Crunch Time for European Soccer
Soccer across Europe is quickly ramping up to the final push. The Champions League (the best soccer on the planet), the Europa League, all the country leagues, and of course the English FA Cup (more on that in a minute) . So just whats in store over the next month or so?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
UEFA Champions League
After some tremendous soccer over the last 6 mohths they are down to the final four. The competition is down to the semi finals with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, and Monaco remaining. Home and home matches continue this week with the return set scheduled for next week. The final set for June 3rd at the National Stadium of Wales.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – what an interesting story line. This marks the fourth straight season where these rivals from Madrid have faced each other in the UCL knockout phases including meeting in the finals in both 2014 and 2016. Real Madrid won both of those finals, last year needing penalties after 120 minutes of play ended at 1-1. Both teams are playing in top form coming into Tuesdays match, Real having gone 4-0-1 and Atletico having gone 3-1-1 in their respective last five matches. This one is tough to call. Cross town rivalries, like in any sport, lend themselves to oddball things happening. But at the end of the day Real has Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the top player in the world right now.
Juventus v Monaco – Similar to the above match, both these squads enter Wednesday’s match in top form. Juventus has gone 3-2-0 and Monaco has gone 4-0-1 in their last five matches. Juventus however has only allowed 2 goals in that span of five matches. Typical of classic Italian soccer. High pressure defense to limit their opponents chances. Monaco on the other hand has allowed five goals in their last five matches which is still fairly stingy. But they have also scored 14 times in those games. Should be an entertaining game. For this set I still have to side with Juventus. The saying “defense wins championships” seems to apply here. I’ll do a more thorough review of the final later in May.
The semi-finals kick off this week with Manchester United playing at Celta de Vigo and Lyonnais playing at Ajax with the return matches next week. Man U is now in the drivers seat to earn its way into the UCL next fall having two paths. Win the Europa League, of which they are favored, or finish in the top four of the EPL. And they control their own destiny in the EPL as well. Man U is on their best home run in the last six years so they are a strong contender to actually make it to the UCL in both paths. However, the injury bug is starting to pile up for the Red Devils. And if they make it to the Europa final they will end up having played 10 matches in the span of a month. That is tough for any team no matter the time of year. To come in April and May is seriously a daunting task.
German Bundesliga – Bayern Munich has already clinched the league title and a spot in next years UCL. RP Leipzig and Borrussia Dortmund are currently in second and third. Critical for those two as only the top three make the UCL.
La Liga – The Spanish League is well represented in the UCL with two of its top teams having made the semi-finals. Barcelona and Real Madrid at tied atop the table followed by Atletico Madrid. As in the German League, the top three finishers make next falls UCL. Barcelona and Real are for all purposes already in. Atletico Madrid is a mere 3 points ahead of Sevilla in the battle for third.
Serie A – Juventus has a 9 point lead and should win the Italian league title. With the top two teams making the UCL, the real question is who will get second. Roma is four points ahead of Napoli but Napoli has a game in hand. Lazio is another four points behind in fourth and a longshot to move up to second.
Ligue 1 – Monaco sits atop the French first division with a slim one match lead over PSG. Again, the top two teams make the UCL and they sit ahead of third place by 6 more points over Nice and it should stay that way to the end.
Premier League – Chelsea remains entrenched in first place however their lead over the second place Tottenham Spurs has been cut to four points. Chelsea, by virtue of its 3-0 win over Everton has guaranteed itself a top four finish and a spot in next years UCL. The Spurs sit in second five points ahead of both Liverpool and Manchester City and six points ahead of fifth place Man U. Arsenal sits in sixth place with an outside shot to move into the top four.
Saving the best for last. Perhaps not the best overall competition as this is certainly the UCL but this is where it all started. The FA Cup is the oldest soccer competition having started in 1871. The final is set for May 27th and matches up Chelsea with Arsenal. The final, as always held at Wembley Stadium in London. Hard to admit this but when I was growing up and first got into soccer the only match you ever saw on TV was the FA Cup final. How far the sport has come with now several channels that focus almost entirely on soccer, and weekly league matches for MLS, EPL, and the Bundesliga featured on prominent American networks.
Much like the UCL semi-final between two Madrid squads, this one features two clubs both based in London. Making the FA Cup final a derby match which always adds to the excitement and, of course, the intensity of the match itself. Like all rivalries this has some factors that favor both teams. Clearly Chelsea is the stronger squad on paper and they have shown that to be the case this season. Sometimes the ball takes funny bounces but in the end I think the Blues have too much firepower for the Gunners and will prevail. Likely giving the Chelsea club the English double winning both the FA Cup and the League title. If that happens don’t be surprised to see them make a push next year for the treble which would be the FA Cup, EPL, and UCL something done only by Man U.
So there is still a lot of soccer to be played in Europe over the next month and its going to be good….awful good!