Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles

By Sports Desk May 17, 2021

Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

 

PREMIER LEAGUE

Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

LALIGA 

The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

LIGUE 1

The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

SERIE A

With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

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    Alvaro Morata has returned to Atletico Madrid after Juventus failed to strike a deal that would keep the Spaniard in Turin.

    Juve signed a loan agreement with Atletico back in September 2020, but the finances of the deal always looked to be on the expensive side.

    Although initially a one-year loan agreement worth €10million and with a purchase option of €45m, Juve had the right to extend the temporary stay by another season for an extra €10m, which would bring the release clause down to €35m.

    But Juve had reportedly been trying to negotiate the purchase figure down since the end of the season, with stories from Italy suggesting they offered €15m, at least €11m less than Atletico's asking price.

    A third year on loan had emerged as an option, but seemingly Juventus opted to walk away from the deal as they confirmed on Thursday the striker's second spell at the club is over.

    As part of a farewell note on their website, Juventus said: "Alvaro Morata's adventure at Juventus has come to an end.

    "The Spanish forward, on loan from Atletico Madrid over the last two seasons, leaves the Bianconeri for the second time and returns to the ranks of Los Colchoneros."

    Although Morata's Atletico contract expires next year, rumours at the end of the season suggested the club saw him as a potential short-term solution to Luis Suarez leaving.

    The Uruguayan did not have his contract renewed and is expected to join River Plate in Argentina.

  • Pogba talks progressing 'very, very well', says Juventus CEO Pogba talks progressing 'very, very well', says Juventus CEO

    Paul Pogba is seemingly closing in on a return to Juventus after the club's CEO claimed talks are progressing "very, very well".

    Manchester United confirmed at the start of June that Pogba was set to leave at the end of his contract, with former club Juventus his likeliest next destination.

    His United contract officially expired on Thursday, and although he has not already reached an agreement with another club, it would appear to be a formality.

    Nevertheless, reports suggest Pogba will be paid significantly less than he was at United, with Juve said to be the only club taking an interest in him.

    As such, Juve chief Maurizio Arrivabene seems confident a deal is likely, and the Frenchman will be considered a major signing from a "commercial" perspective.

    "We are talking to him, things are evolving very, very well," he told Tuttosport. "[The idea came about] in our meetings, when names are mentioned.

    "It was like that with [Dusan] Vlahovic. You open the door, throw a name and everyone looks at you like you're crazy. Then, little by little, the machine starts up and the operation is built.

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    "It's not a change of course, but we need points of reference. I saw the Ronaldo effect on our young players, now players like [Nicolo] Fagioli, [Matias] Soule and [Fabio] Miretti must have players to learn from."

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    "I'm just a kid from Slovenia, watching television all day and then riding afterwards," said Tadej Pogacar, after winning the 2020 Tour de France.

    Then just 21, he required a 57-second swing to overtake his compatriot Primoz Roglic on the final time trial.

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    Pogacar has Merckx in his sights

    Only Merckx has managed to win the Tour de France on each of his first three appearances in the race (the Belgian went on to win his first five in a row, remarkably), but a place in history is there for the taking for Pogacar.

    He is already the youngest rider to win multiple yellow jerseys, at the age of 22 years and 301 days at the culmination of the 2021 Tour, while he has led the young rider classification for the last 30 stages in total, since stage 13 in 2020, which is the longest run since the white jersey was first awarded in 1975.

    Pogacar is also aiming to become the first rider to win the king of the mountains jersey in three successive editions of the Tour de France since popular French rider Richard Virenque between 1994 and 1997.

    "The Tour de France is the jewel in the crown. It's the one that the road cyclists do all want to win," Chris Hoy, one of the United Kingdom's greatest Olympians, told Stats Perform.

    "As such, it's quite hard to predict. But Pogacar is one of these young phenomenal athletes who have shown such maturity, despite their years."

    Roglic out for revenge

    Roglic won the Criterium du Dauphine earlier in June, and looks well placed to push for what would be his fourth Grand Tour success, albeit his first outside of Spain.

    The chance was cruelly snatched away in 2020, while Roglic was forced to abandon ahead of stage nine last year following a crash six stages prior.

    Roglic is aiming to become the oldest rider to win the Tour de France since Cadel Evans in 2011 (34 years and 162 days).

    He will be 32 years old and 268 days on the last day of this year's race, but is the prime contender from a strong Jumbo-Visma team.

    Their line-up includes six-time Tour de France stage winner Wout van Aert, Jonas Vingegaard, who finished second overall in 2021, and Sepp Kuss, an exceptional climber who last year became the first American to win a stage at the Tour de France since Tyler Farrar in 2011, while Steven Kruijswijk is one of three riders in the squad to have finished on the GC podium before.

    Van Aert is the pick of the supporting cast, with his six stage wins between 2019 and 2021 the joint-highest in that period alongside Pogacar.

    Indeed, the Belgian won the final two stages last year and could become the first rider to win three successive individual stages (not including time trials) at Le Tour since Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi in 2003.

    No Bernal, but INEOS looking strong

    Egan Bernal has not yet fully recovered from a serious crash he suffered earlier this year, meaning INEOS Grenadiers are without one of the best in the business.

    Yet their team is still one to be reckoned with. Captain Geraint Thomas is one of just three riders in the provisional start list to have won Le Tour (along with Pogacar and Chris Froome), with the Welshman heading to France on the back of his sole victory of 2022 so far, in the Tour de Suisse.

    Only Merckx (in 1974) and Bernal (2019) have won both the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France in the same season, and while a Thomas push for GC glory looks unlikely, INEOS have real depth.

    Tom Pidcock is one of the brightest prospects in cycling, having triumphed in the Tokyo Olympic Games mountain biking and the World Championships (cyclo-cross).

    He is riding alongside Adam Yates, the winner of the white jersey in 2016, and time trial world champion Filippo Ganna.

    Stage 20 between Lacapelle-Marival and Rocamadour (40.7km) will be the longest individual time trial in the Tour de France since 2014, and Ganna, a six-time stage winner at the Giro d'Italia, will be looking to come to the fore there.

    Cavendish denied a shot at history

    Despite Pogacar's dominance, Mark Cavendish provided the most remarkable story at the 2021 Tour de France. His comeback was one for the ages.

    Cavendish had not featured at the Tour de France in 2016, but last year he won four stages to match the overall record of Merckx (34 stage victories) that had stood since 1975.

    The Manxman was unable to surpass it on the Champs-Elysees, however, and his chance of becoming the outright record holder may well have gone, after Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl went with Fabio Jakobsen (who has 10 sprint wins this season) as their sprinter.

    Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team riders have led the points classification in the Tour de France in each of the last 33 stages of the race, with three of their riders winning the green jersey in that time. Julian Alaphilippe is one of them, but like Cavendish he has missed out.

    France out of luck?

    Alaphilippe has won six of the last nine stages won by a French rider in the Tour de France, and would have been aiming to become the first home rider to win a stage at five consecutive editions since Bernard Hinault (1978-1982).

    As it is, Alaphilippe will have to watch on, and with that France's slim hopes of a home success seem to have dwindled further still.

    Romain Bardet has achieved five top-10 finishes in the GC standings. That is the most for a French rider since Virenque (six between 1994 and 2000), yet Bardet has finished only two of his last four Grand Tours and it would be a shock if the Team DSM man challenged.

    Pierre Rolland will participate in his 13th Tour de France, the joint-highest tally among all riders on the provisional start list, alongside Imanol Erviti, while Thibaut Pinot will make his first Grand Tour start since the 2020 Vuelta a Espana, when he abandoned after two stages. This will be his ninth appearance in La Grande Boucle, but he has finished only four times.

    The last time a Frenchman did not win a stage was in 1999 – since then, 59 stages have been won by French riders – but you might not bet against that run ending this year.

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