will have a split of three top half opponents and four bottom half, while City rivals Milan have the adverse, four top and three bottom – this includes Napoli, Fiorentina (On the closing day) and Atalanta. Roma have the easiest run in, facing just Lazio and Juventus from the top half, while facing five bottom half sides – three of which could find themselves relegated come the end of the season. Both Inter and Roma will be confident of securing Champions League football next term – Roma still could while finishing out with the top four by winning the Champions League – while Lazio and Milan’s tough fixture lists could see them have to make do with Europa League football.

Should Milan finish outside the top four, themselves and the unlucky team between Lazio, Roma and Inter will have good chances of securing Europa League Football. Milan will be guaranteed this if they defeat Juventus in the Copa Italia final – if they do not, seventh place will also qualify for the competition. The unlucky third will have a large point tally over other competitors – if our prediction of Lazio being this side comes true, they currently sit 12 points ahead of Sampdoria. Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Atalanta and Torino all sit between 50 and 45 points, with Milan on 52, so they all have realistic expectations of potentially challenging for what could be two Europa League spots up for grabs in the sixth and seventh positions.

We’ve already established Milan will face a relatively tough – although not extremely difficult – conclusion to the season. Of the other four sides, Tornio are the most unlikely to reach the Europa League next term. They have the smallest points tally as of writing and they will face four teams who are currently above them in their final fixtures. The other clubs have fairly similar run ins, all three facing a combination of three sides above them and four sides below them. This suggests it is all up for grabs in the race for the Europa League, with teams who already have points on the board likely to be favourites. Therefore Ac Milan and Fiorentina look to have a decent chance of playing a level of European football in 18/19.

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Finally, the scrap for survival. Benevento who are 14 points behind 17th SPAL and having conceded 73 times in 17/18, are as good as gone. However, above them there are as many as nine sides who could find themselves in Serie B next season. Although, with so many teams involved, it’s unlikely the likes of Bologna, Genoa or Udinese will be dragged into one of the two remaining spots, however, Sassuolo – with just 30 points – and the teams below them –Chievo Verona, Cagliari, SPAL, Crotone and Hellas Verona could all face relegation.

Just five points separate them all, with 19th Crotone on 25 and 14th Sassuolo on 30. SPAL only avoid the drop zone via goal difference. Crotone is a team that was mentioned a few times while discussing a few sides far higher up in the League, so you can tell it looks rather bleak for them. They will have to face all of the top three before the close of the season and will not have the advantage of facing either of the two sides directly below them, so without a giant killing or two, it looks negative for Crotone. Hellas Verona are directly below them and while they must face both Milan and Juventus, their other five games come against sides exclusively in the bottom half.

SPAL were promoted last season and they’ll need to dig deep to spend a second season in Italy’s top Divison. They’ll face Sampdoria, Torino, Roma and Fiorentina – all from the top half – although their saving grace could be that they’ll face both the bottom two – six points are a must for the Serie A new boys in those back to back fixtures. Cagliari are just two points outside the drop zone and they easily have the toughest end to the campaign. 13th place Udinese are the lowest placed side they’ll face – this one takes place this Saturday – If they come out with anything other than a win in the Udinese game, which could spell danger. They’ll face Europa League hopefuls Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Atalanta – as well as Champions League hopefuls Inter Milan and Roma.

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Chievo Verona and Sassuolo not only sit highest in the table of this group, they also have the best fixtures lists. Chievo will play both of the bottom two, meanwhile Sassuolo play all three of the teams currently residing in the relegation spots. Both teams must face Inter, but neither will likely go down if they beat the sides around them.

The most likely result – providing fixtures play to form, which we know they rarely do – would see Crotone remain in the relegation zone, with Cagliari’s horrendous final seven games seeing them join the Crotone and Benevento – although don’t be surprised to see Cagliari pull off an upset or two and send SPAL or Hellas down instead.

Italy clearly will provide the most entertainment in the closing weeks of the 17-18 season, and the golden boot is no exception. Ciro Immobile currently leads the charts, the Lazio striker scores just over once a game with his 27 goals this season. Inter’s Mauro Icardi is hot on his heels with 24, while you can’t count out his fellow Argentine, Juventus’s Paulo Dybala, who may look to prove a point, with rumours suggesting he will be left out of Argentina’s world Cup squad in Russia.

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