Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles

By Sports Desk May 17, 2021

Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

 

PREMIER LEAGUE

Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

LALIGA 

The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

LIGUE 1

The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

SERIE A

With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

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    The Everton fans who had bravely bothered to stick around until full-time of Wednesday's derby-day surrender to Liverpool made their voices heard in no uncertain times.

    "Sack the board" was the chant aimed in the direction of the directors' boxes, with chairman Bill Kenwright and director of football Marcel Brands bearing the brunt of the ire from the disgruntled Toffees faithful.

    Conversely, there were plenty of songs of support for Everton boss Rafa Benitez – the only issue being they were songs of joy from a buoyant Liverpool away end keen to serenade their legendary former manager as his present employers were ruthlessly dismantled 4-1 at Goodison Park.

    The exodus of home fans began from 20 minutes, by which time Reds captain Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah had put Liverpool 2-0 in front – the latter and Joel Matip having already passed up golden opportunities.

    Those who stayed were offered brief hope of a recovery when Demarai Gray halved the deficit before the break, but Salah and the brilliant Diogo Jota offered a brutal reminder of the chasm that exists between Merseyside's heavyweights.

    Cliche lovers never fail to remind us that the form book goes out the window in derby matches. But that fabled window was slammed shut for an Everton side now winless in eight top-flight matches, with six of those ending in defeat.

    What is so maddening for the Blue half of the city is the predictability of it all. Everton's present predicament is the result of muddied thinking, a raft of managerial changes, and a baffling approach in the transfer market that has resulted in a disjointed and dispirited squad.

    Benitez has to take his share of the blame, of course. Attempting a 4-4-2 against Liverpool's attacking juggernaut, allowing Salah and the rest of the Reds' devasting cast the freedom of Goodison Park, is a decision that ranks among the very worst of his illustrious career.

    But the Spaniard's hands have been tied to an extent. Limited funds in the transfer market, the loss of star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to injury, and colossally dense thinking in the boardroom have all played a part in the Toffees' increasingly sticky situation.

    Benitez's appointment was met with widespread despair given his association to the Reds, which included leading Liverpool to that famous Champions League comeback in Istanbul in 2005.

    What will rankle even more for a despairing fanbase is the fact Everton's worryingly rapid fall is coinciding with a time where everything at Liverpool from boardroom to dugout is so frighteningly in sync.

    Picking a title winner from Chelsea, Manchester City or Liverpool right now is a tricky task, and for the neutral long may this thrilling race continue.

    But make no mistake about it, Jurgen Klopp and his marauding troops look bang up for the battle of regaining a trophy wrested back in style by Pep Guardiola's City last term.

    In Salah they have a player who many would agree is the best in the world on current form and he has now been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last 12 Premier League appearances (11 goals, seven assists) – the third player to achieve that feat after Stan Collymore (12) and Jamie Vardy (15).

    The Egyptian's sensational form is in keeping with Liverpool's relentless assaults on their opponents. In this game, the Reds broke the all-time record for consecutive games of scoring two or more goals (18), and the 25 away goals they have scored in their first seven on the road has only been bettered twice (Sunderland, 27 in 1892-93, Manchester United, 26 in 1907-08).

    Moreover, the 43 goals in 14 games they have scored is not only their most at this stage of a league season since 1895-96 (48 goals), it is 10 more than anyone else has managed so far (Chelsea - 33). It is also the first time Liverpool have scored four at Goodison since the famous 4-4 in 1991, Kenny Dalglish's last game of his first spell in charge, and the first time in the league since Ian Rush scored four in a 5-0 win in November 1982.

    It was just over 13 months ago that Liverpool departed Goodison Park with a 2-2 draw and the loss of influential centre-back Virgil van Dijk to a serious knee injury after being clattered by Jordan Pickford.

    It began a raft of injuries, particularly in defence, that ultimately derailed their title defence. But Van Dijk and his team-mates were all smiles on a night when the gulf between the Reds and the Blues, both on and off the pitch, was laid bare in such a devastating manner in front of the watching world.

  • Klopp praises Liverpool's best Goodison Park performance after Merseyside derby rout Klopp praises Liverpool's best Goodison Park performance after Merseyside derby rout

    Jurgen Klopp labelled Liverpool's 4-1 win at city rivals Everton as their best performance at Goodison Park in recent years after the Reds earned Merseyside bragging rights.

    Jordan Henderson opened the scoring before assisting Mohamed Salah's opener as he became the first Liverpool captain since 2005 to lay on an assist and get on the scoresheet in a Premier League game at Everton's ground.

    Salah, who has been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last 12 top-flight fixtures, then added a second as he became the first Red to register a brace away in the Merseyside derby since September 2008.

    Diogo Jota struck in the second half to cap off another productive outing, with Demarai Gray's first-half strike that initially halved the deficit proving irrelevant in a fruitless performance by Rafael Benitez's Everton on Wednesday.

    Klopp, who lost his last Premier League game 2-0 against Everton, praised Liverpool's display as he revelled in the away performance.

    "It was a really good game from my team, a really mature performance, grown-up performance, much better than in years before, especially at Goodison," Klopp told Amazon Prime Video post-match.

    "We were much too open when we gave away the goal but it can happen when you are superior. We should have been one or two-nil up before we scored the first goal.

    "We scored the goals at 2-0 and maybe then we were not that ruthless, we gave them so life back. I am not seeking for perfection, if it would be easy I know everyone could do it. The boys did well."

    The former Borussia Dortmund head coach also indicated Salah, who has now scored 13 times in the league this season to top the charts, was frustrated at not recording a hat-trick in a dominant display.

    "He [Salah] was angry after the game!," he added. "He wanted to score the third one. I don't take these things for granted. 

    "His second goal, you have to force these kinds of mistakes. Mo put Coleman under pressure to win that ball and from then on it is a good chance he will score.

    "We have momentum but it was by far the best performance since I've been at Liverpool at Goodison. Before the game people told me that in derbies form or shape doesn't count, I see it totally different."

    Liverpool are third in the Premier League standings, two points behind leaders Chelsea after 14 matches.

  • 'Real Madrid never give up' – Ancelotti proud of character in Athletic Bilbao win 'Real Madrid never give up' – Ancelotti proud of character in Athletic Bilbao win

    Carlo Ancelotti was pleased with Real Madrid's ability to grind out a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao after acknowledging they were far from their best at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Karim Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, grabbed the only goal of the game in the 40th minute with his 12th strike of the LaLiga season.

    The France international has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

    The hosts had to work hard for a fifth consecutive LaLiga win, with the visitors taking 18 shots on Thibaut Courtois' goal.

    Indeed, their expected goals against indicator of 2.7 was the highest Madrid have had in a match this season in all competitions.

    "It is true that our opponents had more rest than us, and they are very good," Ancelotti told a media conference.

    "In the first half, we did well. In the second we failed with more passes than in the first, and we suffered.

    "The ability to suffer is a quality of the team. We know how to play football, and we know how to suffer when the football we want to play isn't happening.

    "Real Madrid never give up. Our character and commitment is very strong. Sometimes when we can't use our quality, we are able to use other qualities.

    "I liked the ending more than the first half – we were missing something then."

    The result moved Madrid seven points clear of Atletico Madrid in second, although Diego Simeone's men have a game in hand.

    Los Blancos are next in action on Saturday when they travel to third-placed Real Sociedad, and Ancelotti accepted he might be forced into making changes to his starting XI.

    "The team has finished tired, and we will have to analyse it," he added.

    "It is normal when you play against a fresher team that it costs you at the end a little. I must assess whether to make changes for the next game. We have three games very close [together], without time to rest.

    "I have to think carefully about the decisions, but the streak is very good, and I am very satisfied with everyone: with those who play, those who play for five minutes, and those who do not have a minute.

    "The atmosphere in the team is very good; I like it."

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