Wednesday April 1st, 2015

So Netherlands coach Guus Hiddink gets a reprieve after beating Spain; Harry Kane is not a goal-scorer against every team he faces; and Gareth Bale can score from free kicks, given the chance.

This round of the international calendar, coming just eight weeks before the end of the season, seems like a strange time to break off for European qualifiers and friendlies, but now that the final FIFA international window until June is over, it's time to refocus on the season run-in, and where the titles will be won and lost.

Here's a look across Europe's top five leagues and where things stand at the tops and bottoms of the tables:


This is where the most exciting title race is; in fact it is the only top league with anything like a race. Two points separate the top three teams, with two of them, PSG and Marseille, facing each other on Sunday in Le Clasique, a battle of geography, history, ideology and class.

Planet Futbol
Bielsa's tactics have Marseille competing for French glory again

Lyon, with its mainly academy-based squad, was the favorite after surviving a tough run of games against its rivals (draws with both PSG and Marseille) only to lose its next game to relegation-threatened Nice. Look out for Monaco, too, a club with a game in hand while only two points back. Squad strength would suggest this is PSG's title to lose, but it has Champions League, French Cup and League Cup commitments.  

That's more than enough to allow Marcelo Bielsa's Marseille wildcard, or Hubert Fournier young Lyon colts over the line.

At the bottom, Lens and Metz look to be headed down while three points separate Toulouse, in 17th, from four other teams. Toulouse looked doomed after losing 6-1 to Marseille and 1-0 at Lens, which is why coach Alain Casanova was shown the door after seven years in charge. New boss Dominique Arribagé oversaw a debut win over Bordeaux to give TFC hope. Evian's four wins in six have lifted them clear, leaving Caen, Reims and Lorient, who still have to play the bottom two, fighting out to avoid the final relegation place.


Planet Futbol
Inside the SuperClubs: Bayern Munich

Even when Bayern loses, as it did before the international break, it barely affects the title race, such is its lead (10 points and counting) over the chasing pack. Instead, we can wonder how its Champions League chances will be affected without the injured Arjen Robben and David Alaba, and just how Pep Guardiola will solve the problem of picking both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso at the same time, which does not work.

Wolfsburg is seven points clear in second, with Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach favorites for the remaining two Champions League qualifying spots.

The race to avoid the drop is where the action is, and there's no shortage of big names given the presence of 2007 title winners Stuttgart at rock bottom and Hamburg, who just appointed sporting director Peter Knabel as new coach (rarely a move that works) in the playoff spot. Newly promoted FC Paderborn was 10th as recently as January but has dropped like a stone to 17th. Freiburg and Hannover are not quite safe yet either.


Juventus is powering its way to a fourth successive title and its 14-point lead allows it to focus on Champions League despite injury concerns over Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.

The race for second is a Roman affair, with Lazio closing in on its city neighbor Roma, which has slumped after two wins in its last 11 league games. They play each other on the penultimate weekend of the season but by then, Lazio might be out of sight.

Planet Futbol
Champions League quarterfinals have favorites drawn apart, final rematch

Roma could even miss out on Champions League if in-form Sampdoria, inconsistent Napoli or Mohamed-Salah-inspired Fiorentina can make up the four-to-six-point gap, respectively. Parma is doomed to the drop, 10 points adrift of the competition, while things are not looking great for Cesena and Cagliari, whose recent re-appointment of Zdenek Zeman has not (yet) produced the desired results.

Draw specialist Atalanta is the only team that could get sucked back into it, but given its five-point cushion, might be safe.


Planet Futbol
Tactician's corner: Barça overwhelms Kroos, Modric en route to Clasico win

Barcelona's recent 2-1 Clásico victory over Real Madrid secured a four-point lead at the top of La Liga, but the battle at the top is not quite over yet. Real Madrid's 3-1 win back in October gives it an advantage on the head-to-head if they finish level on points.

And Barcelona has a tougher schedule, with games against Sevilla, Valencia and Atlético Madrid still to come.

The race for third, and automatic qualifying for the Champions League, is between reigning champion Atlético and Valencia, with one point separating them.

On the other end of the table, Cordoba looks the most likely to go down in a battle that, like always, will go to the wire. The newly promoted side waited 42 years to get back into La Liga, but it would appear that even sacking coach Miroslav Djukic won't help it. Six points separate the next seven teams, of which two will go down. Deportivo la Coruña is amongst them, a yo-yo club that has spent its last four years bouncing between the divisions; so is Levante, an overachiever in finishing 10th, 11th and sixth in the last three seasons; and also Elche and Almeria, who both missed the drop by one point last season.


Planet Futbol
On verge of 1st trophy drought in a decade, Manchester clubs face reality

Despite Chelsea's generosity in dropping points to Southampton and Burnley, Manchester City has not been able to challenge Jose Mourinho's side, which is six points clear with a game in hand to play (and that being against bottom side Leicester City). The race for fourth is morphing into a race for second, with two points between Manchester United, City and Arsenal. Liverpool (five points back) and Spurs and Southampton (six points back) have a lot of ground to make up.

At the bottom, three sides have changed managers in the hope of an upturn, with Tim Sherwood improving Aston Villa's form (if not its league placing) while Dick Advocaat suffered a late defeat on his debut on the Sunderland bench. Leicester looks doomed; QPR is four points off safety and these are worrying times for Hull City, six of whose remaining eight games are against top-eight sides. Perhaps Hull's Matchday 36 game against Burnley could hold the key to both sides's futures.

13:20 | Planet Futbol
Under The Crest: Chelsea FC

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