Europe: Winter Break Leagues Round-Up (Part 2)
In the second part of our winter break review Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at the current situation in many more of Europe’s top leagues.
LUXEMBOURG: F91 Dudelange (15 games, 42 points) are running away with it in the National Division presently. They have won all but one of their fifteen league games to date and have a commanding 16 point advantage over second place UN Käerjéng 97 with another clubs – FC Differdange 03, Jeunesse Esch and Fola Esch – all a point further back. At the other end of the standings Jeunesse Canach and FC Wiltz 71 are in the relegation places with Swift Hesperage occupying the promotion/relegation play-off place.
MACEDONIA: FK Škendija (18 games, 35 points) narrowly have the lead by just a solitary point over nearest challengers FK Renova in Macedonia’s Prva Liga. FK Rabotnički, who have been there or thereabouts in the last five years, are just two points further behind and one can’t write off the chances of 4th and 5th place teams FK Metalurg Skopje and FK Turnovo just yet as they are both on 29 points.
MALTA: With six matches to go until the end of the regular season Malta’s Premier League sees Valletta FC (12 games, 30 points) have a healthy lead over Tarxien Rainbows by seven points. When the regular season is finished the top six teams will feature in a championship group and play each other home and away for the title. The bottom four, on the other hand, will also play a round-robin schedule with the bottom two teams sealing their fate and dropping to the First Division.
MOLDOVA: Dacia Chişinău (21 games, 48 points) are spearheading the chase to topple dominant force FC Sheriff Tiraspol from the top of their perch. Dacia and Sheriff are sandwiched by surprise outfit FC Milsami Orhei with Olimpia Bălţi and FC Iskra-Stal Rîbniţa also in the running with 41 points each as Moldova’s Divizia Națională could see its most exciting title race for many years.
MONTENEGRO: FK Mogren (17 games, 42 points) lead the way in Montenegro’s T-Com 1.CFL hoping to win their second championship in three seasons. Budućnost Podgorica are their nearest challengers with a five point gap separating them from the league leaders. Last season’s champions FK Rudar lie in third place but haven’t kept up the pace as much as they’d have liked as they trail seven points further back.
NETHERLANDS: Defending champions FC Twente, after a sluggish start, are back in the hunt to claim consecutive Eredivisie titles. However PSV Eindhoven (19 games, 41 points) lead the way and are hoping to see off other challengers such as surprise package FC Groningen and Ajax Amsterdam (who let coach Martin Jol leave replacing him with Frank de Boer as caretaker) who lie in third and fourth place respectively. Feyenoord Rotterdam have been dreadful so far this season but have recovered slightly in recent weeks rising from a catastrophic 16th place to a slightly more comfortable 13th place in the table.
POLAND: Jagiellonia Białystok (15 games, 30 points) have led the way in the Ekstraklasa almost since the start of the season but perennial challengers Wisła Kraków have started to catch up and are now only three points behind the league leaders. Legia Warszawa also lie three points behind Jagiellonia as they go in search of a first championship title for five years. KS Cracovia with a mere eight points already seem doomed for the drop but as many as eight teams could still be dragged in the mire with them as the table is close from second bottom upwards.
PORTUGAL: FC Porto (14 games, 38 points), under promising young coach André Villas-Boas, have led the Liga Sagres since Matchday 2 of the season and seem steady favourites to remain top throughout the season. The “Special One: Mark Two” has taken the second city side eight points clear of last season’s champions and arch-rivals SL Benfica with Sporting Clube do Portugal a further five points behind.
ROMANIA: Oţelul Galaţi (18 games, 39 points) are the surprise leaders in Romania’s Liga I with the season just past its halfway mark. Last season’s CFR Cluj-Napoca are a distant twelve points away in eighth place and will have to embark on a long winning run if they are to have any hope of reclaiming their crown. FC Timişoara are hoping to win their maiden title and a five point gap between themselves and the league leaders is far from insurmountable.
SAN MARINO: The Campionato Sammarinese is split into two distinct groups during the regular season. Group A is currently led by SS Pennarossa who have a slender one point advantage over second place SS Cosmos. Defending champions S.P. Tre Fiori have a healthier lead at the top of Group B leading the way from arch-rivals SP Tre Penne by eight points. The top three from each group will go into the end-of-season play-offs with the group winners given byes to the third round.
SERBIA: Partizan Belgrade (15 games, 40 points) lead their arch-rivals Crvena Zvezda by five points with FK Vojvidina Novi Sad, an increasing third force in the Serbian game, just three points further back. Partizan can now concentrate on defending their SuperLiga crown following their elimination from the UEFA Champions League. Crvena Zvezda still have a bit of work to do if they are to savour championship success for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
SLOVAKIA: MŠK Žilina (18 games, 37 points) are another team whose elimination from the UEFA Champions League means they can put all their energies into a successful title defence. They currently lead the Slovakian SuperLiga by five points from FK Senica with third place FK Dukla Banská Bystrica trailing by a further point. However neither of these two clubs are expected to sustain a challenge on the league leaders who have far and away the best squad in the league.
SLOVENIA: NK Maribor (19 games, 45 points) lead the Prva Liga by nine points from NK Domžale whilst defending league champions FC Koper are struggling to keep up with only thirty points so far. The situation at the bottom of the table is much tighter with four points separating the bottom four teams – NK Primorje, NK Celje, ND Triglav Kranj and Olimpija Ljubljana – who are all trying to avoid automatic relegation (10th place) or the promotion/relegation play-off place (9th place).
SPAIN: Once again La Liga is looking like it’s heading towards a two-horse race between FC Barcelona (16 games, 43 points) and Real Madrid who are just two points off the pace. Villarreal look the most likely to make any sort of challenge on the big two but, realistically, a UEFA Champions League place is the best they can hope for. After FC Barcelona won the opening Clásico of the season by a whopping 5-0 scoreline over Real Madrid they remain slight favourites to win the title.
SWITZERLAND: The Swiss Super League appears to be a three-horse race with FC Luzern (18 games, 33 points) currently topping the table from FC Basle and FC Zürich who are just one and two points behind respectively. If FC Luzern can remain at the top for the remainder of the season then they stand a great chance of ending the seven year duopoly on the title held by FC Basle (4 title wins including last season’s) and FC Zürich (3 titles).
TURKEY: There’s a good chance that yet another team outside the traditional big three of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş can win Turkey’s Süper Lig this season. Following Bursaspor’s dramatic title win last season, Trabzonspor (17 games, 42 points) currently lead the table by five points over the defending champions and hope to win their first title for 27 years. Such a win would finally end the agony for fans of the Black Sea port club who have waited for what seems an eternity for their seventh league title but there’s still plenty of football left and the big three will definitely have a say in the this season’s championship.
UKRAINE: The big two of Ukrainian football occupy the top two places yet again in the Premyer Liha. Defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk (19 games, 52 points) have a healthy twelve point advantage over record champions Dynamo Kyiv and seem almost impossible to dislodge from the top of the standings with just eleven matches to go. Dynamo Kyiv will have to work hard to remain in the second UEFA Champions League place with Metalist Kharkiv just two points behind and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk a further three points back.