It’s that time of year: when winter gives way to spring, professors start to speak vaguely of impending midterms, and when the European soccer leagues reach their respective climaxes. Across Europe, the race to become league champion is either cooling down or heating up as the games start to decrease towards the end of the season. In England, the title race is especially close with two teams separated by only one point.
To those unfamiliar with the intricacies of European soccer, in almost every European country there is a professional soccer league, which runs from August to May with the first-place leader at the end of the season crowned the “title winner” and league champion. Generally, teams play every weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and the summer is used as an off-season. While there are leagues in every European country, the “big five” leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are all generally considered to contain the best players and highest quality of soccer play and goals. World-famous soccer players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play soccer every weekend in Europe.
In Spain’s “la liga”, Barcelona holds an imperious seven-point lead over their nearest rivals and this past weekend claimed victory over a faltering Real Madrid team in the El Clasico rivalry. In France, a dominant Paris Saint-Germain holds an astonishing 17-point lead over nearest competitor Lille and looks set to claim a second successive title. In Serie A in Italy, Juventus Torino beat Naples 2-0 this past weekend to move 16 points ahead at the top of the table. If successful at the end of the season, Juventus would be crowned champions of Italy for its fifth successive season. Finally, in the German Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are locked in a two-team battle for the title. Both teams are tied on 54 points with Dortmund retaining first place only by having scored more goals.
However, it is England in the English Premier League where the title race is the most intriguing. Last season from 2017 to 2018, Manchester City swept the English Premier League with a record 100 points, record 106 goals scored, and a record 32 wins out of 38 games played. Studded with a host of world stars, from Argentine striker Sergio Aguero to Belgian attacking-midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and headed by Spanish manager Pep Guardiola, widely considered the best manager in the world, Manchester City was widely lauded as among of the best soccer teams in the world by pundits.
This year’s 2018-19 season has proved more closely fought. Liverpool, long a sleeping-giant within the Premier League, has emerged as a title-contender under German manager Jurgen Klopp and spearheaded by the three-pronged attack of strikers Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Egyptian superstar Mohammed Salah. At New Year’s Day, Liverpool held a seven-point lead at the top of the table but a 4-3 loss to Manchester City led to a loss of form over January and February, which saw the lead overhauled. This weekend saw Manchester City retake first-place as Liverpool was held to a dire 0-0 draw with Everton. As it stands, Manchester City sits on 71 points with Liverpool in second-place with 70 points.
With eight games remaining, Liverpool appears to have the best list of fixtures on paper. Games against struggling teams Fulham, Southampton, Cardiff, and Huddersfield all seem easy wins while games against close-rivals Chelsea and Tottenham all come with home-field advantage. Manchester City must travel away to hostile city-rival Manchester United, the latter of which would happily provide a banana skin for their mortal enemy to slip. Formidable tests also come from Leicester City and an away trip to the cold and miserable northern team Burnley. But what appears an easy win on paper is always a battle of nerves and pressure. All games, regardless of form and league position, are potential slip-ups, and any mistake can be costly.
With the season nearing its denouement, the English Premier League title appears too close to call. Manchester City had been the pre-season favorite to win and successfully defend the title. But Liverpool’s title charge has seen them become the betting favorite in recent weeks. However, doubts remain over Liverpool’s ability to cope with pressure with their stumble in form in recent weeks. This coming weekend will see both teams at home with Manchester City welcoming mid-table Watford on Saturday at 12:30pm (3/9) while Liverpool plays struggling Burnley on Sunday at 8:00am (3/10). One thing is for sure amid all the chaos, confusion, permutations, and results: for all soccer fans and non-soccer fans it will be an intriguing watch to see who will be crowned champions of England and which team will fall just short in their pursuit of glory.