It’s never a good feeling to walk back into work after a few weeks off. An extended break may be the civilised thing to do over Christmas, but the superhuman effort it takes to get yourself back into work in your first week back is far from civilised indeed. The European Roundup is feeling those pains today.
But it’s also comforted by the fact that football is back, and there’s much to look forward to! What do you mean you’ve had more of it than ever over the last few weeks?
If you like competitive leagues, though, you should go to Europe: France, Italy, Spain and Germany in fact.
The view from England is that Spain is a two-horse race (there may possibly be a third horse from time to time); that both Italy and Germany pit one horse against a pack of donkeys; and that while France is indeed a horse race, it’s one where one of the horses isn’t so much a horse but actually a Ferrari. Not much of a contest, then.
Except this season is different. Across the three top European leagues that played last weekend, not one leader won their game. The title races are hotting up.
Last season, Barcelona were miles clear of the chasing pack from Madrid before a stunning near-collapse almost let the chasers back in. Almost. But then again, that’s why we say 13 point leads make leagues uncompetitive: what’s the use of a huge buffer between your team and second place if you’re not going to use it? Barcelona won the league by one point – it’s up to you if you think it’s real competition or just the semblance of it. Either way, it was fun.
Last season, Sevilla finished an entire 39 points behind Barcelona. This weekend, a last minute Stevan Jovetic goal ended Real Madrid’s 40 match unbeaten run and fired Sevilla into second, one point ahead of Barcelona. A team who lost their manager and a large chunk of their team in the summer are now the number one resistors to the Real Madrid dominance of La Liga this season: Madrid may have a game in hand, but for the moment they are only one point clear.
40 – Real Madrid ended the best ever unbeaten run by a La Liga side in all competitions with defeat at Sánchez Pizjuán (W30 D10). Bye. pic.twitter.com/tVV53KoRzn
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 16, 2017
The unbeaten run had to end some time, so that in itself may not be demoralising for Zinedine Zidane and his men. But imagine how demoralising must it be to go on a 40 match streak, the longest in La Liga history and only find yourself one point ahead of the team who beat you?
10 – Sevilla are the side with the most points earned with goals in the last five minutes of games in La Liga 2016/17 (10). Outburst. pic.twitter.com/1XIXPxicQV
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 15, 2017
Barcelona aren’t far behind either, and after their 5-0 thumping of Las Palmas at the weekend, they’re now only two points behind. Suddenly, Real Madrid’s game in hand – at home to Real Sociedad – is starting to look very important.
That game will be against Valencia, though. And up until this weekend, that might not have sounded too difficult, but victory over Espanyol has put daylight between themselves and the bottom three: it’s time to be thankful for small mercies in Valencia.
There are very similar goings-on in Italy, too.
Leaders Juventus may have been dominant in recent seasons, but defeat this weekend to Fiorentina means that the Old Lady find themselves only one point ahead of Roma in second. Though they do, like Real Madrid, have a game in hand.
Unlike Real Madrid, though, Juventus don’t have the frightening figure of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar breathing down their necks. Edin Dzeko, for all of his undoubted qualities, doesn’t cast nearly as imposing a shadow. Unless you’re sitting at the top of the stand….
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) January 15, 2017
10 – Roma have already taken 10 penalties this season, more than any other side among Europe's top-5 leagues. Routine.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 15, 2017
But to further compound Juventus’s misery, every other side in the top six managed a win this weekend, apart from AC Milan who play on Monday night against Torino.
Are we going to see a real title race in Italy? And will a team other than Juventus win the league for the first time since 2011?
Leaders failing to win their games is a disease which also spread to France as Nice were held to a 0-0 draw by Metz.
That may not be completely accurate, though. Although Nice went into the weekend in top spot, their draw – and Monaco’s victory – means that it is the Monegasque side who end the weekend top. The current French leaders did win their game, then. 4-1 over a ragged Marseille at the Stade Velodrome, as it happens. I wonder what Dimitri Payet thought of that.
One big money January signing does seem to have made a difference, though, as Julian Draxler was on target to score the winner for PSG in a 1-0 victory over Rennes. That keeps the Parisiens in contention at the top of the table, and only three points back, ominously.
In reality, it probably isn’t Nice who PSG have to worry about. Free scoring Monaco probably pose a bigger threat – four more goals this weekend took their tally to 60 league goals for the season. That’s three more than they managed last season, and one more than Lyon and Marseille this season combined.
A frightening tally after 20 games, meaning they average three goals per game, have scored 21 more than PSG, and their goal difference is greater by 15. They are currently three points better off than PSG and still have the champions to play later in January – but just beating Monaco won’t bring them to the top given the goal difference.
60/501 – 12% of the goals scored in Ligue 1 this season have been scored by Monaco. Show.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) January 15, 2017
It’s going to be tough for PSG. But it’s going to be great watching for everyone else.
Back next week.