European Update: Ranking the most competitive European title races

After a packed December and first few weeks of January, European soccer enjoyed a quiet weekend while taking an international break — except, no European countries are actually playing international fixtures. While the African Cup of Nations and World Cup Qualifiers took place on other continents, many players from European national teams the opportunity to take a break — a rare occurrence in a sport where pro matches play around the globe 12 months a year.

As such, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on the state of the various title races around Europe’s top leagues. In some leagues, one team has already run away with it (cough, cough, Paris Saint-Germain), but there’s still intrigue to be found elsewhere. Here, I’ve ranked some of the top leagues’ title races (sorry not sorry, Ligue 1) in order of competitiveness.

5. English Premier League

If you’ve paid close attention to the Premier League recently, you’d probably say the title race is over and that Manchester City has won. Most pundits already have. However, the latest round of fixtures offered neutrals — and Liverpool fans — a glimmer of hope that we might still see a title race. For the first time since Oct. 30, Man City failed to win a Premier League match, drawing with Southampton 1-1, while Liverpool topped Crystal Palace 3-1. As it stands, Liverpool sits 9 points behind Man City with a game in hand, so the gap could shrink to 6 points with equal matches played. 

Given Man City’s form, a 6-point swing seems fairly unlikely but not impossible. Liverpool’s attack has actually outscored Man City’s this season by 58 goals to 55, so if the Merseyside club improves their defense marginally for the remainder of the season, they stand a chance of matching Man City’s results. However, Man City would have to falter. Given the team’s current form, squad depth and quality in the pitch, losing two more matches seems unlikely with the weakness of their remaining schedule. If Liverpool tightens the gap, be sure to tune in when these title rivals clash April 9.

4. Bundesliga

No club currently dominates its domestic league like Bayern Munich does the Bundesliga. They’ve won the past nine league titles in a row, most of which haven’t been close contests, and, to further solidify their dominance, they’ve made a habit of signing their rivals’ best players. Most of their current stars — Robert Lewandoski, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich — signed from within the Bundesliga.

 Bayern has a commanding 6-point lead and haven’t looked like they’re relinquishing it so far, but Borussia Dortmund, Bayern’s most credible competitor in recent seasons, have displayed some strong form recently and are best poised to trouble the incumbent champions. Superstar striker Erling Haaland spearheads Dortmund’s attack, putting up 16 goals in just 14 appearances. Haaland will likely transfer over the summer, so Dortmund finds itself in somewhat of a do-or-die moment, as whatever attacker the club brings in to replace the Norwegian surely won’t produce at the same level.

3. Eredivisie

The casual fan may find the Eredivisie’s inclusion here surprising, but Ajax and PSV Eindhoven will likely go down to the wire in their fight for the Dutch top league. Ajax has already won the season series against PSV, winning 5-0 at home in October and 2-1 in the recent away fixture to go top by 2 points. Ajax have posted incredible numbers in both attack and defense, scoring 61 goals and conceding only 5 over 20 matches. 

Manager Erik ten Hag has drilled his side thoroughly with their dominating style. Ajax have averaged 66.8% possession per match — no other Dutch side posts over 60%. PSV, on the other hand, have proved that, ultimately, results matter just as much as style. The Eindhoven club doesn’t score 3 goals per match like Ajax, but they’ve matched them almost step for step. Ajax’s 2 point lead can dissipate in a single match day, so they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. 

2. La Liga

Typically, Spain’s title races come down to a clash between two of soccer’s greatest rivals — Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, with the occasional Atlético Madrid title to mix things up.

 Real Madrid once again find themselves in pole position, but only with a tenuous 4-point lead over surprise title challengers Sevilla. Sevilla built up a reputation of solidity and competence over the last decade, but rarely presented themselves as legitimate title challengers. Advanced stats say that both Real Madrid and Sevilla have over-performed, meaning they should have both conceded more goals and scored fewer based on the quality of shots they give up and create. 

If they both regress to the mean, the two sides may face some hiccups in the late stages, leaving the title hanging in the balance until the final match days. 

1. Serie A

While La Liga has the closest title race in numerical terms, Juventus’s downfall over the last couple seasons has created a void for supremacy in Italy where multiple teams are left fighting to assume dominance. Inter Milan are the current kings of the hill, having won last year’s title and sitting top again in January, currently by 4 points. Napoli and AC Milan have both earned 49 points to date, having played one more game than Inter, who could extend their lead to 7 points if they win their game in hand.

 Yet, Italian soccer has embraced chaos in recent seasons, eschewing their former reputation of defensive, rigid soccer and adopting more fluid, pressing-heavy schemes — evinced by Inter scoring a blistering 2.44 goals per game. 

Manager Simone Inzaghi has Inter Milan purring at the moment, even after losing Romelu Lukaku in the summer, but things could change quickly at the top. Milan, Napoli and even Atalanta and Juventus have the firepower to catch a hot streak and surge forward. If Inter or another side secure the title earlier than expected, the race for Champions League qualification spots will surely be hotly contested. 

Jack Hallinan is a freshman discussing the latest news surrounding European soccer. His column “European Update,” runs every other Monday.