La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1: Who is top at Christmas?

La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1: Who is top at Christmas?
December 29 18:45 2016

While British football enters its busiest spell of the year, most of continental Europe takes two or three weeks off for a Christmas break.

So how do the major leagues look at the end of 2016? Who is top of the tree and which Premier League flops are now flying high?

Spain

Real Madrid, bidding for their first La Liga title since 2012, are top of the pile at Christmas. They are three points clear of Barcelona, having played a game fewer because of their involvement in the Fifa Club World Cup.

Their extra-time win over Kashima Antlers in the final of that tournament means they enter 2017 on the back of 37 games unbeaten in all competitions.

Barca have not been having the best season, losing two of their first 16 league games, as well as drawing against third-tier Hercules in the Spanish Cup first leg.

But Luis Enrique’s side swatted away their opponents in the second leg with a 7-0 victory (8-1 on aggregate) to reach the last 16 of the competition. Even summer signing Paco Alcacer, without a goal in his previous 11 games, managed to get on the scoresheet.

Sevilla are still in title contention too, sitting another point behind Barca. Atletico Madrid, Champions League finalists in two of the past three seasons, have not been meeting expectations. They sit in sixth, nine points off top spot.

Gary Neville’s former side Valencia, who have only spent one season below the top flight since 1931, are only outside the relegation zone on goal difference.

There is a usual feel at the top of the top scorers chart, with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi (12 each) leading the way from Cristiano Ronaldo and… Iago Aspas (10 each).

What could change by the time La Liga returns on 6 January?

Barcelona are interested in 34-year-old Croatia right-back Darijo Srna, who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk, as competition for Sergi Roberto. Real and Atletico Madrid are both unable to sign anyone in January because of a transfer ban.

Valencia boss Cesare Prandelli wants to sign four players and says “every player at Valencia is liable for a move away”.

Germany

Bayern Munich may be top of the Bundesliga by three points but there is a new feel to the title race this season.

RB Leipzig, who are only in their eighth season, led the way after going unbeaten in their opening 13 games, before slipping up and being pegged back. The controversial club, backed by Red Bull, started in the regionalised fifth tier in 2009 and have been promoted in more seasons than not.

But in the last round of games before the Christmas break, champions Bayern taught challengers Leipzig a lesson with a 3-0 victory at the Allianz Arena.Thiago, Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski the goalscorers in the first half, with Leipzig winger Emil Forsberg sent off for the visitors.

Several teams are battling for the Champions League places, with Hertha Berlin in third place and Eintracht Frankfurt fourth.

Fifth-placed Hoffenheim, are one of only two unbeaten teams in Europe’s top four leagues, alongside Real Madrid, but they have drawn more games (10) than they have won (six).

Borussia Dortmund, generally Bayern’s nearest rivals, find themselves down in sixth position, although they do have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the division’s top scorer with 16.

Cologne striker Anthony Modeste (13), who once played for Blackburn, is second, while Bayern’s Lewandowski, who almost signed for Rovers, is in third with 12.

Hamburg, the only team to play in every season of the Bundesliga since the league’s 1963 formation, are battling for survival and sit in the relegation play-off place.

What could change by the time the Bundesliga returns on 20 January?

Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have said they do not plan to sign anyone in January, but RB Leipzig have been linked with Celtic striker Moussa Dembele and Udinese midfielder Seko Fofana, who played together at Fulham.

There are plenty of rumours about Wolfsburg boss Valerien Ismael, whose side are in a relegation battle, with Huddersfield manager David Wagner already turning down the chance to replace him.

Borussia Monchengladbach boss Andre Schubert left the club after losing their final game of the year to Ismael’s Wolfsburg, with Dieter Hecking coming in to replace him.

Italy

Juventus, who are aiming to win an unprecedented sixth consecutive Serie A title, top the pile again after beating second-placed Roma 1-0 on Saturday.

Roma, whose club legend Francesco Totti could retire at the end of the season, are four points behind Juve, having played a game more. The next four teams – Napoli, Lazio, AC Milan and Atalanta are only separated by three points.

AC Milan, under Vincenzo Montella this season, are bidding to end their three-year absence from European competition and sit fifth. Their city rivals Inter, on their third manager since the start of August, are seventh, a place above on-loan Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart’s Torino.

The battle for the golden boot is a close one. Inter captain Mauro Icardi, who fell out with the club’s ultras earlier this season, leads the way on 14 goals ahead of Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Torino’s Andrea Belotti, who are both on 13.

Gonzalo Higuain, who scored a record 36 goals in the league last season, has netted 10 times in Serie A since his £75m summer move from Napoli to Juventus.

What could change by the time Serie A returns on 7 January?

Juventus want to sign Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Axel Witsel in January. They have also been linked to Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. AC Milan and Inter have been strongly linked with a move for Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini next month.

Fiorentina manager Paulo Sousa is under pressure, with the club sitting in mid-table.

France

Paris St-Germain have won the past four Ligue 1 titles, including last season’s record-breaking 31-point winning margin. However, after sacking Laurent Blanc and replacing him with Unai Emery this summer, they are no longer dominating French football.

They are in third place, five points behind leaders Nice, with Monaco also above them.

Edinson Cavani is making the most of being the main man at PSG since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure, and looks like he might run away with the golden boot. His 18 strikes put him five clear of Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.

Premier League rejects Radamel Falcao (11, a goal every 69 minutes for Monaco) and Nice striker Mario Balotelli (eight, a goal every 88 minutes) are having a great time on the Cote d’Azur.

What could change by the time Ligue 1 returns on 13 January?

There are reports that Paris St-Germain boss Unai Emery could face the sack after six months and be replaced by former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.

PSG are thought to be close to signing 23-year-old Wolfsburg winger Julian Draxler, who was a target for Arsenal, and have also been linked with Real Madrid midfielder James Rodriguez.

Elsewhere in Europe…

In Portugal, Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon are known as ‘The Big Three’, having won 81 of the 83 Portuguese titles between them. That is unlikely to change this season, as Benfica lead the way, four points ahead of Porto.

Feyenoord, managed by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, have not won the Dutch league this millennium, but they top the table by five points from Ajax. PSV Eindhoven, who have won the past two Eredivisies, are three points further back.

Austria could see new champions this season. Cashpoint SC Rheindorf Altach, so called because of a sponsor, have never won the Austrian title, but lead also-sponsored Red Bull Salzburg by two points. They will be top until at least 11 February thanks to a long winter break.

[BBC]