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.

Where will Pau Torres play next season?

The Villarreal defender is reportedly wanted by Premier League giants Manchester United, who are set to face the LaLiga outfit in the Europa League final.

But Napoli are also eyeing the Spain international.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED FACE FIGHT FOR VILLARREAL DEFENDER

Manchester United could face a battle from Napoli to sign Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

United are looking to bolster their defence amid links to Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, as well as Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

Torres has emerged as a serious option, though Napoli are also reportedly interested, with star Kalidou Koulibaly's future uncertain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Lautaro Martinez and Inter have opened dialogue over a contract renewal, says the front page of Monday's Gazzetta dello Sport. Martinez has previously been tipped to join Barcelona, while Madrid have reportedly emerged as suitors.

- L'Equipe claims Lyon captain Memphis Depay will complete his move to Barca in June. It comes as Barca look to seal other free-transfer details for Manchester City defender Eric Garcia and Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum. Barca have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and City's soon-to-be free agent Sergio Aguero.

Roma have no interest in signing Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The Italy great will leave Turin at the end of the season, but it will not be for the Italian capital, reports Calciomercato.

- According to Calciomercato, Mauro Icardi has been tipped to swap Paris Saint-Germain for Juventus. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala linked with Juve exits, former Inter captain Icardi could return to Italy.

Atalanta are set to trigger their option to sign Cristian Romero from Juve, claims Fabrizio Romano. The defender has been scouted by United.

What does the future hold for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez?

The pair helped Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

But both could depart San Siro as Inter look to cut costs.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU AND LAUTARO TO LEAVE INTER?

Inter could be forced to sell star forwards Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Antonio Conte's Inter have been crowned Serie A champions this season, but the Nerazzurri have financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lukaku has been linked with former club Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid, while team-mate Martinez has long been tipped to join Barca.

Alessandro Bastoni is also listed in the report amid links to Manchester City and Liverpool, while star full-back Achraf Hakimi is said to be of interest to Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barca look at the idea of signing City's Sergio Aguero favourably. Aguero is out of contract at season's end and he has been linked with Inter, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham. But the Argentina star reportedly wants to play alongside countryman Lionel Messi. A move for Aguero would not prevent Barca from signing fellow free agent and Lyon captain Memphis Depay. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland is also a target for the LaLiga giants. It comes amid doubts over the future of head coach Ronald Koeman.

Manchester United and Arsenal are battling to sign Sparta Prague sensation Abdallah Sima, claims the Mirror. Sima is reportedly valued at £25million (€29m).

- Sky Sports says United are interested in Juventus defender Cristian Romero, who could cost £34m (€40m). The 23-year-old Argentinian joined Atalanta on a two-year loan deal from Juve and the Serie A side have an option to buy Romero. United have also been linked with Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Lille defender Sven Botman, Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could replace Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace after emerging as a leading contender, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on VAR but was unwilling to comment on the controversial penalty awarded against Real Madrid through fear of being further punished.

Zinedine Zidane was left furious after Sevilla were given a spot-kick for handball against Eder Militao as Madrid were held 2-2 on Sunday, meaning the LaLiga title is no longer in their own hands.

Los Blancos thought they had earned a penalty for Yassine Bounou's foul on Karim Benzema at 1-1, only for a VAR review to overturn the decision because of Militao's handball at the other end at the start of the move.

Sevilla were instead awarded a penalty and Ivan Rakitic converted from 12 yards, though Madrid did at least rescue a point in the 94th minute through a goal later credited to Eden Hazard in what is the tightest LaLiga title battle in years.

Barcelona have themselves been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions this season, with Koeman questioning why VAR is even used in the Spanish top flight after his side were denied two penalties in their loss to Madrid.

The Dutchman, who has just served a two-game ban for comments made to the fourth official during last month's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada, did not want to get involved in the drama that unfolded at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

"If someone is better off not talking about refereeing, it is me," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's trip to Levante. "I have already said what I think, my opinion has not changed. 

"If Madrid think they were harmed, that is their problem. As for VAR, I will not repeat any more."

Barcelona remain two points off leaders Atletico Madrid following Saturday's stalemate between the sides and level on points with Madrid, who are one place better off due to their superior head-to-head record over their Clasico rivals.

Barca have collected just 10 of the last 18 points available in LaLiga, after picking up 45 from the previous 51, which Koeman puts down to fatigue at the end of another gruelling campaign behind closed doors.

"There are a lot of games that take their toll," the Dutchman said. "It is normal for all teams, especially those who have played in Europe and have reached cup finals this season.

"In addition, playing without an audience can also play a part. That's why many teams have dropped points at home. It's not normal for so many games to be played. The team that is physically and mentally stronger will win the title. 

"We will fight until the last moment to win the league. It is not in our hands and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."

Koeman has another year to run on the contract signed when taking over as Barca boss last August, but his future will reportedly come down to whether his side finish top of the LaLiga standings or not.

However, the Dutchman remains confident he will still be in charge at Camp Nou next season regardless of results over Barca's remaining three matches.

"There is nothing to answer on my future," he said. "You don't have to look for stories that are not there. From the first day he arrived, the president has shown me his confidence. If anyone can decide, it's him.

"The future is not for me to be worried about because I've signed two years as a coach. We have agreed to talk after the season, but before then we have two weeks and three more games to go.

"I cannot win a battle with the press or people on the outside. For many periods this season they have valued me. For me, the important people are those who I work with every day and who value what we are doing."

Koeman has not lost any of his two matches against Levante as a manager, with his teams keeping a clean sheet in both previous encounters, including a 1-0 win for Barcelona in this season's reverse fixture.

However, Levante have won two of their last three meetings with Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia in LaLiga - one more than they had in their previous 11 home games against them in the competition.

Real Madrid star Luka Modric is not giving up on winning LaLiga following the defending champions' last-gasp draw at home to Sevilla.

The title is no longer in Madrid's hands after they were held to a 2-2 draw by rivals Sevilla in a gripping contest at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Sunday.

Toni Kroos' deflected strike off team-mate Eden Hazard deep into second-half stoppage time salvaged a point for Madrid, who are two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with three rounds remaining.

Modric, though, insisted Madrid must not lose faith after they crashed out of the Champions League semi-finals.

"We were hoping it would be in our hands, but now it's not going to be like that," Modric said post-match. "We have to focus on our game, not the others and try to win the three we've got left.

"All the teams are dropping points. We have to keep believing."

Ivan Rakitic had seemingly secured Sevilla a win that would have blown the title race wide open by scoring a late penalty, before Madrid equalised at the death.

Sevilla had taken the lead in the first half thanks to Fernando in the Spanish capital, where he opened the scoring in the 22nd minute.

Madrid improved in the second half and levelled through Marco Asensio but a remarkable twist left Los Blancos trailing 2-1 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid had seemingly earned themselves a chance to go 2-1 up as Karim Benzema led a break and was brought down in the Sevilla box by Yassine Bounou.

But a VAR review overturned the decision because a handball offence by Eder Militao was spotted at the other end at the start of the move, and Rakitic converted the spot-kick that was subsequently awarded to Sevilla.

Modric added: "We've dropped two points, we did everything to win the game. We deserved to win, but we've come away with a point. We played quite well, especially in the second half and created a lot of chances, but we didn't convert them and at the end we were awarded a penalty that ended up being a penalty for the other side.

"I'm not sure if it was a handball or not, I didn't see it. It's unlucky, but we're still very much alive, there are three games left to play and we're going to give our all until the end.
 
"We found it difficult to get into the game in the first half, but were much better in the second half. We did everything we could to get the win.

"It's a shame, but we're still there. I'm physically strong as are the rest of the players. We're looking forward to playing our remaining games and trying to win all three of them."

Madrid have not lost in their last 15 LaLiga games (W10 D5), and they conceded again after keeping a clean sheet in the last four. Only on one previous occasion have they kept five consecutive clean sheets in the competition with Zidane as head coach (in July 2020).

Meanwhile, Madrid have conceded eight penalties in LaLiga this season, their joint-highest tally in a single campaign since at least 2003-04 (also eight in 2018-19).

Zinedine Zidane was left fuming by the decision to award Sevilla a penalty for handball against Eder Militao as Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw that means the title is no longer in their hands.

A gripping game at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Sunday came to life in the latter stages as a remarkable twist left Madrid trailing 2-1 with just over 10 minutes to go.

Madrid had seemingly earned themselves a glorious opportunity to go 2-1 up as Karim Benzema led a break and was brought down in the Sevilla box by Yassine Bounou.

But a VAR review overturned the decision because a handball offence by Militao was spotted at the other end at the start of the move, and Ivan Rakitic converted the spot-kick that was subsequently awarded to Sevilla.

While a Toni Kroos effort deep into stoppage time deflected off Eden Hazard to earn a share of the spoils and essentially end Sevilla's slim title hopes, it did Madrid little good as city rivals Atletico remain top with a two-point lead heading into the final three games.

Zidane was seemingly unconvinced by the merits of the penalty against Madrid, suggesting that if Militao – who was not facing the ball when it hit his hand – was guilty of an offence then Sevilla's Joan Jordan should have conceded a penalty earlier in a similar situation.

"I don't understand anything. If there is a Militao handball, there's a Sevilla handball as well," he said.

"I was not convinced by what he [the referee, Juan Martinez Munuera] told me. I never speak about a referee, but today I am angry.

"In the end it is what it is, we are not going to change anything. I'm happy with our game, we deserved more because the second half was spectacular.

"I'm not going to talk about that anymore. We've already talked about it. The referee has to explain the rules to me, but that's it. We're going to fight to the death, until the end."

Pressed on his interpretation of the handball law, Zidane added: "We can talk now… but it will not be clarified now and that is what bothers me.

"We have to think about the three remaining games. I am angry because we deserved the victory."

He was then seemingly encouraged to denounce VAR, though Zidane again pointed to what he felt was handball by Jordan.

"I trust football. What I'm saying is that I saw two hands and they whistled ours."

Real Madrid will require a helping hand if they are to defend their LaLiga crown despite Toni Kroos' late deflected strike rescuing a 2-2 draw at home to Sevilla, whose own hopes now appear over.

Ivan Rakitic had seemingly secured Sevilla a win that would have blown the title race wide open by scoring a late penalty, but deep into second-half stoppage time Kroos saw a hopeful shot hit Diego Carlos, who was unfortunate to see the ball end up in his own net.

Sevilla had taken the lead in the first half thanks to a lovely goal from Fernando, and they were good value for it against a Madrid side that still appeared to be labouring from their Champions League disappointment in midweek – their only moment of excitement coming via a disallowed Karim Benzema header.

They improved in the second period and levelled through Marco Asensio, that goal looking like the catalyst they needed to claim the win that would have put them top, but a switch that saw VAR overturn a Madrid spot-kick because of an incident in the opposing area left Zinedine Zidane's side in trouble.

Although able to cancel out Rakitic's successful kick, the result does Los Blancos little good as they are left two points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid with just three games remaining.

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insists he will not be watching Real Madrid's crunch LaLiga game against Sevilla on Sunday.

Atleti's 0-0 draw with fellow title hopefuls Barcelona on Saturday opened the door for Los Blancos, who can usurp their Madrid neighbours at the top of the table with victory in their game in hand.

A win would lift them level on points, but they would be first courtesy of their superior head-to-head record this season.

Atleti dominated the opening 45 minutes at Camp Nou but they could not find a way past Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Los Rojiblancos had six shots on target in the first half – the most by an opposing team before half-time against Barca this season in all competitions.

Simeone said he has little interest in watching Sunday's clash at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, instead preferring to spend time with his family ahead of Wednesday's visit of Real Sociedad.

"I don't think I will watch it," he told a media conference. "I'm not watching the games; I don't have a good time and I prefer not to watch them. 

"It will not change much if I see it. I will be with the family having dinner and preparing on Monday for a good game against Real."

The result means Simeone has overseen more away games without a win against Barca in LaLiga than against any other side in the competition, drawing four and losing five of his matches in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou. 

Despite the extension of that unwanted run, Simeone was pleased with his players' efforts. 

"We came to Barcelona to play a game with determination and collective work, and the game that we imagined happened," he added.

"We have had a great first half. The second half was more even. The team did a great job and we are continuing on the path we are on, which is to take things game by game.

"The only thing I asked the players is to play, that they are themselves and they manage to play. And they absolutely did. 

"That fills me with joy because success is in being able to compete every year where we are."

After also drawing a blank in the previous meeting of the teams, Barca have failed to score against Atleti in the same campaign for the first time since 1989-90, back when the legendary Johan Cruyff was at the helm.

Zinedine Zidane appeared to commit to Real Madrid with his latest cryptic comments around his future ahead of a huge LaLiga clash with Sevilla.

Zidane is in his second stint as Madrid coach and attempting to defend their domestic title.

But speculation is never far away at the Santiago Bernabeu, and Zidane did not shy away from links to former club Juventus earlier in the season.

The Frenchman was asked again about his plans on Saturday, though, and replied: "I'm going to make it very easy for the club, because they have given me everything.

"But the theme is Sevilla, that's all. Sevilla and what's left of LaLiga."

Second-placed Madrid are facing fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday after leaders Atletico Madrid take on Barcelona, the remaining top-four team, the previous day.

Zidane's side, two points back, could end the weekend top with just three games remaining and will back themselves against Sevilla.

Madrid have won the past four LaLiga meetings between the sides and are unbeaten in 11 at home to Sevilla, scoring 3.4 goals per game on average. It is their longest ever stretch of consecutive home league victories against the Andalusian outfit.

But Los Blancos must move on from a disappointing result in midweek when they exited the Champions League to Chelsea.

"We know what we're playing. That's four finals," Zidane said. "We have to forget about the Champions League now and focus on what we have left."

Madrid will again have to contend without captain Sergio Ramos, who has suffered a hamstring injury – his third setback of the season.

But Ramos had already missed three of Madrid's previous games against top-four opposition this term and they are unbeaten in all five such matches, winning four.

Zidane said of his team's injury crisis: "It's a concern, because there are so many. Our case is that of the team that has had the most. I'm worried, of course.

"It's a particular year, players never rest, coronavirus, the calendar... That's all there is.

"I hope that by next year they will change and be more normal, with a normal pre-season."

Zidane will be able to call on Eden Hazard, though, after the winger apologised having been pictured joking with his former Chelsea team-mates following this week's defeat.

Hazard has just three goals in 27 LaLiga appearances over the past two seasons and none since January. He has created only 26 chances for four assists and much more is expected from the €100million signing.

"Eden has apologised and done well. He didn't mean to hurt anyone, which is the most important thing," Zidane said. "There's no more, he's apologised, we've talked and nothing more to say.

"He's going to help us. So far you haven't seen the player inside him. I hope we can see that Hazard soon. He has a contract with Madrid."

Four rounds remaining, four teams involved, and just six points to separate them.

The end of the LaLiga title race looks to be the most gripping to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish in Spain since 2006-07.

Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order – albeit they trail the leaders by six points – though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are most prominently in the mix.

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only seven of their 15 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada last week.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Let's say how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Atletico take the crown

Atletico Madrid are now given a 40.6 per cent probability of winning the title, up from 38 per cent a week ago.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca. Atletico hold a slight advantage, having beaten the Catalans 1-0 in Madrid in the reverse fixture, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Barcelona's chances have increased from 32.6 per cent to 35.1, with that surprise defeat to Granada preventing any bigger jump despite their 3-2 win at Valencia.

After drawing 0-0 twice in three games, Madrid's chances dropped from 34.4 per cent to 26.6 per cent last week, and they now sit at 24.3 per cent despite their most recent 2-0 win over Osasuna.

Sevilla, who conceded an injury-time winner to Athletic Bilbao last time out, remain distant outsiders. Our prediction model only gives them a 0.1 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

When Sevilla defeated Inter in their gripping Europa League final clash last August, there was a sense of deja vu for Los Nervionenses. Not only because they were winning that trophy for the sixth time, but also that talk quickly turned to "the next step".

Sevilla had been here before: Their back-to-back UEFA Cup successes under Juande Ramos were supposed to transform them into a new power in Spanish football, but it didn't quite happen.

Then the Europa League three-peat with Unai Emery was supposed to elevate them, but in the 13 months that followed the hat-trick-clinching win over Liverpool, Sevilla lost two coaches (Emery and his popular successor Jorge Sampaoli), revered sporting director Monchi and some of their best players.

Monchi returned in 2019 following a well-publicised split with Roma, his reputation having taken a significant hit. The damage has been impressively repaired, however, building a Europa League-winning squad straight away and appointing Julen Lopetegui, the man who got them back into the Champions League.

Looking back, his hiring of Lopetegui was a bold one. Here were two men, both of whom had taken significant flak in their previous jobs, with their own points to prove.

Regardless of Monday's shock home defeat to Athletic Bilbao, it's arguable that Sevilla have already taken "the next step" that Monchi spoke about 15 months ago. Never before in a 20-team LaLiga season had only three points separated top from fourth with five games to go, yet Sevilla were one of them.

A draw between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona coupled with a Sevilla win over Real Madrid the following day could yet see Lopetegui's side get themselves back in the hunt for the title. Even if they don't, 2020-21 has proven Monchi still knows how to find a player and a coach.


Thinking From the Back

Lopetegui came in with his own ideas. Many Sevilla teams over the past 20 years have been exciting to watch with an attacking brand of football. This team are arguably not one of them.

The first thing regular watchers of Lopetegui's Sevilla will say when summarising this team's style of play is that they're not exactly LaLiga's great entertainers. In fact, the 34 matches they've played this term have yielded just 76 goals. Only Osasuna, rock-bottom Eibar (both 72) and Getafe (66) have been party to fewer.

 

Key to this is Sevilla's effective defence, which has conceded only 27 times. Atletico (22) and Real Madrid (24) are the two sides with better records. And looking at expected goals conceded in the table above shows that Sevilla's defence is the most miserly in LaLiga. Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde have proven a hugely successful pairing at the base of the defence for well over a year now, but while it was the Brazilian attracting more of the plaudits last term, it's his young colleague who is capturing the imagination in 2020-21.

While he may not look it when standing next to the supreme physical specimen that is Diego Carlos, Kounde is an impressive competitor in the air. At just 5-foot-8 he has a great spring and his 93 successful aerial duels is bettered by only three other defenders this term.

But given Sevilla generally spend more time on the ball than their opponents, it's Kounde's progressiveness in possession that helps him stand out the most. Lopetegui's flexible 4-3-3 formation often morphs into more of a 3-4-3 as Fernando drops back, and this allows Kounde to push out from the back, in what has become a key aspect of their system.

The Frenchman makes his influence known in two ways. Firstly, he's attempted more forward passes (801) than any other outfield player in LaLiga, and only central midfielder Dani Parejo (624) can better his 623 successful ones.

This speaks to Kounde's positive nature when in possession and his contribution to Sevilla's attack can be highlighted by our sequences framework. Of all centre-backs in the league, only Clement Lenglet (108) has been involved in more open-play sequences that have resulted in a shot than Kounde's 88. Team-mate Diego Carlos is fourth on the list with 73.

 

This forward-thinking approach is aided by Kounde's extreme comfort on the ball. His 12 ball carries (dribbling with the ball for five metres or more) followed by a take-on is third best among centre-backs, and just three other central defenders have carried the ball further up-field across the season than him (5,532 metres).

The confidence of Kounde – and Diego Carlos – on the ball helps explain why Sevilla's 396 pressed sequences against (instances where they have three or fewer passes and the move ends within 40m of their own goal) is the fifth-lowest in LaLiga, while they are the only team not to concede a goal as a result of a high turnover by the opposition.

 

Sevilla are very effective at playing through a press, best demonstrated by their remarkable 37-pass goal against Valencia in the Copa del Rey in January, and Kounde is essential to that, operating as a kind of defensive playmaker in the backline.

 

While they managed to keep hold of him despite interest from Manchester City last year, they might struggle to shoo away potential suitors this time around.

Filling the Void

The one area where Sevilla have perhaps been weaker in 2020-21 than 2019-20 is in midfield. Losing Ever Banega was always going to be a blow, but replacing him has proven especially difficult.

Ivan Rakitic received something of a hero's welcome as he returned from Barcelona and, perhaps through nostalgia-tinted glasses, was billed as Banega's initial replacement with Oscar Rodriguez seen as the long-term heir.

While Oscar has hardly featured, Rakitic has at least been a fairly regular part of the team, often filling the third midfield spot alongside the first-choice pair of Fernando and Joan Jordan.

But despite his adulation, Rakitic's influence simply hasn't been anything like that of Banega, who offered far more across the board last season than the Croatian has at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in 2020-21.

Instead, it's been Jordan who has courted praise after kicking on from an encouraging first campaign at the club. The fact he’s now seemingly in the thoughts of Spain coach Luis Enrique speaks volumes about his progression this year.

A dynamic midfielder, Jordan sets the tempo for Sevilla but also contributes off the ball in a role not too dissimilar to that of Koke at Atletico Madrid, who is only of only six midfielders to have completed more passes than the former Eibar man (2,161).

His 1.97 tackles per 90 may not be remarkable, but among midfielders with at least 15 appearances, it is above the average of 1.65. Tackle numbers are always likely to be lower for players of teams who tend to see more of the ball anyway, but it proves Jordan is by no means only of use on the ball.

That is, however, when he's at his most comfortable. Granted, he has on occasion been accused of being a sideways-pass merchant, perhaps explaining why as many as 11 central midfielders have been involved in shot-ending sequences with a better cumulative xG value than Jordan (10.4).

However, this is likely down to how Sevilla's midfield trio all sit quite deep rather than any inherent lack of creativity. After all, Jordan has played a role in 10 shot-ending sequences where he has both created a chance and been involved in the build-up, behind only Frenkie de Jong, Luka Modric, Pedri and Toni Kroos.

He may not be the flashiest of midfielders, but Jordan has proven himself effective and clearly has the trust of both Lopetegui and the rest of the squad.

While replacing Banega will probably be on the agenda for Monchi again at the end of the season, Jordan's shown he could be worth a shot in a more advanced position.


En-Nesyri Defying the Doubters

When Sevilla shelled out roughly €20 million in January 2020 on a striker who had scored just 18 LaLiga goals in his first 77 matches, it's fair to say eyebrows were raised.

Although only 22 at the time, it felt as though Youssef En-Nesyri had already been around for quite a while, but he'd rarely stood out as a particularly outstanding player. Hard-working, sure, but a Champions League-level striker? There were many who had their doubts.

Rather gangly, just as likely to trip himself up as he was to beat his man, the Moroccan scored four goals in his 18 league appearances last term following his mid-season move and he failed to truly dislodge Luuk de Jong, who was widely derided until his Europa League final heroics.

But En-Nesyri has proved a lot of people wrong this season, his haul of 17 league goals so far is the same as his total for the previous two campaigns combined.

Even more impressive is the fact none of them have come from the penalty spot.

 

He really has led the line in excellent fashion, and his non-penalty xG of 15.1 is the third highest in LaLiga, suggesting he is frequently getting into high-quality scoring locations. When he does get those opportunities, the Sevilla striker is putting them away. Of players to have scored at least 10 goals this season, his 24.3 per cent shot conversion rate is a record that only Marcos Llorente can better.

 

Playing consistently alongside better players and in a system that seems to accentuate his pace and aerial strength is seemingly paying off. And it's in the air where he really comes into his own, which marries up well with Sevilla's most regular source of chances.

Jesus Navas may not be to everyone's liking, but he's been reborn as a right-back for Lopetegui, getting himself back into the Spain squad when his career looked to be petering out upon returning from Manchester City in 2017-18.

Navas has created 59 chances from open play this season – the highest number of any player. Only twice before in La Liga has he managed more over a full season, back in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when he played exclusively as a winger.

Navas' bombing forward from right-back – aided by Kounde's effective covering behind – is a key facet of Lopetegui's system. He's attempted (160), and completed (52), the most open-play crosses in LaLiga. Similarly, his 32.5 per cent crossing accuracy is better than anyone else to have attempted at least 50.

This is where En-Nesyri's aerial strength comes in. He's only behind Rafa Mir (13) for headed shots on target, while Karim Benzema (six) is the only player with more headed goals than the Sevilla striker (five).

It remains to be seen how much more En-Nesyri has to give, and the same can be said generally for Sevilla, with their 1-0 loss to Athletic raising questions of their ability to break down stubborn opposition.

Ahead of Sunday's trip to Madrid, our AI predictor gives them a minuscule 0.1 per cent chance of upsetting the established order and clinching their first LaLiga title since the 1940s.

But Madrid aren't going to set themselves up to nullify Sevilla, they need the win too and will surely look to put as much pressure on their visitors as possible.

But with capable ball players such as Kounde and Jordan in the side looking to break the lines, such a situation could be conducive to giving En-Nesyri, Lucas Ocampos and Papu Gomez space on the break.

Sevilla couldn't, could they?

If LaLiga's title race wasn't tantalising enough already, Barcelona's shock defeat to Granada on Thursday really threw a spanner in the works.

It looks set to be the most gripping end to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish to LaLiga since 2006-07.

Back then there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season – Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order, though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are in the mix as well.

In fact, with just three points separating first from fourth with five games left, it's the closest title race LaLiga has ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present).

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only six of their 14 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada on Thursday.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on the Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table…

 

Atletico take the crown

There we have it… The AI predictor still sees Atletico as the likely champions, with a 38 per cent probability.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca next Saturday. Atletico hold a slight advantage having beaten Barcelona 1-0 in Madrid earlier this season, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Nevertheless, Barcelona's outlook is almost identical to just a few weeks ago when the data suggested they had a 32.8 per cent chance, that now dropping ever so slightly to 32.6 – but you can't help but wonder what it would have been had they beaten Granada.

Madrid have drawn two of their previous three games 0-0, and so their chances have dropped from 34.4 per cent to a 26.6 per cent likelihood of winning the title.

Sevilla, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain the outsiders and our prediction model still only gives them a 2.8 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

However, that's 28 times more likely than just 18 days ago when the data gave them a 0.1 per cent chance of finishing top.

Everything seemingly hinges on next weekend…

France, Spain or Germany?

Eduardo Camavinga has admirers following his exploits for Rennes in Ligue 1.

Some of Europe's biggest clubs are interested, but could he be set for Bavaria?

 

TOP STORY – CAMAVINGA WANTED IN GERMANY

Bayern Munich are hoping to sign Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, according to France Football.

Camavinga is unwilling to extend his Rennes contract and the 18-year-old has been linked with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

Borussia Monchengladbach's Florian Neuhaus is also on Bayern's list, though the Bundesliga champions reportedly feel Camavinga could be better value for money.

 

ROUND-UP

- Who will permanently replace Jose Mourinho as Tottenham head coach following his sacking on Monday? Football Italia claims Spurs have contacted former Juventus, Chelsea and Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri. The Daily Mail, however, reports RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann is Tottenham's top candidate.

- La Razon says West Ham are leading the race to sign Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri, who has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

PSG are the most likely suitors for Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin, according to Sport. Bellerin is likely to leave the Gunners and he has been linked to Barcelona.

- Sport says Barca's plans depend on Lionel Messi's future. Messi is out of contract at the end of the season, but president Joan Laporta is keen to re-sign the superstar amid reported interest from PSG and Manchester City. It comes as Barca target Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, who has also been linked with rivals Real Madrid, United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, PSG and Juventus. Lyon captain Memphis Depay, City's Sergio Aguero and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum are also reportedly wanted at Camp Nou.

Sunday's announcement of a long-feared European 'Super League' raised the possibility of unprecedented change in football, with the 12 founding clubs seemingly at threat of being kicked out of other competitions as a result.

The Premier League's so-called "big six", Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Serie A trio Juventus, Milan and Inter have broken ranks and agreed to the formation of the breakaway competition.

Sunday's uniform announcement from most of the clubs involved confirmed the Super League will be made up of 15 founding clubs – with three to be added to the initial 12 – and unconfirmed guest teams.

It will run as a midweek tournament alongside the teams' respective domestic leagues and guarantees the founding clubs a share of €3.5billion "solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic".

But, pre-empting the announcement following widespread media speculation, UEFA released a statement co-signed by the national associations of England, Spain and Italy, and those countries' respective top-flight leagues. It reiterated a threat to ban players and teams involved from competing in other competitions.

While that is a debate that will rage on for some time, with the legality of such measures unclear for the moment, it raises the possibility of a Premier League without its "big six", a LaLiga missing Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Serie A expelling Juve, Milan and Inter.

With that in mind, we looked at what those three divisions would look like in the – admittedly unlikely – event that the 12 Super League clubs are expelled and results involving them are expunged…

Premier League

Who'd have thought in 2013 when he was appointed as Alex Ferguson's successor at Manchester United that David Moyes' first Premier League title would come as West Ham boss?

Well, if the "big six" were expelled and their results were void, it would be the Hammers sitting at the top of the pile – and by some distance.

Moyes' men would be on 49 points from 21 matches having suffered just two defeats.

Curiously, the exclusion of the Super League clubs would seemingly harm Leicester City, as they have lost just three matches to them in 2020-21 – West Ham have been beaten seven times by "big six" opposition.

Nevertheless, Leicester would still be on course to get back in the Champions League. Leeds United (1.8) and Everton (1.6) would appear to be the favourites to join them, by virtue of their better points-per-game record than Aston Villa (1.5).

LaLiga

Fair play to Real Betis, who have already embraced a future without Madrid, Atletico and Barcelona by deleting them from the Liga table that sits on their website.

Unfortunately for Betis, that same table now has their bitter rivals Sevilla sitting pretty at the summit.

In fact, Sevilla probably shouldn't be ruled out of the real title race just yet given they are actually only six points behind leaders Atletico and still have to face Zinedine Zidane's Madrid.

In our LaLiga table excluding the "big three", Sevilla have 60 points from 26 games, giving them a 13-point lead over Villarreal.

It also highlights just how bad Los Nervionenses' record against Madrid, Barca and Atletico is, as they have taken just four points from them this term.

Rounding off the top four would be Betis in third and Real Sociedad in fourth.

Serie A

Juventus' stranglehold on Serie A looks set to end regardless of any action from UEFA and the league. Having won each of the previous nine Scudetti, the Old Lady have been dire under Andrea Pirlo for much of the season.

So, helping establish a new semi-closed competition under the guise of needing better opponents is the logical step…

While Atalanta would sit top of a Serie A without Juve, Inter and Milan, technically it's Lazio who would be on course for title success.

The Biancocelesti have played a game less than Atalanta but would only be behind them on goal difference – their points-per-game record is 2.24, slightly more than the Bergamo side's 2.15.

Napoli (2.12) and Roma (1.96) would remain in the running as well were the "big three" to be dumped out of the competition.

For a long time, Neymar had been tipped to re-join Barcelona after leaving Camp Nou in a world-record transfer in 2017.

But Neymar's future is close to being finalised.

Paris Saint-Germain are set to retain the Brazil international.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR AND PSG POISED FOR RENEWAL

Neymar is close to signing a new contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, according to Canal+.

PSG star Neymar has been in contract negotiations and publicly pledged his long-term future to the club following their progress to the Champions League semi-finals.

Previously linked with a return to Barcelona, Neymar could sign his renewal before the Champions League tie against Manchester City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland's future remains up in the air, reports Diario AS. The in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, PSG, Juventus, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Speculation over his next move intensified as he followed Barca captain Lionel Messi on Instagram amid the Camp Nou club's interest.

- Diario Sport claims Ousmane Dembele's contract talks with Barcelona have stalled. Dembele, who is contracted until 2021-22, has been linked with United and Liverpool.

United and Liverpool are both eyeing Sevilla star Youssef En-Nesyri, says Estadio Deportivo. Sevilla are reportedly demanding in the region of £40million (€46m) for the forward.

- Russian powerhouse Zenit are interested in signing Barca defender Samuel Umtiti, reports Fabrizio Romano. Liverpool, United and Chelsea have been linked previously.

Gianluigi Donnarumma and Milan remain at an impasse regarding contract talks, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. The star Milan and Italy goalkeeper is out of contract at the end of the season and the likes of PSG, Chelsea, Juve and United have emerged as possible destinations.

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