Excitement Across Europe
Is the Premier League title race really all that exciting? Look further afield and the answer is “No”.
The Barclays Premier League is the most exciting league in the world, right? Well, that’s the high ground we seem to have retreated to after we put ourselves right out there claiming the League was the very best in the world outright. The best sides, the most exciting, the best fans, the best players, all packaged together as the best product. For a while at least, it was true. English sides dominated Europe, the world’s top stars played for our top sides, stadiums were full, TV rights deals kept climbing to dizzying heights. Some of those claims are still true, but others are now patently not. Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas departed, whilst other top players felt age burden their once youthful limbs. This season, however, English sides have been taught a lesson in Europe on the pitch as well as in the stands. It’s not all doom and gloom though, the Premier League is still a great league and it’s been as exciting as ever this season, though the quality has dropped off a touch. No matter though, the top sides are rebuilding and will almost surely be back competing against the likes of AC Milan, Bayern Munich and the Spanish giants once again. English fans and media alike have conceded to that.
Yet there’s that one bit of high ground they just won’t relinquish; that the Premier League is the toughest fought league in the world, the most competitive. The quality may not always be there, but every match is a battle, the title race a war. I’m not so sure that is true anymore. The Premier League is a competitive league and you do get at least a couple of games each weekend where the team that “should” win tends to struggle as the underdog rises to the challenge. However, I don’t believe that’s something which is exclusive to the Premier League and if anything, I think the competitiveness of the league has been overrated. That becomes apparent when you look across Europe and compare the respective title races, which is what I did this week.
La Liga is often labelled a tanned and cultured Scottish First Division drizzled with the finest olive oil (how else do they get their hair so damn lush?!). At times, it does seem an accurate description. Yet, the Premier League isn’t necessarily all that different; in fact, in terms of competitiveness at the top end, it’s not really different at all. Real Madrid lead Barcelona by 6 points whilst United lead City in England by 5. Both leaders face away trips to their nearest rivals so each race still has a way to go, but it looks close to over in both cases. You could even argue the battle in England is all but over as City appear to be capitulating whilst Barcelona are slowly edging into Real’s lead. So I guess you could argue the Premier League is a…non-kilt wearing, normal Mars bar eating, Scottish First Division!
The two most lauded leagues in the world, however, serve up tame title races when you compare them to the continental counterparts. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund lead rivals Bayern Munich by 3 points and the two sides face off on Wednesday night at the intimidating Westfalenstadion. Both sides are in impressive form; Dortmund have lost just once in their last 17 games in the league whilst Bayern are resurgent with the wind in their sails, as they moved closer to a European Cup final at their home ground. Until two or three weeks ago, the hunt for League glory in Germany was very much a four-horse race as Schalke and the adventurous Borussia Monchengladbach were well in touch of the leaders. It’s been a similar story in Italy where AC Milan sit just 2 points clear of a revitalised Juventus; Napoli and Lazio have fallen by the wayside along the way, but at least they were in the race at the turn of the year. Can you even remember the last time four sides were within a handful of points of one another in England or Spain deep into the season?
Germany brims with excitement before next week’s showdown, but their title race pales in comparison to those taking place in Portugal and France, where the race has been simmering away nicely as it reaches the boil over the next few weeks. In both leagues, three sides are in with a very real chance of taking first place. Porto lead in Portugal by just one point from historic rivals Benfica whilst the new kids on the block, Braga, are just a point further adrift. With just 5 games to play, the top three are separated by 2 points.
In France, Montpellier and now cash-rich Paris St. Germain share the lead on 60 points piece with Lille only 4 points behind. Serial winners Lyon are adrift by 10 points, meaning that the contenders this season are by no means seasoned pros who have experienced the pressure which piles on at this stage of the season. In both of the cases, Portugal and France, the leagues are truly competitive, and more to the point, compelling, as there can be drastic changes on any weekend and results matter from more than just two fixtures.
But if keeping track with 3 teams in a title race seems a stretch, double that and try 6, because that’s what Dutch football fans are getting their teeth into. Ajax lead on 58 points, but with just six games to be played, 6th placed Herenveen trail the leaders by only 4 points. Feyenoord and PSV are also 4 points behind, whilst AZ and FC Twente are a single result from the lead. From now until the end of the season in a month’s time, there are no less than 8 games between those 6 sides, meaning that there are effectively 8 “title showdowns” in which the contenders can inflict fatal defeats upon one another. Whilst Sky hype the April 30th Manchester Derby to the end of the world, and Spanish fans muster strength to look forward to the now frequent and tedious El Clasico, Dutch fans are in for a frantic 4 weeks where there are bound to be more ups and down in just one month than we get in an entire season.
The Premier League is fun to watch, sure, but it’s no holy grail. Scroll a little further down the tabs next time you visit your football news source of choice and there’s heart-attack inducing drama to be found elsewhere.
Just for fun, here’s who I predict (and in some cases hope!) will win the Leagues mentioned above.
Premier League – Manchester United
La Liga – Real Madrid
Bundesliga – Borussia Dortmund
Serie A – AC Milan
Primeira Liga – Braga
Ligue 1 – PSG
Eredivisie – FC Twente
Run your eyes over at least a couple of the leagues over the long weekend and make some predictions of your own. Better still, follow one league for just this final month of the season and take a couple of years off your life, as high drama is guaranteed.