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Bundesliga Breakdown Heading into the Winter Break

The final fixtures before the Bundesliga’s winter break occurred last weekend. I am here to break down the results so far, look at the final fixtures before the break, and give a glimpse into the second half of the season.

The first half’s biggest surprise is that their is a top team in the Bundesliga that is not Bayern Munich. Rather, it is the club’s fierce rivals, Borussia Dortmund that sit atop the table heading into the winter break. Borussia Mönchengladbach and RB Leipzig round out the Top 4 places in the Bundesliga. The biggest suprise here is the inclusion of Mönchengladbach, a club that finished outside of the European places last season, and the absence of Schalke 04, who currently sit 13 points adrift of the Top 4.

Other shock performers include Bayer Leverkusen and TSG Hoffenheim who find themselves outside of the European places despite both teams taking place in the Europa League and Champions League, respectively, this term. Leverkusen find themselves three points off the European places while Hoffenheim trail by only two points. VfL Wolfsburg are another interesting case as they currently occupy fifth place in the Bundesliga after spending the prior two seasons in the relegation places having to play the relegation playoff the prior two seasons. Schalke are having a disappointing campaign by their lofty standards last season, but they have begun playing better in recent weeks and have achieved solid results in the Champions League, even managing qualification for the Last 16 in the competition.

Last Matchday Results

Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Hertha Berlin
Hannover 96 0-1 Fortuna Düsseldorf
Nürnberg 0-1 SC Freiburg
RB Leipzig 3-2 Werder Bremen
VfB Stuttgart 1-3 Schalke 04
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-3 Bayern Munich
FC Augsburg 2-3 VfL Wolfsburg
TSG Hoffenheim 1-1 Mainz 05

Current table

Matches resume on January 18, 2019

Let’s preview the second half.

The title race is pretty much a two horse race between Dortmund and Bayern as they are only separated by six points, and are clearly the two best teams in the Bundesliga this season. The remaining two spots in the Top 4 are less certain, but Leipzig and Mönchengladbach are in the driver’s seat for holding them when the end of the season comes around. However, both Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Hoffenheim have solid chances at closing the gap and securing a place in next year’s Champions League Group Stage. Besides these clubs, Leverkusen and Schalke still have plenty of matches to catch up, but it would require some major slip ups for them to secure a Top 4 finish, although a Europa League place (5th or 6th) could be more than attainable given that they have good form, and the teams they are chasing slip up.

The relegation battle seems relatively narrow as there are about five teams that I rate who have a good chance of being relegated. Those are Fortuna Düsseldorf, FC Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96, and Nürnberg. Beyond these sides, it is difficult seeing the other clubs fall back into a relegation battle as they currently sit four to seven points above the relegation playoff place. Unlike some of Europe’s other major soccer leagues, the relegation battle in the Bundesliga seems to be relatively straightforward for all three places with a few sides in need of results just to pull away from the bottom of the table.

Predictions

Best Player: Marco Reus
Top Goalscorer: Robert Lewandowski
Most Clean Sheets: Yann Sommer

Final Table

Borussia Dortmund (champion and Champions League qualification)
Bayern Munich (Champions League qualification)
RB Leipzig (Champions League qualification)
Borussia Mönchengladbach (Champions League qualification)
VfL Wolfsburg (Europa League qualification)
TSG Hoffenheim (Europa league Final Qualifying Round qualification)
Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayer Leverkusen
Hertha Berlin
Schalke 04
Werder Bremen
Mainz 05
SC Freiburg
FC Augsburg
Fortuna Düsseldorf
VfB Stuttgart (relegation playoff)
Hannover 96 (relegated)
Nürnberg (relegated)

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La Liga BBVA Breakdown Heading into the Winter Break

Heading into the winter break, the three major Spanish clubs all have a place booked in the Top 4 of La Liga. Barcelona currently have a three point lead over second place Atlético Madrid while Real Madrid are 12 points off the leaders, but have a match in hand. Sevilla occupy third and find themselves five points off the leaders Barcelona.

Two major surprises this term are Alavés and Getafe who find themselves in competition for European places as they currently occupy fifth and seventh, respectively. Conversely, teams like Villarreal and Valencia are having disappointing seasons considering that both qualified for European competitions last year. Currently, Villareal occupy 18th place (relegation place) and Valencia is sitting middle of the table at 8th.

Now that I’ve pointed out some of the key teams this season, let’s review the results from the final matchday before the winter break, and then preview the second half of the season before finally coming to predictions.

Last Matchday Results

Girona 1-1 Getafe
Real Sociedad 0-1 Alavés
Real Betis 1-1 Eibar
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Espanyol
Barcelona 2-0 Celta Vigo
Athletic Club Bilbao 1-1 Real Valladolid
Valencia 2-1 SD Huesca
Leganes 1-1 Sevilla
Rayo Vallecano 2-1 Levante

Current table

Matches resume on January 3, 2019

Let’s preview the second half.

The second half of La Liga figures to be interesting because Real Madrid look to be gaining steam under caretaker manager Santiago Solari who replaced the embattled Julen Lopetegui (the same who controversially left the Spanish National Team just days before their tumultuous World Cup campaign). This means that a resurgent Real Madrid should challenge for a place in the European places, and will certainly look to make up ground in the title race, although 12 points at the winter break could be a hard ask given how the team opened the year. I also expect Valencia to start pushing for a Top 4 spot in a bid to secure a second straight season of Champions League football. Of the teams currently in the Top 4 who could fall out, Sevilla would be the favorite, as they still have three chances at silverware in the Copa Del Rey, La Liga, and the Europa League which could congest the fixture list down the stretch leaving a potential run for Alavés and Real Betis into the Top 4.

As for the relegation battle, the only spot I see as up for grabs is currently occupied by Villarreal. However, their position could be complicated by an ongoing Europa League campaign and league matches, something other clubs in a similar position do not have to deal with. As for the bottom two places, SD Huesca and Rayo Vallecano look fairly straightforward as both sides have had trouble scoring and keeping goals out, a recipe for relegation. The teams that face the most immediate relegation threat are the aformentioned Villarreal, Leganés, Athletic Club Bilbao, and Real Sociedad who are separated by a margin no larger than four points. Of these sides, Leganés and Athletic Club Bilbao appear to be the most ready made for relegation as they currently have the worst goal differentials among the above clubs.

Predictions

Player of the Year: Lionel Messi (I know, but please comment someone else if you don’t agree)
Top Scorer: Luis Suárez
Most Clean Sheets: Jan Oblak

Final Table

Barcelona (champion and Champions League qualification)
Real Madrid (Champions League qualification)
Atlético Madrid (Champions League qualification)
Sevilla (Champions League qualification)
Real Betis (Europa League qualification)
Valencia (Europa League Final Qualifying Round qualification)
Alavés
Getafe
Celta Vigo
Levante
Girona
Eibar
Real Valladolid
Espanyol
Real Sociedad
Villarreal
Athletic Club Bilbao
Leganés (relegated)
Rayo Vallecano (relegated)
SD Huesca (relegated)

Ligue 1 Logo

Ligue 1 Breakdown Heading into the Winter Break

When Ligue 1 wrapped up its fixtures before the winter break on Sunday, there were reiterations of years past, and fresh hope for other lesser known sides who are performing well. Unsurprisingly, Paris Saint-Germain top the table with a comfortable cushion of 13 points. However, Monaco are on their second manager this season, and look a shadow of the team that felled some of Europe’s elite in the Champions League two seasons ago. Granted, their depatures of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, and Kylian Mbappé are not easy to replace, but very few people predicted that Monaco would get eliminated during the Group Stage in the Champions League and have a relegation fight on their hands.

On a more positive note, Lille, Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne have ascended the table and are in the thick of a competitive fight to secure one of the coveted European places that are awarded to the Top 4 at the end of the year. For sides like Marseille and Nice who find themselves farther down the table, there are still plenty of matches left to complete a turnaround and get back into European competition next season.

What this tells us is that Ligue 1 is still as non-competitive as it usually is. PSG still dominate the league with talent that is only challenged in the Champions League. Meanwhile, the rest of the pack is mostly a toss-up with teams like Nice, Monaco, and Lyon usually putting out quality sides to challenge for the European places in Ligue 1. However, this year has yielded a resurgence of the former champions Montpellier and Lille, but at the expense of sides like Marseille and Nice who find themselves in the middle of the pack.

Before I continue with a second half preview, let’s look at the final fixtures from this past weekend.

Last Matchday Results

Bordeaux 1-1 SC Amiens
Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 Nantes
Angers 1-1 Marseille
Monaco 0-2 Guingamp
Lille 1-2 Toulouse
Montpellier 1-1 Lyon
Saint-Etienne 3-0 Dijon
Stade de Reims 2-2 Caen
Stade de Rennes 4-0 Nimes
Strasbourg 2-0 Nice

Current table

Matches resume on January 8, 2019

Now, a preview for the second half.

PSG’s dominance will continue through the end of the season, and they could drop points due to squad rotation associated with European football, but that’s really the only time we could be discussing shocking results for the Parisians. As for the rest of the pack, many of the clubs that find themselves outside the top spot could face fierce competition for European places. Lyon should maintain a European place, but could easily grab one of the two guaranteed Champions League places, but they should at least grab third and book a place in the final qualifying stage for the Champions League. Other sides may have a tougher task as both Nice and Marseille would have to go on fantastic runs of form while sides like Montpellier and Lille would have to slip up in order to vacate these places. I won’t say it is impossible, but Ligue 1’s best results this term could be the surprise teams that qualify for Europe over more established sides.

As for the bottom of the table, there appear to be five or six sides who have a series chance of being in the relegation scrap, but Guingamp is firmly rooted in the bottom of the table along with Monaco and Dijon. The most surprising team in the scrap is Monaco, but they have their second manager and have looked shambolic for most of the season. In looking at the squad, I would not be surprised if Monaco found themselves plying their trade next season in the French second tier. That said, they also have a squad ravaged by injuries, and could force Caen, Dijon, or SC Amiens into one of the relegation places if their healthy squad can rally a few wins.

With all that said, I will leave you with my end of season projections:

Player of the Year: Kylian Mbappé
Top Scorer: Kylian Mbappé
Most Clean Sheets: Benjamin Lecomte

Final Table Prediction

PSG (champion, automatic Champions League qualification)
Lyon (automatic Champions League qualification)
Lille (qualification for Best Finish Playoff for Champions League)
Marseille (automatic Europa League qualification)
Montpellier (playoff for Europa League Final Qualifying Stage due to PSG’s cup victory)
Saint-Etienne
Nice
Stade de Rennes
Strasbourg
Stade de Reims
Bordeaux
Nimes
Toulouse
Angers
Caen
Nantes
Amiens
Monaco (relegation playoff)
Dijon (relegated)
Guingamp (relegated)

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Wolverhampton v. Liverpool Kicks Off Festive Premier League Fixture List

The festive season for the Premier League kicked off today with Liverpool taking on Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux. This will be the final time the congested holiday fixture list occurs as the Premier League announced the implementation of a winter break, being the last major soccer league to do so.

The match finished 2-0 to Liverpool (highlights can be found here) after Virgil Van Dijk scored a second half brace to secure victory for the Reds.

The first half was open with both sides producing quality chances to score, but it was Mo Salah who opened the scoring in the 18th minute. Wolverhampton responded by applying pressure of their own, but Adama Traore and Raúl Jimenez spurned chances to equalize and the match went to the break at 1-0.

The second half was a reverse from the first half as Liverpool began to assert their control over the match. After some heroics by Rui Patrício and the introduction of both Morgan Gibbs-White and Ivan Cavaleiro into the match, the Wolves’ resistance was finally broken when Virgil Van Dijk opened his Premier League account in the 68th minute doubling Liverpool’s advantage. From then on, Wolverhampton chased the game, and they failed to take their best chance as Romain Saïss fired wide in the 88th minute when it looked easier to score. The match slowly petered out with the remaining action being Patrício making acrobatic saves in goal to hold the scoreline at 2-0.

Liverpool will top the table at Christmas which puts them in pole position to hoist the Premier League Trophy in May. However, the last team to top the table at Christmas and not win the title was Liverpool during the 2013-2014 Premier League season when the team collapsed in its final two fixtures to lose out to Manchester City in the title race.

Meanwhile, Wolverhampton currently occupy 7th, but could fall as far as 12th if everything goes against them in this weekend’s set of fixtures heading into Christmas.

Wolverhampton’s next match is a trip to London where they will take on Fulham as the first Boxing Day fixture. The match is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET and can be viewed on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN).

Liverpool will return home to Anfield to host Newcastle United in one of the mid-morning fixtures on Boxing Day. The match is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. ET and can be viewed on NBCSN.

Here’s to an exciting final festive season of Premier League soccer, and don’t forget to cheer for The Arsenal. I hope to celebrate many a goal for the Gunners, and look forward to recapping the various matches across Europe over the weekend.

-Connor Pittman