December Check-In: Europe's Big Four

by Power Sports

My monthly look at the four major European football (soccer) leagues focuses on who I’m buying and who I’m selling. 

Premier League

As stated last month, the big mystery in the EPL is who’s going to finish fourth. Arsenal has moved past West Ham and is six points clear of fifth. But that’s misleading as the Gunners have played 19 matches. Tottenham (5th) has played just 16,  West Ham (6th) has played 18 and Manchester United has played (17). So that lead Arsenal currently enjoys could shrink in a hurry. A key difference between now and last month is that there are now seven sides with positive YTD goal differentials. There were only four at the end of November. Crystal Palace (12th) and Brentford (13th) are actually ahead of both Tottenham and Man U on expected points, which means those sides have been unlucky and you should probably be looking to play them. One side I’m not buying is Aston Villa, who has the fifth lowest expected point total in the league. 

La Liga 

Real Madrid and Sevilla continue to be the most consistent sides in La Liga and will easily finish in the top four. As of this writing, Real Madrid is starting to “run away” with things a bit as they have an eight point lead on the field. But Los Blancos are only third on expected points (xPts), behind last year’s champions Atletico Madrid and, surprisingly, Barcelona. I don’t think Ateltico will catch Real, but they should finish top four. I’ve previously stated that it would be a mistake to write off Barca and though they are still in seventh, they are just two points adrift of the top four and it wouldn’t at all shock if they finished in the Champions League places. A big change from last month is how much Real Sociedad has fallen off. I can’t see either Real Betis or newly promoted Rayo Vallecano remaining in the top four, so they look like sides to fade early in 2022. Athletic Bilbao is a side to “buy low” on, as they have the fourth highest number of xPts in the league. Same for Villarreal, who finished seventh last year and is now up to ninth after a disappointing start. They are fifth on xPts. Looking down at the relegation battle, I remain extremely curious if winless Levante, who sits at the foot of the table, is capable of making a run. They are actually 11th on xPts! But they’ve dug themselves a huge hole. Cadiz, Elche and Granada have the three lowest xPts totals right now, which was also the case at the end of last season!


As I’ve said before, pencil Bayern Munich in for another title. Borussia Dortmund should finish top four, although the Erling Haaland transfer talk looms large. I remain unsold on Freiburg and Bayer Leverkusen. The respective goal differentials of those two sides say they are both top four worthy, but they are lower on xPts. The candidates to move up and replace them are RB Leipzig (currently 10th), Union Berlin (7th) and Mainz (9th). The fact that Leipzig has yet to win a single away match is stunning. Their next one is 1/15 at Stuttgart, a bottom of the table side. I’m not sold on Eintracht Frankfurt, who was a top five finisher last season. Nor am I sold on Wolfsburg, who has slipped dramatically. Obviously, Greuther Furth will be relegated and Arminia Bielefeld is likely to suffer the same fate. That’s unchanged from last month. The battle for the relegation playoff will be an interesting one as Hertha and/or Bochum could fall. I don’t see Stuttgart or Augsburg moving up much. 

Serie A 

There’s a clear top eight, a clear bottom five and seven sides in the middle here in the Italian top flight. Of the current top four, AC Milan seems the most fortunate. Internazionale is a deserved table leader while Napoli, despite recent struggles, should also be headed to the Champions League. Juventus, like Barcelona in La Liga, was the long-time power written off for dead. But “The Old Lady” is already back up to fifth in the table and is third on xPts. Atalanta and Roma are both to be respected. Fiorentina, after zero draws in the first 17 league matches, has shared the points each of their last two times out. Look for Torino and Hellas Verona to pass Empoli and Bologna to round out the top half of the table. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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