With Liverpool having made the Premier League the least competitive top division in Europe, 22 points clear of second-place and with a whopping cushion of 34 in the Champions League spots, we must look elsewhere if we want some actual tension.
But where? Here are a few top divisions around the continent that will offer you some excitement for the rest of the season…
1) Ajax – 50 points, 2) AZ Alkmaar 47
This might be more out of hope than expectation, but although Ajax are top and a roomy ten points clear of third-placed Feyenoord, AZ Alkmaar are just about keeping in touch, three points back despite back-to-back defeats either side of the winter break. AZ’s form this term is even more remarkable when you consider they haven’t been able to use their home stadium for most of it, after a storm blew the roof of a stand in. They face Ajax on March 1: if they can stay on the case until then, and get a result in Amsterdam, anything could happen.
Swiss Super League
1) FC St Gallen – 44, 2) Young Boys – 44, 3) Basel – 39
Sure, there’s a yawning gap between top and fifth and realistically nobody beneath third is getting involved in the title race, but it’s great fun at the top in Switzerland this season. Mostly because, while established power and reigning champs Young Boys are second only on goal difference, the team a gnat’s hair above them is FC St Gallen, who last won the Super League 20 years ago and who only gained and retained top spot in the last couple of weeks. They face each other in around a fortnight…it could get spicy.
Northern Irish Premiership
1) Linfield – 60, 2) Coleraine 56, 3) Glentoran – 56, 4) Crusaders – 55, 5) Cliftonville – 54
If you wanted to be a joyless pooh-pooher or nay-sayer, you could argue there’s not too much excitement in the NIFL Premiership because Linfield, defending champions and 53-time title-winners, are four points clear at the top and looking in solid shape to make it 54 under the gaze of manager and Northern Irish goalscoring god David Healy. But have a little faith, because it’s not like there is just one team waiting for a slip up: below them are four teams – Coleraine, Glentoran, Crusaders and Cliftonville – kept apart by a mere two points, hunting Linfield down together like a pack of velociraptors. Clever girls.
1) Legia Warsaw – 41, 2) Cracovia – 39, 3) Pogon Szczecin – 38
If you want a whiff of romance, then Poland might be your place. Currently top of the table are the dominant Legia Warsaw, aiming for their 14th Ekstraklasa title and their fifth in the last seven seasons. But tucked in just behind them, two points back as we write, is Cracovia, the oldest team in Poland who haven’t won a title since 1948. The top two face each other in a few weeks, so if you’re at a loose end on February 29th and unsure what to do with this decadent 366th day we’ve been granted, you know what to watch.
Bosnian Premier League
1) FK Sarajevo – 36, 2) Zeljeznicar – 35, 3) Borac Banja Luka – 35, 4) FK Tuzla City – 34
Not only are the top two only separated by a point in Bosnia, but the top three are too and a mere two keep apart the top four – the three point drop-off to fifth-placed Zrinjski Mostar is a veritable cliff face, by comparison. Defending champions FK Sarajevo lead the table at the moment, despite losing to second-placed Zeljeznicar just before their winter break: the next league fixtures are in a couple of weeks, starting the run-in for what promises to be a thriller.
Italian Serie A
1) Inter – 54, 2) Juventus – 54, 3) Lazio 53
The world is urging you on, Any Team But Juventus. The Old Lady have hogged the Serie A title for the last eight seasons, something that isn’t becoming of a division, theoretically among the best in the world. Juve’s recent wobble has led to suggestions that they could even bin off Maurizio Sarri mid-season and bring Max Allegri back, so spooked are they by the advances of Inter and, more surprisingly perhaps, Lazio. Just a point separates the top three, and while you have the horrible sinking feeling that the J-2000 merciless winning machine will grimly outlast everyone as they always do, the Totally Football Show’s James Horncastle tipped Inter at the start of the season, so we’re sticking with that.
1) Bayern – 43, 2) RB Leipzig – 42, 3) Borussia Dortmund – 39, 4) Borussia Monchengladbach 39
It’s a similar story in Germany, but while there are a mere two realistic Italian challengers to the dominant behemoth, Bayern have three, perhaps even four on their tails. Bayer Leverkusen probably won’t have the staying power but Borussia Monchengladbach are only four points behind with a game in hand, Borussia Dortmund the same distance away despite constantly poking the self-destruct button like a giddy child pressing the ‘stop’ bell on a bus, while the real challengers are probably RB Leipzig. Bayern have been looking ominous lately under Herr Hansi Flick, but Julian Nagelsmann’s bunch kept the gap to a point with the 0-0 draw at the weekend. Perhaps it’s more down to Bayern’s transitional issues, but we welcome the absence of a procession in the Bundesliga this season.
Turkish Super Lig
1) Sivasspor – 42, 2) Trabzonspor 41, 3) Istanbul Başakşehir – 40, 4) Alanyaspor – 39, 5) Galatasaray 39, 6) Fenerbahce – 38, 7) Beşiktaş – 36
Oh my, what a glorious bunfight this is. If the top three being separated by two points, and the gap between top and seventh only being six points wasn’t enough for you, what’s particularly entertaining about this year’s Turkish Super Lig race is that the traditional three Istanbul superpowers are, in relative terms, languishing. Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş have carved up 34 of the last 35 titles between them, but this term those three occupy places five to seven. Sitting top at the time of writing is Sivasspor, but after a ten-game run between October and January in which they only dropped two points, they’ve stuttered recently, an unexpected 5-1 horsing by mid-table Gaziantep particularly worrisome.
Behind those upstarts are Trabzonspor, then the ever-popular Istanbul Basaksehir who looked like they were going to win it all last season but choked at the last, then a point back from them it’s Alanyaspor before the giants lurk. Keep your eye on this one, it’s going to be a belter.
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