Like every other bettor, the NCAA Tournament has been my main focus in March. But now is also a good time to take inventory “across the pond” as the four major European soccer leagues are set to resume this week after an international break.
What I’ll do here is look at the races for the Champions League spots (top four) as well as the races to avoid relegation (bottom three) in the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga.
Current Top Four: Manchester City (71 points), Manchester United (57), Leicester City (56), Chelsea (51)
Man City is obviously running away from the pack. They can cement their status as the top side in Europe by winning the Champions League two months from now. Man U and Leicester City, the latter being a bit of a surprise, both seem pretty safe when it comes to UCL qualifying for next season. It’s a little interesting that Man U is the only one of the top four not in the semis of this season’s FA Cup. Chelsea has drawn Man City in the FA Cup semis and has just a two point lead over fifth place West Ham in the EPL. Among teams currently outside the top four, I believe Tottenham (48 points) would be the most likely to break through.
Current Bottom Three: Fulham (26 points), West Bromwich Albion (18), Sheffield United (14)
West Brom and Sheffield are both locks to be relegated next season. I expect Fulham to catch and pass Newcastle United (28 points) even though the Magpies have a game in hand. Currently, Newcastle has an inferior goal differential and one more loss than Fulham, who is desperately trying to avoid a “one and done” in the English top flight (they were promoted this season).
Current Top Four: Bayern Munich (61 points), RB Leipzig (57), VfL Wolfsburg (51), Eintracht Frankfurt (47)
As was expected, Bayern and Leipzig are both locks to finish 1-2. The big question is whether the two “upstarts” - Wolfsburg and Frankfurt - can maintain their current positions. They both have the same number of losses (3) as the top two sides. Wolfsburg, with an eight-point cushion, should feel fairly safe. Frankfurt, who has been beaten just one time since Jan 12, is a side I expected to be improved this campaign. More “decorated” sides - Borussia Dortmund (43 points) and Bayer Leverkusen (40) - are in the rear view mirror. A match this Saturday at Dortmund looms large, though so do BVB’s nine defeats. I think Wolfsburg and Frankfurt hold on.
Current Bottom Three: FC Cologne (23), Arminia Bielefeld (22), Schalke 04 (10)
The key here is the team that finishes third from the bottom enters a relegation playoff with the team that finishes third in Bundesliga 2, so it’s not automatic relegation. Obviously, Schalke is going to be relegated. But above them, five teams are separated by just two points and that includes Hertha Berlin (24) and Mainz (24). Right now, Mainz is the highest they’ve been in the table all season. I would not be surprised if they fell back into the relegation zone. Bielefeld is probably a good bet to finish in the bottom three as well. My guess is Koln lives to fight in the German top flight another year.
Current Top Four: Internazionale (65 points), AC Milan (59), Juventus (55), Atalanta (55)
Inter is set to end Juve’s nine-year run atop Serie A. I expect Juve and Atalanta to also comfortably finish within the top four. In fifth place is Napoli (53 points), who has a better YTD goal differential than Milan, one that is on par with Juve and Atalanta. But the fact that Milan has a nine-point cushion over Napoli is huge. Napoli having been beaten eight times is a killer. The big dropoff (in points) in Serie A comes between 7th and 8th place, but I feel both AS Roma (50 points) and Lazio (49) are closer to the mid-table sides than they are the top five. Goal differential certainly backs my assessment up there. Two of Napoli’s next three matches are very winnable, so they can catch Milan, who seems curiously underpriced for their next two fixtures. But Napoli must make their move now.
Current Bottom Three: Cagliari (22 points), Parma (19), Crotone (15)
Parma and Crotone are getting relegated. Cagliari likely joins them as the one thing I’m fairly confident in projecting at the bottom of the Serie A table is that Torino (23 points) will AVOID relegation. Torino has a better GD than the two sides ahead of them. One of those is Benevento, whose -24 GD is third worst in the league. But they have 29 points and having a seven point edge over the bottom three is huge right now. I’d say if there’s one team that could fall into the bottom three, it’s Benevento as Torino should pass them by season’s end.
Current Top Four: Atletico Madrid (66 points), Barcelona (62), Real Madrid (60), Sevilla FC (55)
This race has been decided for some time now as there’s a 10 point gap between the top four and everyone else. If Barca can pull off finishing first over Atletico, it would be an incredible achievement given how we all viewed the two sides a couple months ago. I have no idea how Real Betis (45 points) has caught Real Sociedad for 5th, given their terrible start to the season. I think Sociedad and Villareal deserve to finish above Betis and Granada, but it’s been a somewhat strange season in La Liga.
Current Bottom Three: Eibar (23 points), Alaves (23), Huesca
Unlike the other three leagues, there are no locks for relegation yet. If I had to guarantee one, I’d say Alaves, who has the worst GD (-21) and most losses (15). There are five clubs that are seven or fewer points clear of safety right now. Among them, I’d say Cadiz is the most vulnerable based on GD.