The eight weeks after Easter are usually the best time of year for soccer fans. Title races across Europe come down to the wire. Relegation battles bring deflation and relief. Cup finals are contested domestically, and eight of the world’s best duel for the most prestigious trophy in the sport. But this year?
This year, the neck-and-neck sprints just haven’t materialized. Races were won throughout fall and winter. The world’s two most popular domestic leagues, per FiveThirtyEight’s excellent projections, look like this:
In Spain, there isn’t a single meaningful and compelling end-of-season race. Even at the bottom, seven points separate 17th (Levante) from 18th (Las Palmas).
In other words, the final two months of the European season figure to be as anti-climactic as any in recent memory.
But that doesn’t mean April and May will be completely devoid of intrigue. The Champions League semifinals and final promise glamor and excitement. And there are some late-season battles that deserve your attention. We’ve picked out the nine most compelling ones:
1. Serie A title race
For months – and for the first time in seven years – Juventus appeared to have an uphill battle on its hands. And, well, it’s winning that battle. But it hasn’t quite won it yet.
The Bianconeri haven’t lost to Italian opposition since November. They’ve conceded just two – TWO (2) – league goals in four-plus months, and let in their first of the calendar year in a 3-1 victory over AC Milan last weekend.
Napoli, in control since September, resisted for as long as it could, but finally cracked under Juve’s pressure in March. It lost once and drew twice. It saw its four-point lead turn into a four-point deficit, which is where we sit now with eight matches remaining.
FiveThirtyEight gives Juventus an 87 percent chance to hold that lead and claim a seventh straight title. But Napoli, in many senses, has been the better of the two teams this season. Also of note: Three of Juve’s final five games are against Napoli, Inter and Roma – the rest of the top four. So if nothing else, there should be some drama.
2. Bundesliga top four race
Bayern Munich will win the Bundesliga title this weekend, but below it is a heap of mediocrity that has made for a frenzied Champions League qualification fight. Three places are up for grabs.
Schalke, in second on 52 points, appears to be in good shape for one of the three. Five other teams, however, are gearing up for a furious scrap that could send any two of the five to Europe:
Dortmund is the best of the five. But it is reeling after a 6-0 shellacking from Bayern. Hoffenheim, in the weakest position of the five, is the hottest right now. The Bundesliga’s battle for fourth has the best chance of any European race to come down to the season’s final day (May 13).
3. Serie A top four race
There’s a more exclusive competition for the Champions League places in Italy. With eight matches to go, Roma is in third on 60 points; Inter Milan is in fourth on 59; Lazio is in fifth on 57. AC Milan was hanging around on the fringes in sixth, but probably had to beat Inter on Wednesday to stand a chance, and instead settled for a 0-0 draw.
4. Premier League relegation battle
We’re beginning to see a bit of separation at the bottom of the Premier League table, with Bournemouth, Watford and Newcastle all looking relatively safe, and the current bottom three all winless in their last five. But the relegation picture, with six-and-a-half matchdays to go, is still dizzying.
West Brom is going down. That’s about all we can say with confidence. Above the Baggies, there are eight teams separated by eight points, and five teams separated by four:
Eighteenth-place Southampton has a game in hand on the two teams directly above it. However, it also has a brutal remaining fixture list, with six of its seven games against the top 10 and three against the top six. Stoke, on the other hand, will have opportunities to leap out of the bottom three in so-called “six-pointers” against West Ham, Swansea and Crystal Palace.
5. English Championship promotion battle
Compare the above screenshots of the Premier League and La Liga top five to the FiveThirtyEight equivalent for the English second tier …
Wolves’ trip to Cardiff on Friday will determine if we have a title race. But more important than an EFL crown is promotion to the Premier League. Because promotion to the Premier League is, at minimum – so assuming a 20th-place finish in year one – worth around $230 million in revenue shares.
The top two in the Championship go up automatically. Third through sixth go into the promotion playoffs, with No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 in two-leg semifinals, and the winners advancing to the most financially lucrative game in soccer, the promotion playoff final at Wembley on Saturday, May 26.
If the table holds as is, Fulham – which hasn’t lost in the league since Dec. 16 – will be the favorite for the third promotion spot regardless of playoff opponent. But a Fulham-Aston Villa final would be juicy.
6. Portuguese Primeira Liga title race
Benfica is one point up on Porto with six matches remaining. The two play each other next Sunday, April 15, at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz.
7. Ligue 1 top three race
France places two teams directly into the Champions League and a third into the qualifying rounds. PSG will be one, but the second and third spots remain up in the air with seven matchdays left:
8. Russian Premier League title (and top two/three) race
With six-and-a-half matchdays to go, Moscow’s top three clubs are the Russian league’s top three. Lokomotiv tops the table with 49 points and a game in hand on second-place Spartak (47). CSKA (44) also has a game in hand in third. So does Zenit St. Petersburg (42) in fourth.
Aside from the title, Champions League places are on the line. Russia gets the same allocation as France.
9. Turkish Super Lig title race
With seven matches left, four Istanbul clubs – Galatasaray (57), Basaksehir (56), Besiktas (53) and Fenerbahce (51) – are within six points of one another. And Galatasaray faces off with both Basaksehir and Besiktas later this month.
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