Winter champions: Bayern join Arsenal, Barcelona, PSG and Napoli
Among Europe’s ‘Big 5’ competitions, the Bundesliga has just reached its mid-season milestone, La Liga will do so this weekend. Apart from Serie A, the fight for the title is much tighter at the top of continental football.
HASBefore the season the forecasts were good even if the financial power of some big clubs truncates internal competition. A priori, Bayern (who are aiming for their 10th consecutive Scudetto in the Bundesliga), Manchester City (the new destination for Erling Braut Haaland), Real Madrid (who are coming off a Liga-Champions League double while retaining their vital forces despite the failure in the Mbappé case), PSG and Inter (with the return of Romelu Lukaku) seemed to promise national laurels. Due to the World Cup in Qatar during the season, the term “autumn champion” has been somewhat abused and it is more appropriate to speak this season of winter champion to designate the leader in the middle of the competition, a fortiori at the European “Big 5” level.
Bundesliga: Bayern 3 points ahead of Union Berlin
The surprise isn’t so much seeing Bayern take the lead as discovering the identity of their current runner-up: Union Berlin, who define themselves as the antithesis of the football business. The Bavarians are still a bit “asleep” after two months of respite. The injuries of Sadio Mané (just before the World Cup), Manuel Neuer (skiing accident after the elimination of Mannschaft in Qatar) and Lucas Hernandez (during the first match of the Blues), as well as the illness of Noussair Mazraoui (consequence of Covid) they fed the news a lot. The late arrival of new goalkeeper Yann Sommer (48 hours before the restart at RB Leipzig) diverted attention from the competition, which restarted from two 1-1 starts including the second Tuesday in the dying moments against Cologne at the Allianz Arena! Union Berlin (who discovered the Bundesliga in 2019!) even allowed themselves during the first to squat the first a bit before returning to the line, to then get back in the wake of the Bavarians by 3 short lengths. Behind, RB Leipzig (where the change of coach has paid off) follows at 4 points, one more unit than Frankfurt and… Dortmund (which seemed to have dropped after closing the pre-World Cup period with two defeats).
Premier League: the student Arteta in front of the master Guardiola
We already started the second leg matches last weekend but the matches postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II have not all been rescheduled yet. Therefore, Arsenal only reached the 19-game milestone this Sunday thanks to a 3-2 win against Manchester United. The Gunners have lost just 7 units this first half and, with 50 points, are 5 points clear of Manchester City… who have a game to spare. The “big spenders” like Chelsea or Liverpool have already left the “competition”. Will the student Arteta surpass the master Guardiola? Despite Gabriel Jesus’ injury, can Leandro Trossard’s new team-mates maintain the pace set under Norwegian Ödegaard and reach 100 points like City in 2018? If they succeed, it will be the first title since 2004 when Arsene Wenger’s men became the “Invincibles”. It would be a famous step forward for the residents of the Emirates Stadium who were said to be too mentally weak after squandering a Champions League qualifier last season.
Liga: a Clasico for the title
La Liga will close the first leg this weekend, while Real and Barcelona will have to wait until next week to be on an equal footing after their match was postponed due to the Super Cup. Thanks to the financial constructions of President Laporta, Barça has acquired a workforce capable, under Xavi’s direction, of looking Real Madrid in the eye for the entire duration of the championship (and not just during a Clasico like last season with Lo 0-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu). Florentino Perez failed to convince Kylian Mbappé, Barcelona emerged victorious from soap opera Lewandowski. Unlike Real, the blaugrana did not stay in the Champions League but are ahead of the Merengue by 3 points, taking advantage of a weak recovery by Ancelotti’s men such as the Riyadh Super Cup final (resoundingly won 1-3). But since then, Madrid have found some color with their Copa return to Villarreal and their success at the Athletic Bilbao den. The fight will be close in anticipation of the Clasico on March 19 at the Camp Nou… and maybe another one in the Copa.
Ligue 1: a two-faced PSG
Seeing PSG take the lead is nothing unexpected, even though the Ile-de-France club have missed out on the French champions title 3 times in 11 seasons under the Qatari flag. Under the orders of Christophe Galtier and under the (alleged) approval of Kylian Mbappé, the current management should be seen in two different ways: the first part of the World Cup with the infernal trio Messi-Neymar-Mbappé who literally flew over the competition. .. post-World Cup recovery amid disappointment for some (Marquinhos, Neymar), decompression and consideration for others (Hakimi, Messi, Mbappé). In three league matches after the World Cup, PSG were beaten twice (by Loïs Openda’s Racing Lens and Arthur Theate and Jérémy Doku’s Stade Rennes). With 47 points, the Parisians have only 3 points ahead of Lens and 5 over Marseille, author of a streak of 6 consecutive victories.
Serie A: a good year for Napoli?
If there’s a season in which Napoli didn’t start as favourites, it’s the current one. Losing managers like Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, Fabian Ruiz, Kalidou Koulibaly or his ideal 12th man Andrea Petagna, the “Partenopei” seemed to be in a rebuilding phase with the arrival of unknown players like Leo Östigard, Min-jae Kim, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, Mattias Olivera as well as Ndombele, Simeone (one of the sons of “Cholo”) or even Raspadori. With only one defeat in 19 games (against Inter) and… 12 points ahead of reigning champion Milan, the hole is made and the Diego Maradona stadium is already dreaming of its first Scudetto since 1990 at the time of the glories of the “Pibe de Oro” ”. With the Georgian number 77 already nicknamed… “Kvaradona”, Luciano Spalletti’s troop seems to have already relegated the other teams to the rank of extras.