It’s time for a monthly review of what’s been going on in Europe’s “Big 4” football (soccer) leagues and what might be on the horizon. Here, I’ll be looking at who’s in the top four of each league, who might be moving up/down and the battles to avoid relegation.
Premier League (England)
Chelsea (30 pts), Manchester City (29), Liverpool (28) & West Ham (23) are the top four here. Beyond them, no one else in the Premier League even has a positive goal differential! The top three have been dominant and it’s going to be one of those sides that wins the EPL. Chelsea has the most points right now (30), which is what matters, but Manchester City is ahead on expected points (xPts) and Liverpool has the best GD (+28). There is a big gap (-6.92) between the number of goals that Chelsea has allowed vs. what you’d expect them to have allowed. In fact, it’s the largest such gap in the league. However, my money is still on the Blues - the reigning Champions League holders - to win the Premier League title this season
Remember that the top four teams in each domestic league qualify for next year’s Champions League. With the top three in the EPL being so dominant this year, the only question seems to be whether or not West Ham can hold on to the coveted fourth spot? West Ham’s YTD GD of +8 is not on par with the top three teams (all of who are +20 or better). But there’s not exactly a litany of obvious contenders who can overtake them. Arsenal is level on points, but the Gunners are 0-3 against the top three while being outscored 11-0. I actually think Crystal Palace is the side with the best shot of moving up. The Eagles are 5th in xPts and have been beaten only three times. But you have to wonder if a league-leading seven draws will come back to hurt them. As of now, I’d expect West Ham to hold onto fourth position, although the gap will widen between them and the top three.
Down at the foot of the table, Norwich City and Newcastle are the locks for relegation. Newcastle has yet to even win a single match while Norwich has the worst GD (-20). As for who will be the third side condemned to relegation, I think the “best bets” would be either Burnley or Watford. Burnley only has one win while Watford is tied with Norwich for the most losses (8).
La Liga (Spain)
The top four here are currently: Real Madrid (33 pts), Atletico Madrid (29), Real Sociedad (29) and Sevilla (28). Important to note is that Sociedad, who I think is the shakiest of the four, has played one more match than the other three. The Spanish top flight is not as “top heavy” as it’s been in recent years, meaning none of these top four sides are locks to stay in their current position (well, maybe Real Madrid is).
When looking at who could move up into the top four, I’d look past 5th place Real Betis and 6th place Rayo Vallecano and instead consider 7th place Barcelona or 8th place Athletic Bilbao. Barca was written off by many early on, but is actually second in the league in xPts. Bilbao, like Crystal Palace in the EPL, is hurt by being the “kings of the draw.” They’ve shared the points a league-high eight times. Still, I’d expect them to finish in the top six by season’s end.
What’s interesting about La Liga this season is how all three of the newly promoted sides (particularly Rayo Vallecano) are performing better than expected and none are really a threat to be relegated. Poor Levante is currently in last place and winless, but they are actually 12th in xPts! Getafe and Granada are actually the bottom two in xPts, but Cadiz and Elche were last year’s bottom two (in xPts), suggesting that maybe it is they who deserve condemnation to the Segunda Division.
Going off goal differential and xPts, Bayern Munich is going to win this league for a 10th straight season. I said that last month and feel even more strongly about it now. I know Borussia Dortmund is only one point behind, but their GD is only +14 (compared to Bayern’s +29) and the gap in xPts is 11. Again, like I said last month, Dortmund is a lock to finish in the top four. But they will not overtake Bayern.
Of the four leagues we’re discussing, the Bundesliga is the one where I think we could see the most change in the top four. Third place Bayer Leverkusen and fourth place Freiburg both seem a little shaky. In last month’s update, I mentioned how Freiburg was the Bundesliga’s only unbeaten side. Well, now they’ve dropped three straight fixtures. As for who could move into the top four, I’m still a believer in RB Leipzig, even though they’ve yet to win a single away match this season! Leverkusen is the only team still without an away loss, but that can’t possibly continue. Both Mainz and Hoffenheim are darkhorses as is Gladbach.
No side in all of Europe is a bigger lock to be relegated than is the Bundesliga’s current last place team, Greuther Furth. They are not only still winless, but have lost 12 of 13 matches. Bet against them at will. Believe it or not, Arminia Bielefeld is actually lower on xPts than Greuther Furth, which is shocking. So those two are the obvious choices for automatic relegation. Whoever finishes third from the bottom has to play a relegation playoff against the third place team from the Bundesliga 2. Augsburg and Hertha Berlin seem like prime candidates for that spot.
Serie A (Italy)
The top four here are Napoli (35), AC Milan (32), Inter Milan (31) and Atlanta (31). Napoli is looking especially dominant this season with a 11-2-1 record and +23 GD. But Inter is actually higher on xPts. I think AC Milan is the shakiest of the top four, even though they were unbeaten after their first 12 matches. They are only sixth in the league in xPts. Atalanta should finish in the top four.
While none of the top four teams have lost more than twice, everyone else in Serie A has at least five losses. So there’s a gap forming. Roma would be the obvious candidate to possibly replace AC Milan in the top four. I also think Juventus has played better than most realize, but it may just not be their year.
Cagliari probably doesn’t deserve to finish in the bottom three, yet they probably still will. To me, Salernitana and Spezia are the two most likely teams to be relegated at season’s end. Empoli is nowhere near as good as its record, but has probably done enough to avoid finishing in the drop zone. Genoa and Venezia are other possible candidates to be playing in Serie B next season.