Friday, 19 November 2010

Season so far: Magic Madrid

Europe’s top four leagues are a third of the way through, and quite a lot of change is currently in the air. Of the current reigning champions, only Chelsea are top of their respective league, and the two teams who contested last year’s Champions League Final are far from having things their own way this time around. Having lost the Milan derby at the weekend, Inter are 5th in Serie A, six points behind their great rivals AC. In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich are having an even harder time of things, twelve points behind leaders Dortmund, they sit in 6th.

Lets take a look at the statistics across the four leagues.

La Liga
Having left Inter Milan after winning the treble, Jose Mourinho has wasted no time in once again rising to the top of the pile in European club football. His Real Madrid team, who are top of La Liga have picked up more points per game than any other team from Europe’s top leagues. Madrid have also scored the most and conceded the least goals per game of any team, and along with Manchester United, are undefeated in all competitions this season, quite impressive I’m sure you’ll agree. However, Real Madrid have yet to face Villarreal, Valencia, Sevilla or most importantly Champions Barcelona. Pep Guardiola’s side, despite Madrid’s blistering start, lie only one point behind with the Clasico taking place in two weeks time on Monday 29th November. Madrid will certainly be tested in the coming months, and their trip to the Camp Nou will be so crucial in such a two horse race. Villarreal, with their 4-2-2-2 formation and interiores have been a breath of fresh air this season in Spain, but their loss at Barca likely means that third place is all that's available to challenge for this time around.


In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund are currently running away with things. They are seven points clear at the top of the league and have the second highest goals per game ratio behind Real Madrid. Very impressive stats considering that the German league is known for its competitiveness. Dortmund are operating extremely well as a team, and are benefiting from not having to rely on one striker scoring all their goals. Seven different players have scored two or more goals for Jurgen Klopp’s side this season, with Lucas Barrios scoring seven and the impressive Shinji Kagawa getting six so far. Unfortunately, after such a good start, Mainz have lost their last three games and have slipped to third in the table, while Bayer Leverkusen have moved up to second.

Premier League
In England, Chelsea have lost two of their last three in the league, including a humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland. The result was a big shock, especially considering that before Sunday Chelsea had the best defensive record of all teams in Europe’s top four leagues, and had yet to concede any at home. This has tightened things up again at the top with Arsenal now only two points behind. Despite being without Rooney and lacking their usual squad depth, Manchester United remain unbeaten and are demonstrating an impressive resilience. However, they have drawn seven of their thirteen league games and are suffering from a lack of ruthlessness. Sadly for the league, despite Manchester United and Chelsea looking somewhat out of sorts, teams like Manchester City and Tottenham have yet to really push the usual contenders.

Serie A
So far, Serie A has been struggling for goals, with an average of only 1.08 goals per game this season. Milan may have figured out how to best utilise their fantastic attacking talent however, and their win at the weekend over Inter has led some optimistic fans to believe that the Scudetto could be on its way to AC this time around. Lazio are hanging on near the top of the table despite having lost two of their last three league matches. Internazionale are struggling at the moment and after losing to Spurs in the Champions League and slipping to fifth in Serie A, Rafa Benitiez’s position looks increasingly under threat.

The biggest player battle in world football at this moment in time is obviously Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo. Both players are in scintillating form and are scoring for fun. Currently, Ronaldo has 11 goals to Messi’s 10 in eleven league matches. In the coming months it will be interesting to see if Ronaldo lets this rivalry eat away at him and if it starts to hurt his game as a result. Ronaldo does not like it when things do not go his way and at times is guilty of trying too much on his own in an attempt to rectify a situation. Leo Messi on the other hand simply seems to love playing football at Barcelona, where the team is perfectly built around him. Can this wonderful goalscoring ballet between the world’s top two players continue further into the season, or will Ronaldo implode with self obsession as he desperately tries to stay ahead?

Away from Messi and Ronaldo, other players in Europe’s big leagues are receiving plenty of plaudits themselves. In England (and Italy) all the talk is of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. The Spurs winger burst onto the international scene after scoring a wonderful hat-trick at the San Siro, before destroying Maicon and Inter back at White Hart Lane in a 3-1 victory for the London side in Group A of the Champions League. Manchester United have not been firing on all cylinders yet this season, but Nani has been the key to their progress with nine assists and four goals so far. In Germany, Dortmund fans are raving about Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa. After arriving from the J League in August he often drives his team forward and has a very impressive scoring record. The hottest prospect in Serie A at the present time is Palermo’s playmaker Javier Pastore, who is being closely watched by all Europe’s big boys. With transfer figures of 60 or 70 million Euros being banded about, Palermo must know that they are unlikely to keep the talented Argentinian for much longer.

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