The state of play as Europe´s top five leagues prepare to return from the World Cup break

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After Lionel Messi’s Argentina lifted the World Cup in Qatar, attention turns back to club football with Europe’s top five leagues set to resume in the coming weeks.

The Premier League is the first to restart, with all 20 teams in action on either December 26 or 27, while Ligue 1 and La Liga get back under way in the following days.

You will have to wait until the new year for Serie A to recommence, before the Bundesliga starts back up again with Bayern Munich’s visit to RB Leipzig on January 20.

It has been a while since Europe’s elite paused for the World Cup, so Stats Perform provide a refresher of how things were shaping up before the hiatus.

LALIGA

Title race

It looks like a two-horse race in LaLiga, as it appears giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are set for an epic title fight.

Barcelona have their noses in front with a two-point margin over Madrid, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side came out on top when the teams met in October.

The next El Clasico will take place on March 19 at Camp Nou and could have massive implications for who lifts the LaLiga trophy come the end of the season.

Champions League spots

With Barcelona and Madrid stretching away at the top of LaLiga, Basque sides Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao are the two teams that occupy the other Champions League spots.

Athletic are one of three sides on 24 points, while Villarreal in ninth are just three points behind following their Champions League heroics last season.

Osasuna and Rayo Vallecano are two teams that were not expected to be in the race for top four, but they sit in seventh and eighth respectively and are well within striking distance.

Relegation battle

Six-time Europa League winners Sevilla are in big trouble at the bottom of LaLiga, with two victories in their first 14 matches putting them in the relegation zone.

They are yet to win at home, and head coach Julen Lopetegui was relieved of his duties after their Champions League exit.

Sevilla are kept off the bottom by Cadiz and Elche, with the latter yet to win a league game this season and picking up just four points before the World Cup break.

Big performances will be needed from World Cup heroes such as Argentina’s Marcos Acuna and Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri and Yassine Bounou if Sevilla are to haul themselves away from trouble.

PREMIER LEAGUE

Title race

Arsenal hold a five-point lead at the top, but Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City will fancy their chances of retaining the title and have a rested Erling Haaland itching to get back scoring goals.

Haaland has been a revelation since joining from Borussia Dortmund, scoring 18 times in 13 games, though City’s quest for a fifth title in six years has been hampered by defeats to Liverpool and Brentford.

However, with Haaland ready to play and Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus out for three months with a knee injury suffered at the World Cup, Mikel Arteta’s side must carry on where they left off.

Champions League spots

Newcastle United have been one of the stories of the Premier League season, with a run of five straight victories under Eddie Howe taking them all the way up to third.

There is still a long way to go, but Newcastle are in a great position to finish in the top four of the Premier League for the first time since the 2002-03 campaign under Bobby Robson.

Tottenham currently hold fourth position with Manchester United just three points behind in fifth, while Liverpool’s poor start sees them 15 points off leaders Arsenal.

Surprise package Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea are both on 21 points, but a solid run of form could put the pressure on those above.

Relegation battle

It may be a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire for Lopetegui as he was appointed as head coach of Wolves in November, with the Midlands club bottom of the Premier League at Christmas. Only two teams in that position have avoided relegation in the past.

A source of comfort for Wolves fans will be just how many teams are in danger of the drop, with Bournemouth in 14th just six points above them.

Everton and Leeds United are once again down there after narrowly staying up last season, while 2021-22 Europa League semi-finalists West Ham United are just a point above Nottingham Forest, who are in the bottom three after a tough opening to their first season back in the Premier League after a 23-year exile.

SERIE A

Title race

After an incredible start, Napoli currently hold an eight-point lead at the Serie A summit, the largest among the top five leagues.

They have achieved that in impressive fashion, yet to lose a league match this season and boasting the most potent attack with 37 goals in 15 matches, led by the division’s top goalscorer Victor Osimhen (nine goals) and new star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (11 goal involvements), both of whom should be fresh having not played in the World Cup.

Just three points separate Milan in second and Inter in fifth among the chasing pack, but Napoli may soon be out of sight if they can pick up their incredible form from before Qatar.

Champions League spots

Just six points separate second and seventh in Serie A as teams desperately scramble to keep leaders Napoli in view.

Inter are currently out of the top four on goal difference, while Juventus are third despite Massimiliano Allegri coming under pressure during a mixed start.

Holders Milan are second and Lazio sit fourth, while Jose Mourinho’s Roma are well poised in seventh place.

Relegation battle

The three teams in the relegation zone are yet to hit double figures for points, with 17th-placed Spezia six points above the drop zone.

Cremonese, Sampdoria and Hellas Verona in 18th, 19th and 20th respectively have combined for two victories from 45 matches so far.

While the likes of Spezia, Lecce and Sassuolo may be looking over their shoulders, they can remain pretty confident they will be playing Serie A football next season if the bottom three maintain their dreadful form.

BUNDESLIGA

Title race

In the Bundesliga, Bayern won six matches in a row prior to the World Cup, a much-needed run considering they had been victorious in just one of their previous six.

That upturn in form saw them build a four-point margin at the top, but the loss of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer with a broken ankle sustained in a skiing accident could be a big blow.

However, it is reasonable to expect Bayern to have enough quality to see off the challenges of the likes of Freiburg and Leipzig and earn an 11th consecutive Bundesliga title.

Champions League spots

Borussia Dortmund will face Chelsea in the Champions League round of 16, but they have much work to do if they are to qualify for next year’s competition after a disappointing start in the Bundesliga

They currently sit sixth and are playing catch up, with Eintracht Frankfurt and Union Berlin also ahead of them.

It should be an exciting race for the top four spots, with Werder Bremen in ninth just six points off the Champions League places, while Wolfsburg in seventh are a team to watch having gone nine unbeaten before the World Cup.

Champions League spots

Schalke have won just twice this season at the foot of the league, and could face an immediate relegation back to the second tier.

Stuttgart occupy the relegation play-off spot and have called upon former head coach Bruno Labbadia as they fight to stay up, while Bochum are between Stuttgart and Schalke.

Of the teams just outside the drop zone, Xavi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen won their last three matches prior to the break and appear to be steering themselves out of trouble, while in contrast Augsburg failed to win any of their past seven.

LIGUE 1

Title race

While a 2022-23 league title would only be Napoli’s third in the club’s history, Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain will be collecting a ninth in just 11 years if they see the job through.

PSG’s players starred at the World Cup with Messi and Kylian Mbappe facing off in a brilliant final and return to club football with the hopes of working together to finally win the Parisian club’s first Champions League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s failure to win European football’s top prize last season cost him his job, despite winning Ligue 1 at a canter, and Christophe Galtier will know the same fate could befall him should PSG be defeated by Bayern in the round of 16, with the first leg set to be played on February 14.

PSG’s domestic challengers include Lens and Rennes, but they face a real challenge if they are to close the five-point gap to Galtier’s side, who are unbeaten and have the division’s best attack and meanest defence.

Champions League spots

While Lens and Rennes may not be able to catch PSG at the peak of Ligue 1, the two teams will certainly fancy their chances of staying in the top three.

With fourth place in Ligue 1 only enough to earn a place in the Europa League, Marseille will be striving to dislodge one of the aforementioned sides and wrestle their way into Europe’s premier club competition.

Lorient have finished 16th in the last two campaigns but an excellent start sees them in fifth, above perennial European contenders Monaco, Lille and Lyon.

Relegation battle

Ligue 1’s relegation scrap is wide open with the reduction of France’s top tier to 18 teams meaning four teams will go down this season.

There is just six points between Reims in 11th and second-bottom Strasbourg, the latter of whom narrowly missed out on the European qualification spots last term.

Angers are propping up the league on eight points, and their survival chances could take a significant hit if they lose midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, who is reportedly wanted by Barcelona after outstanding performances for Morocco at the World Cup.



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