EPL and the Rest of Europe Mid Season Report Card
You know the old line about a picture being worth a thousand words? Well here it is in spades. Pep Guardiola has won the EPL Manager of the Month award four straight times. Making history being the first time in history for a manager to win the award four straight times. The European soccer season is at their mid-way points and lots of interesting things have occurred so far. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights so far.
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English Premier League
Back right before the start of this year’s EPL season I wrote that the top six teams should shake out as the two Manchester clubs (United and City), Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Going a step further I opined that I saw them in this order:
1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
So how are my preseason projections looking? In some regards I have been spot on. In that piece I put Manchester United in first but with the caveat that it was a bit of a stretch and awful hard not to put City in the top spot. Well those six teams are currently in the top six spots and in the order predicted outside of flipping the two Manchester clubs. And given my caveat (remember I am a Man U follower) I have nailed it. Boy how I wish I had put down a bunch on a ticket! I also suggested that Arsenal would not repeat for a number of reasons and they most certainly are not going to repeat. But I also claimed “I don’t expect to have a repeat of last season where the top spot is pretty well known weeks before the end of the season.” Well not only did I get that wrong I missed by many many weeks. The EPL is over. The season is 38 games long of which 22 have been played. Manchester City is 15 points ahead of second place Man U. City has all but won the EPL. Lets look at the top six sides and see whats up with them.
In its first 22 league matches, City has won 22, has drawn twice, and had yet to lose a match. They have outscored their opponents 64-13, an incredible +51 in goal differential. The next best goal differential in the EPL is Man U at +29. Lets put that in perspective. Man City has a +1 goal differential/match over the next best side in the league.Chelsea finished the 2003-2004 season with 90 points coming from 26 wins and 12 draws. The only EPL season where a team finished with no losses. Not only is Man City on pace to match that undefeated season, they are also on pace to blow the point total record (95) for a season out of the water. They are looking at a pace that would put them at 107, four full wins over the current record. Do I think they finish undefeated? No, I don’t as its just a really hard thing to do….but I am also not putting any coin down against them either!
Man U sits in second but only a point ahead of third place Chelsea and six points clear of fifth place Tottenham. Man U has invested a lot of money to get themselves back in the top tier of the EPL and to secure a spot in next years UEFA Champions League. The top four finishers in the EPL garner a berth and they are on track there. Coming off a tough stretch of 11 matches in five weeks, Manager Jose Mourinho took his staff and club for five days of training and fun in the sun down in Dubai. Training at the Nad Al Sheeba complex allowed the squad some time in the sun both on and off the field and has them geared up for the rest of the season, both the EPL and the knockout stage for the UEFA Champions League. Oh, one more thing. As of this morning it appears that Man U is going to nab Arsenal and Chilean midfileder Alexis Sanchez during the January transfer window…..the rich get richer. Reports are that Sanchez, whose contract expires at the end of the season wants out of Arsenal during the January transfer window. Stay tuned. The guy is a game changer.
Antonio Conte has the Blues playing solid soccer in both the EPL and the Champions League. Unfortunately for Chelsea they aren’t going to catch Man C so have no realistic shot at the league title. And they drew Barcelona in the first knockout stage for Champions League….ouch. But they are in great position to earn a berth in next seasons Champions League.
The Reds are sitting in the key fourth spot, the last spot to earn the auto berth for Champions League. A game clear of fifth place. Long way to go but they are right where they should be. On the plus side they also got a pretty good draw in the first Champions League knockout round with Porto, a side they should be able to handle.The bad news is that they just lost Brazilian start Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona (more rich get richer) for the astounding transfer fee of $192M. However, its not necessarily a totally bad move. Coutinho has repeatedly made it known he wanted to be transferred. This move allows more room for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to flourish. There is only one ball and so many touches a player can get during a match. These guys will now get more touches. And lastly it gives Liverpool a LOT of money that they may parlay to some more help durign this transfer window.
The Spurs are coming off a good stretch of soccer going 3-1-1 in their last five matches. Certainly they are within range of a top four finish. Or at least a fifth or sixth place finish which would put them in next season’s Europa League. They are coming on an incredible run in the current Champions League having won the Group of Death. They, however, did get a pretty touch draw in the Round of 16 with Juventus. They’ll be relying on striker Harry Kane to keep his scoring pace. Kane set a EPL record in December scoring his 39th league goal for the calendar year 2017. He also won the EPL Player of the Month award for December, the second time this season. How Kane runs will dictate how the club runs. Its astounding that he is still only 24 years old.
Arsene Wenger is somehow still holding on as Manager of the Gunners. The club is playing well enough to be in the top six and keeping the manager employed. The problem is they are not playing at the level Gunner fans demand. Now much of that, in fairness to Wenger and the players, they are not playing bad at all. The problem is that the teams ahead of them are better, deeper, and have more money. The story line is sports these day. Money wins. Losing Sanchez, if that comes to pass would be a pretty tough blow to this team. Depending on what replacement they could garner I worry that they would be in jeopardy of falling below even sixth place.
So what do we look for the rest of the way in the EPL? Well its not if Man City wins the EPL, its by how much and can they finish undefeated and break the point total record. I’ll say no and yes. Does Harry Kane continue his scorching scoring run? Spurs and English National Team fans sure hope so. And a bit of an aside, but how will the English clubs fair in the rest of the Champions League? There are five English clubs in the final 16!
To follow on from above, here is the league splits for the final 16 teams.
English Premier League – Five
Spanish La Liga – Three
Italian Serie A – Two
With one each from the German Bundesliga, French League One, and the Swiss, Ukraine, Portugal, and Turkey First Divisions. Does anybody really question what the top soccer league in the world is right now?
League play continues next month and I’ll post a preview right before they start back up.
Spanish La Liga
Simply put its Barcelona at the top. Atletico Madrid, Valencai, and Real Madrid in the next tier. Then everybody else. Barcelona once again shows the never ending supply of cash they have. So they lost Neymar to French side PSG last summer. No big deal, we’ll just have Lionel Messi step up and score even more. Messi leads the league with 16 goals so far, five goals ahead of second place. Second in scoring? Luis Suarez, Messi’s teammate. Not much to watch here. Just like the EPL the final spot is all but won. And now Barcelona has spent $192M and gotten world class midfielder Phillipe Coutinho. The odd thing though is the timing. Since Coutinho played for Liverpool in this season’s Champions League, he will not be eligible to play for Barcelona the rest of the way in Champions League. For a team that is already nine points clear in the lead for the league title it seems over the top to spend so much for a player who can’t help you outside of Spain. But I guess if you have the cash flaunt it.
Runaway leads seems to be a recurring theme in the big European soccer league and the Bundesliga is following suit. Bayern Munich is 14 points clear of second place Schalke 04. Bayern leads the league in goals scored, goals allowed, and so goal differential. Borussia Dortmund is two points behind Schalke and has started playing better soccer again. Early in the season Dortmund was on fire and was right at the top with Bayern then went through a horrible stretch dropping down to 7th in the table. Christian Pulisic, USMNT player, continues to show that he is one of the best teenager players in the world.
French Ligue One
While not quite the runaways of the first three the French league race is still pretty much a one team show. Paris Saint-Germain has a nine point lead over second place teams Monaco and Lyon. PSG leads in goals scored and goal differential and is second in goals allowed. In fact PSG is averaging 0.7 goals/match more than the next highest scoring team in the league. When you score that much more than your opponents you don’t lose much and yes they have lost this season. Once. But all is not roses in PSG. Rumors are flying that star striker and Brazilian stud Neymar may be transferring to Real Madrid. PSG manager, Unai Emery, is bashing the Spanish media claiming they are trying to “destabilize his team”. This will be interesting to follow. Any guesses on who PSG plays in the next round of the Champions League? I’ll give you a hint. Their opponents initials are RM.
Italian Serie A
Well this league is slightly different than the other four. The key word being slightly. Instead of one team being the clear top squad, this league has two at the top. Napoli is atop the table with 51 points, one point ahead of second place Juventus. But then its looks like the others. Third place Internazionale follows behind trailing Juventus by 8 points. Lazio and Roma round out the top five and there is a clear drop down to the next set of sides. Juventus and Roma are both alive in the Champions League with Juevntus drawing English side Tottenham and Roma drawing Ukraine side Shakhtar Donetsk.
So four more moths of European league competitions and Champions league with just a short rest till the granddaddy of them all, World Cup Russia 2018.
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O's. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.