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CLUB SOCCER

As it stands as ‘top’ soccer leagues resume: Premier League, LaLiga, Liga MX, title races, relegation…

Time to put international soccer on the back burner as elite leagues around the globe return for the final stretch.

Update:
Time to put international soccer on the back burner as elite leagues around the globe return for the final stretch.
DAVID KLEINREUTERS

Well, it was hugely fun while it lasted, but the international break is over. Unless, that is, you’re a fan of an MLS club, in which case you might not have noticed that it even started. For many of us, it’s time to put our love for our men’s national teams on the backburner, with ‘elite level’ club soccer set to return (club soccer as whole, of course, has never been away, with the UEFA Women’s Champions League in full swing and lower leagues all around the globe ploughing on).

Over the course of the next couple of months or so, we’ll see title races in the world’s ‘top’ leagues come to a climax, teams at the wrong end of the table face up to the realisation that they’ll have to start all over again in the second tier next season, new – or perhaps not? – European champions be crowned, and a whole lot more.

Many of our favourite leagues get back underway this coming weekend, with the clubs involved set to make one final push as they look to turn their dreams into a reality and shrug off their worst fears.

Premier League: Arsenal gunning for a surprise title

Can Arsenal win a first league title since 2003-04? They’re eight points clear at the top of the table with 10 matches left to play, which suggests they can. The problem is that second-placed Manchester City have a game in hand and the Gunners still have to travel to the Etihad (26 April), as well as face Liverpool at Anfield (9 April). Oh, and City have Erling Haaland.

Manchester United look likely to join the top two in the Champions League, with Tottenham Hotspur currently in possession of fourth spot. However, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Brighton and Brentford are all breathing down their necks and have games in hand.

At the other end of the standings, it’s anyone’s guess as to which three clubs will go down, with nine teams from 11th to 20th, including Everton, Leeds United, West Ham and Leicester City, separated by just four points.

LaLiga: Barcelona well clear of Real Madrid

Nothing to see at the top of LaLiga, I’m afraid. You might remember that Barcelona are a whopping 12 points clear after defeating closest challengers Real Madrid in the last game before the break. Given that Xavi Hernández’s side have dropped just 10 points all season, it’s difficult to imagine them surrendering such a huge lead in the last 12 matches.

Atlético Madrid look to be a safe bet for a Champions League spot, with Real Sociedad and Real Betis likely to fight it out for fourth place.

Elche are 14 points from safety and all but relegated, with just three points separating the seven clubs directly above them. Sevilla and Valencia are in there…at least one of the big boys could end up being in the three that go down.

Serie A: Napoli cruising to historic win

If you thought Barça’s lead was commanding, check out Napoli’s. Gli Azzurri have only ever won two league titles – when Diego Maradona played for them in the late 80s/early 90s – but they’re going to win a third one; they currently sit 19 (NINETEEN) points clear of second-placed Lazio with 11 games left. Juventus’ 15-point deduction has helped a little but Napoli would still be 15 points clear without it.

Three other clubs will join Napoli in next season’s Champions League, with the two Rome clubs, the two Milan clubs and Atalanta in contention. Juve could even sneak their way back in with a good run between now and the end of the season.

The bottom three already looks fairly set, with Cremonese and Sampdoria looking certain to go down. 18th-placed Verona are five points adrift of Spezia, the nearest team above them.

Ligue 1: PSG comfortably top despite recent troubles

Paris-Saint Germain seem to be swaying from one crisis to the next at the moment, which makes it all the more astonishing that they’re still seven points clear of Marseille, nine ahead of Lens and 12 better off than Monaco at the top of Ligue 1. Saying that, they could see that gap close if they keep going the way they have been since the turn of the year.

Only the top two qualify for the Champions League directly, with third entering at the third qualifying round.

Bottom club Angers need a miracle to survive, while five points separate five clubs between 15th and 19th. Four clubs in total will be relegated to Ligue 2.

Bundesliga: Dortmund lead Bayern

Do not adjust your screens or change your glasses. There are only nine league games left to play and Bayern Munich are not top of the table. That honour goes to Borussia Dortmund, who hold a one-point advantage over the Bavarians; the two teams meet in Munich this coming Saturday (1 April) in a game that could go a long way to deciding the league title. Union Berlin (five points behind Dortmund), Freiburg (seven) and RB Leipzig (eight) will probably need a perfect finish to the campaign to have any chance of a surprise victory. Those five teams will almost certainly fill the four Champions League places for 2023-24, although Eintracht Frankfurt, six points off fourth, still have an outside chance.

Two of Germany’s biggest clubs, Stuttgart and Schalke, prop up the table as it stands. Two teams go down automatically and one faces a relegation playoff. The bottom four are currently separated by only two points and several other sides could yet get sucked into the battle to avoid the drop.

Liga MX: Monterrey magic

As mentioned, MLS hasn’t gone anywhere and the season has only just started, so I’m going to assume that you don’t need a recap of what’s going on there just yet. So we’ll finish on Liga MX. We’ve seen a couple of catch-up games during the international break but things get back in full swing in Mexico this coming weekend.

With five matches of the regular season left to go, Monterrey are seven points clear of second place and are assured of at least a place in the Reclassification for the final Clausura tournament, although they will obviously have their sights set much higher than that. Assuming Rayados don’t blow up, León, América, Toluca, Pachuca, Tigres and Chivas - perhaps even Cruz Azul – are likely to fight it out for the remaining three quarter-finals spots for the final phase.

After that, anyone could still finish in the top 12. Apart from Mazatlán, who have taken just four points from their first 12 matches.

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