Over the weekend, the leading European clubs were back in play, like a bear whose hibernation had been rudely disrupted before it was ready.
Normally, at this early point in the new year, most of the continent’s major leagues are still in hibernation, but almost all were back in action in this odd time of interrupted campaigns and back-to-back seasons before the Christmas decorations were even taken down.
In Spain, with each matchday, the chances of a club outside the big three winning La Liga for the first time since Valencia in 2004 are less possible.
In the first half of the season, Real Sociedad had put up a brave fight and led the table for a while, but Saturday’s draw at home to Osasuna means they’ve won only one of their last five league matches.
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Instead, it seems like the championship will once again remain in the capital, with the only thing yet to be determined is which Madrid side will land the trophy.
As they are chasing their first championship in seven years, Atletico now seem to be the team to capture. Luis Suarez scored in the 90th minute to win 2-1 at the weekend, beating Alaves late on. Nine times this season, the Uruguayan has already scored, making it even more puzzling that Barcelona could do without him this season.
The win saw Atleti surpass Real’s neighbors again and now have under their belt a two-point lead and two more games. The defending champions got a brief taste of life at the top when, thanks to goals from Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio, they defeated Celta Vigo 2-0 on Saturday.
FC Barcelona is still still nominally in the title race, but to see them go from the top of the table to sixth, you’d need a telescope. At least they opened the new year with a victory, and in the 2021st minute, Lionel Messi conjured Frenkie de Jong for the only goal of the game in Huesca.
Romantic soccer stars – and people with money to burn – will still get 10:1 chances on the Liga trophy ending this summer in the Nou Camp show case.
The odds are slightly lower on Bayern Munich winning the title. In their final Bundesliga game of the weekend, the German record champions played Mainz at home and stunned their title rivals by trailing at halftime 2-0.
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In the second half, however, Mainz hit back and did so beautifully, with Robert Lewandowski scoring two goals and laying on an assist to eventually hand Bayern a commanding 5-2 win.
The 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt by Bayer Leverkusen badly weakened their championship chances. Although Wolfsburg was defeated by Borussia Dortmund, it now seems increasingly likely that only RB Leipzig will keep Bayern from winning a ninth consecutive championship trophy. At VfB Stuttgart, Leipzig won 1-0 to stay two points behind Bayern.
After the winter break, there were no signs of weakness in Italy, where the first five teams all prevailed in order to start the new year.
In the first half, Milan overcome the loss of Sandro Tonali to win 2-0 at Benevento, replacing rivals Inter, who, after beating Crotone 6-2, held the top spot in the table for a few hours. A hat trick was scored by Lautaro Martinez.
Chasers Roma, Napoli and reigning champions Juventus Torino have won, but between the two Milanese sides, a two-way war is already forming.
Celtic are joining the race for Joel Randall of Swansea City, who is being traded for £1.5 million.
In France, if he wants to win the Ligue 1 title with PSG, Mauricio Pochettino would have to break a lifelong habit – he must win something. In his 12 years on the sidelines, the former Spurs and Southampton coach has yet to win a title, but as Thomas Tuchel’s successor, he knows that second place is not good enough in nine years to win an eighth Ligue 1 title.
His effort to overtake Lyon and Lille at the top begins against St. Etienne tomorrow night.