Is this the best season of football in recent years?
A brief break from the in-depth tactical analysis here, to round-up the major European leagues, highlight this weekend’s crucial table-topping fixtures, and celebrate how wonderful European football has been this season.
1. Manchester United 69
2. Chelsea 68
3. Arsenal 67
The top two still have it in their own hands, with them meeting at Old Trafford in April – but equally that could hand the initiative to Arsenal, who have the easiest run of fixtures.
1. Inter 63
2. Roma 59
3. Milan 59
Inter may look the favourites – but Roma are unquestionably the form side, unbeaten in 20 games having lost 5 of their opening 10. Inter have won just 2 of their last 8 and go to Rome tomorrow, whilst Milan are suffering from an injury crisis at the back.
1=. Barcelona 71
1=. Real Madrid 71
Even by Spain’s standards, this has been a season hugely dominated by the top two, with the overall standard of the league very poor this year. April’s meeting between the two at the Bernabeu may be the decider – and it takes on added significance because in the event of the sides finishing level on points, the head-to-head record (rather than goal difference) is the separator. Barca won the first meeting 1-0.
1. Bayern 56
2. Schalke 55
3. Leverkusen 53
A three-horse race where Bayern are the frontrunners – but still have to travel to both Schalke and Leverkusen at the start of April, in a tough four-game spell that also sees the two games against Manchester United. Meanwhile, Leverkusen and Schalke face off this weekend.
1. Bordeaux 56
2. Montpellier 56
3. Auxerre 55
4. Marseille 53
5. Lille 51
6. Lyon 51
A revival for French football this season. In the Champions League, Ligue 1 has the joint-most clubs left in it, there are more French players than any other nationality, more French managers than any other nationality, and France are the only country guaranteed to have a semi-final slot. The league is the most exciting major league in Europe, with six clubs still in with a shout, and numerous games remaining between those six.
1. Benfica 58
2. Braga 55
Benfica are playing perhaps the best football in Europe, whilst Braga have manfully stuck with them for most of the season. Were Braga to become Champions, it would be their first league title in their history – and only the second time since 1946 that a club other than Benfica, Porto or Sporting have won the league. The top two meet this weekend, in what should be a thrilling game.
This season sees six different nations – England, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia and France – being represented in the quarter-finals – the most diverse final 8 since 1998/99 (and all the more impressive considering in that season, there were only two clubs from any one country in the competition to start with). Underperforming big clubs like Juventus and Liverpool were dumped out early on by exciting teams like Bordeaux and Fiorentina, whilst the second round saw Real Madrid and Chelsea exit.
The Europa League features five nations – Germany, Spain, England, Portugal and Belgium. The rebranding of the tournament seems to have revitalized the competition and has produced some exciting matches and shock results. The quarter-finals features two tremendous ties – Valencia v Atletico and Liverpool v Benfica.
All things considered, when was the last time football was as exciting as this with just seven weeks of the season to go? None of these six leagues even close to being decided (with the major five seeing a difference of no more than one point between first and second) and the two European competitions the most enjoyable for years.Is this the best season of football in recent years?