Half Time: Mid-Season Review of European Leagues

December is the most wonderful time of the year, apparently. Especially for most European football clubs, because it’s the holiday season and there’s at least a 10-day winter break till the new year. It’s also a great time to reflect back at the first half of the season. Club chairmen and presidents take this time to decide on whether drastic measures need to be taken to salvage the rest of their campaign. While sporting directors plan on their purchases in the January transfer window. Winter champs are declared and predictions trickle in on whether it’s plausible for team X to continue on their run of form all the way to the finish line.

The league that has surprised the most undoubtedly, has to be the French Ligue 1. Who would have bet on Paris Saint Germain not being on top in December? What does it all mean for the defending champions? Trailing by 3 points to the leaders Marseille may not seem like much for a team of PSG’s calibre. I’m sure they’re confident of making up for it in due course.


But this time last year, they had already cemented their position at the top, having spent 10 consecutive matchdays there. This season so far, they have already racked up the same total number of draws at the end of last season. It does not help that Marseille and more recently Lyon have stepped up their game. Marseille in particular have surprised many and are actually a welcome distraction. Who would have thought Marcelo Bielsa could make miracles in his first season in France? The Argentine is surely due some recognition and why not with Marseille?
Lyon meanwhile have only dropped 5 points from a possible 33. Nobody noticed till they leapfrogged PSG last weekend to sit in second place, 1 point ahead of their 3rd place nemesis and 2 points behind Bielsa’s boys. This latest progress only makes the league more fascinating, turning it into a 3-horse race to the end. It could even turn out to be a 5-team sprint if Saint Etienne and Monaco put their backs into it. After all, there’s only 9 points between the team from the Principality and Marseille. And only 5 points separate Saint Etienne from the top.

It’s business as usual in the Italian Serie A following the winter break however. Juventus have been at the top since matchday 4. The only team that could possibly dethrone them is themselves. It would take an act of epic self destruction for them to lose the league title. There’s only 3 points between them and second placed Roma.Massimiliano+Allegri+Juventus+Training+Session+xm8JaOkP4SFl
But that’s usually all the gulf Juve needs. Massimiliano Allegri is not completely inept and will be more than capable of maintaining the team’s form all the way through to the finish line. Max’s biggest test returns in February when the UEFA Champions League resumes. The Old Lady of Turin play Borussia Dortmund in a repeat of the 1997 finale. And you get the feeling somehow that, getting kicked out of Europe does not come across as detrimental to Allegri’s job security in Turin. Then again, it has always played second fiddle to Italian teams you feel. Losing the Serie A will more likely cost a manager their job, than not.

Having Lazio challenge Roma in 3rd place is the most refreshing bit from the first half of the Serie A season. It has been awhile since the Rome-based clubs dominated the league, instead of the Milan-based sides. You’d have to go way back to the 2006/07 season for the last time Lazio finished the season in the top 3. Uncertainty with their managers have cost them a few seasons and finally after 7 years, could it finally be a turn of the tide? Then again, one point separates 4 teams between Lazio, Napoli, Sampdoria and Genoa. Still, no sign of Internazionale or AC Milan. The battle for that final qualification spot in next season’s Champions League will be an intriguing one when the league resumes.

History cannot help repeating itself in the German Bundesliga, as Bayern Munich are once again crowned winter champions and lead the league by a mile. This time, they’re ahead by 11 points. Neutrals should thank their lucky stars there’s a new contender in second spot, in the form of Wolfsburg. Otherwise, they might as well just wrap up the title race and hand it over to the Bavarians.
One other occurrence of interest has to be Dortmund’s struggles. It is a very peculiar predicament they find themselves in because they are unable to replicate their form in Europe, where they play other really good teams from England, Italy and Spain, against other German clubs. Fans are unsure if they should stand by their team and for how long before sounding the warning bells? Should they embrace their fantastic run in the Champions League and disregard what happens domestically? Would it be too late for them to back peddle when they fail to make it all the way to Berlin? Should they dare dream of the final? So many questions, with no answers in sight.And then there’s the Spanish La Liga. Ironically, for a league that’s probably the closest in quality to the Premier League, the break leaves fans with the usual suspects occupying the top 3 spots. Boring.

What else can you expect from the league that boasts 2 of the best footballers in the world? Even the supporting cast consists of the same teams, the dominant ones from seasons past – Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia. Perhaps, just maybe we can still be in for a surprise come May or June 2015? Maybe Valencia will take a feather off Atletico Madrid’s cap from last season and surprise everyone? What about a surprise relegation battle? Bilbao to slide all the way down the wrong end of the table? David Moyes to continue ruining his reputation by failing to save Sociedad from demotion?

Who’s to tell what the new year holds? We can only hope there’s more shocks and surprises than the same ol’ thing. If anything, football can always do with a new hero in 2015!

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