It’s a heck of a lot easier predicting league champions, runners-up and Golden Boot winners when the season’s half over. But still, nothing’s written in stone just yet. When looking at Europe’s top five soccer leagues it appears the English Premier League is the only one that’s wrapped up already unless Manchester City suffers one of the worst collapses in history.
There’s a good chance Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain will win the Spanish, German and French leagues respectively with the Italian Serie A being the closest race. As for the runners-up, all leagues are wide open at the moment and the same thing can be said for the Golden Boot winners. Anyway, let’s take a look at our Christmas predictions for Europe’s top five divisions.
English Premier League
Champions: Manchester City
Let’s go out on a limb here and risk naming the runaway train that is Manchester City as English Premier League champions. Are you kidding me? City would have to collapse completely to blow the 15 point lead they’ve built up over their closest rivals geographically and point-wise in Manchester United. Man City will likely end the season in May by establishing numerous league records regarding wins, points and goals scored. They’ve been both good and lucky so far in the 2017/18 campaign with several last-gasp game winners and it appears the soccer gods are looking out for them. It’s possible the club also captures the domestic League and FA Cups and there’s an outside chance City takes home the European Champions League crown as well.
Runners-Up: Manchester United
Parking the bus hasn’t worked out too well for Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho and the team’s fans have been reduced to celebrating draws lately. United should be able to finish in the top four and return to the Champions League next season, but they’re in a dogfight to finish as runners up to Man City. It looks like Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have awoke from their slumber and will give United a run for their money. While those teams may end up losing more games than United they’ll also likely win more as Mourinho and company continue to throw away points with draws. It should go down to the wire, but we’ll give United the benefit of the doubt here and proclaim them as Premier League runners up for 2017/18.
Golden Boot Winner: Harry Kane
Tottenham Hotspur’s English international striker Harry Kane is arguably the best finisher on the planet right now. He had 18 goals after 20 league games, which saw him three ahead of Liverpool’s excellent signing Mohamed Salah. Man City’s Raheem Sterling had 13 goals and teammate Sergio Aguero had a dozen, but City’s scoring is more balanced while Kane is the top gun for Spurs. Kane’s hat trick against Southampton on Boxing Day gave him 39 goals for the calendar year to smash Alan Shearer’s old mark of 36, which had stood since 1995. Kane also scored his 39 goals in 36 games while it took Shearer 42 matches to tally 36 times. When combining goals for his club and country, the 24-year-old Kane found the back of the net 56 times in 2017, more than anybody else in Europe. Look for him to win his third straight Golden Boot this season.
Spanish La Liga
It’s certainly not unusual to see Barcelona leading the Spanish La Liga, but it’s odd to find Real Madrid languishing in fourth place. Barca had a comfortable, but not insurmountable nine-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid heading into the new year. Meanwhile, third-place Valencia was 11 points back of the league leaders and Real Madrid was trailing them by 14 points, but had a game in hand on their arch rivals. Barcelona hasn’t lost a league game this season though and has dropped just six points in total with three draws. Atletico’s lost just once, but has dropped 15 points due to their half dozen ties. This race isn’t mathematically over, but for all intents and purposes it is. Barcelona may end up losing a game or two along the way, but their journey will end with another league title.
Runners-Up: Real Madrid
Forget about winning the league this season. Real Madrid has a bit of a hill to climb just to finish as runners up to Barcelona. The fourth-place team has a game in hand on all three squads ahead of them, but trails Barcelona by 14 points, Atletico Madrid by five and Valencia by three. Los Blancos aren’t firing on all cylinders so far this campaign as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have combined for just eight league goals between them. In fact, Ronaldo, Marco Asensio and Isco were the club’s joint top scorers with only four league goals apiece. Real has already dropped 17 points with three defeats and four draws and is just two points ahead of Sevilla. It’ll be interesting to see if boss Zinedine Zidane acquires anybody in the transfer window to boost the scoring. The side should get back on track sooner or later though and will likely finish second.
Golden Boot Winner: Lionel Messi
With Real Madrid’s top players struggling to score goals this season, it looks like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi might win the Golden Boot by default. The 30-year-old Argentine skipper is aiming for his fifth La Liga scoring title and second in a row. He entered the Christmas break with 15 league goals to go along with his half dozen assists. He didn’t have a huge lead in the scoring department though as Iago Aspas of Celta de Vigo had 11 goals under his belt while Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez and Simone Zaza of Valencia had 10 each. But even Messi’s not scoring like he used to after topping the league with 37 goals last season. He’s still leading the league by scoring every 102 minutes, but at his current pace he’ll finish the campaign with about 33 goals.
Champions: Bayern Munich
It’s a little premature for Bayern Munich fans and players to celebrate the club’s 28th league title overall, their 10th in the last 14 seasons and sixth in a row, but that day is coming soon. Bayern celebrated the holiday break by leading second-place Schalke 04 by 11 points and were 13 ahead of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Leipzig, and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Bayern had 13 wins, two draws and two losses at Christmas time and owned the league’s best defensive record with just 11 goals against. Their 37 goals were ranked second in the league and when the team’s offense and defense is combined it results in a league-leading goal differential of 26. This means it’s going to be tough for anyone to catch them now.
Runners-Up: Borussia Dortmund
There’s no question Borussia Dortmund has struggled so far this season and they find themselves in third place with 28 points. They’re 13 back of table-topping Bayern Munich, but just two points behind Schalke. They’re not alone at 28 points though since Bayer Leverkusen, Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach are level with them with Hoffenheim and Eintracht just two points adrift. Dortmund’s recent 12-game winless run in all competitions resulted in a managerial merry go round as Peter Stoger, who was sacked by last-place Cologne just a week earlier, took over at Dortmund for Peter Bosz. Stoger took over on Dec. 10th with and has been in charge for three games since. Dortmund won both league outings with their new boss and lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich in the DFB Cup. However, the move may result in the desired affect and they could vault into second place.
Golden Boot Winner: Robert Lewandowski
Polish international striker Robert Lewandowski is a supreme, world-class finisher who’s been a Golden Boot winner in every league he’s played in. This includes a pair of awards in the Bundesliga for the Bayern Munich star. He’s in a dogfight for the trophy this season with last year’s winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Dortmund who netted 31 in 2016/17. The 29-year-old Lewandowski has a slight lead over his 28-year-old Gabon international rival so far with 15 goals compared to 13 for Aubameyang. The only other player who has a shot in the race seems to be Augsburg’s Alfred Finnbogason with 11 goals to his name. Lewandowski’s scoring a goal every 92 minutes while Aubameyang finds the net every 102 minutes and Finnbogason hits the jackpot every 122 minutes. Look for Lewandowski to reclaim the scoring title this season.
Italian Serie A
If Juventus is going to win its 34th Serie A title the team just needs to make up a one-point deficit to league-leading Napoli. And with the famous Turin-based club going for its seventh straight league title there’s an excellent chance of pulling it off. Inter Milan is just four points behind Juventus, so in reality this could be considered a three-team race. Juventus leads the league in scoring at Christmas and is tied for the third-best defensive record in the league. They’ve got the edge in experience when it comes to title races and that could be the main factor in this year’s battle. Juventus did blow a chance to extend their lead over Inter to seven points with a 0-0 home draw with them on Dec. 9th and they’d be leading the league by a point if they’d been victorious. But with half a season to go there’s still time to climb into their usual spot at the top of the division.
Napoli managed to score a league-high 94 goals last season with Dries Mertens leading the way, but had to settle for third place on the table when all was said and done. They’ve finished as Serie A runners up half a dozen times in the past and even though they had a point lead over Juventus at Christmas they’ll likely finish in second place once again. They’ll need to be wary of third-place Inter Milan though as they trailed the leaders by just five points. Napoli has lost just once in the league so far and has dropped another six points with a trio of draws. They have the second-best offensive, defensive and goal differential records in the league and will also likely have to settle for the second-most points in May.
Golden Boot Winner: Ciro Immobile
This could be the tightest Golden Boot race in Europe as there are three players with a legitimate shot at winning it. Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan is the top scorer at Christmas with 17 goals under his belt. Lazio’s Ciro Immobile was right behind him with 16 and Paulo Dybala of Juventus was next with 12. However, if the rumors come true, Dybala may be leaving town and the country during the upcoming transfer window with Manchester United being a possible destination. When it comes to their scoring ratios, Immobile is leading the way with a goal every 86 minutes while Icardi scores once every 93 minutes on average and Dybala tickles the twine every 96 minutes. This will be close, but Immobile should edge out Icardi.
French Ligue 1
Champions: Paris Saint Germain
The winter break arrived in the French Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain leading the way with 50 points from 16 wins, two draws and a loss. The club was also tops when it came to goals scored (58) goals against (15) and goal differential (43). Their closest rivals were Monaco and Lyon who were both nine points behind. PSG has won six Ligue 1 titles overall, but their four-year streak was snapped by Monaco last season. It looks like the team is now on a mission to reclaim its title and the addition of Brazilian scoring ace Neymar Jr. from Barcelona in the summer has given PSG a boost. But for the squad to win the league its going to need Edinson Cavani to continue his torrid scoring pace. A nine-point lead doesn’t guarantee anything with half a season to go, but it’s a good bet that PSG claims the crown.
Runners-Up: AC Monaco
It’s doubtful Monaco will make up their nine-point deficit to first-place Paris Saint Germain, but they should be able to pull ahead of Lyon to finish in second. They’re currently level on points with Lyon at 41 each and have a three-point edge over fourth-place Marseille. Monaco is tied for second-best in goals scored at 46 and is ranked second with a goal differential of 27. It doesn’t look like they’ll win their eighth league title in 2017/18 and the reigning champions will finish in second place at best. Fans will be disappointed with Monaco’s elimination from the European Champions League after reaching the final four last season, but this could ease their fixture list slightly and they’ll be able to concentrate on the domestic league.
Golden Boot Winner: Edinson Cavani
Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani is one of the top scorers in Europe this season and leads Ligue 1 with 19 league goals after 19 games. The 30-year-old international striker from Uruguay will get a good fight from Monaco’s Colombian striker Radamel Falcao as he’s next on the scoring chart with 15 goals. Lyon teammates Nabil Fekir and Mariano have an outside chance at the Golden Boot with both players having 13 goals. And speaking of outsiders, Neymar of Monaco has 11 and Mario Balotelli of Nice has 10 to his name. PSG is on a roll though and Cavani has been scoring at a rate of once every 77 minutes with Falcao the next most-prolific at a goal every 92 minutes. This will be another exciting scoring race, but look for Cavani to hang onto his lead and win his second straight Golden Boot in France.