Title race heats up across Europe

On the weekend that Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat against Arsenal, there was at least some comfort gained from title battles from across Europe taking more dramatic twists and turns.
Robinho vies with Alexandre Song during their UEFA Champions League match in London. Arsenal won 3-0. Xinhua-Tang Shi
Robinho vies with Alexandre Song during their UEFA Champions League match in London. Arsenal won 3-0. Xinhua-Tang Shi

On the weekend that Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat against Arsenal, there was at least some comfort gained from title battles from across Europe taking more dramatic twists and turns.

In La Liga, much had been made of Real Madrid’s ten point advantage over Barcelona, with most declaring the title race over when Jose Mourinho’s side put four past Levante, including a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, to claim a 4-2 win over Levante back in February.

However since then Barcelona, led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, who appears to be have been provoked by the thought of Madrid cantering to the title, have fought back to make it a two horse race once more and place even greater emphasis on El Clasico in Barcelona later this month.

Madrid’s 4-2 win over Levante in February helped Mourinho’s men take advantage of Barca’s 3-2 defeat against Osasuna on the same weekend.

However since then, Messi’s unbelievable goalscoring form has put his side right back in the hunt with just four points separating the two teams at the top of the table.

The diminutive Argentinian has hit the back of the net an astonishing 26 times in 13 games across all competitions since that defeat against Osasuna - the last time Pep Guardiola’s side dropped points in the league - including a hat-trick against Getafe that made him the club’s leading goal-scorer of all time and four against fourth placed Valencia.

The latest twist in the La Liga title race came as Madrid uncharacteristically dropped points in successive matches against Malaga and Villarreal, with Los Blancos recording 1-1 draws in each game at the tail end of March.

That allowed Barca to reduce the gap to six points before the latest fixtures saw Madrid’s advantage eroded further as they failed to find a way past Valencia in an entertaining 0-0 draw that either side could have easily won.

Barca were unrelenting as they recorded a 4-1 win over Real Zaragoza, and it came as no surprise that it was that man Messi at the heart of the action again, bagging a brace that took his tally for the season to 60 goals, the first time in 39 years that a player has reached that figure.

Six games of the season remain, and it would appear that Madrid have the harder run in of the two title chasing teams.

Mourinho’s men were in action on Wednesday in the Madrid derby, with the huge game at the Nou Camp following soon after along with tough ties against Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames Stadium and Sevilla at the Bernabeu before the end of the season.

Barcelona had revenge on their mind when they went up against Getafe, who remain one of only two teams to have got the better of the reigning champions this season.

Early season pace setters Real Betis, surprise package Levante and big spending Malaga all must be dealt with along with the home game against Madrid, meaning there is plenty scope for both teams to drop points along the way, while a potential Champions League final between the pair may also have an impact come the final day of the season.

Almost 1,500 kilometres away from the scene of Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Valencia on Sunday; Juventus have had their title challenge reigniting thanks to a little help from an outcast striker.

Described as one of the closest Serie A title races for years, Juventus appeared destined to make their way into the history for going an entire season unbeaten without claiming the league title.

Now however their 31-game undefeated run which includes 14 draws has taken on a new look thanks to Milan’s struggles of late, and with five games remaining the Turin club now occupy the driving seat.

AC Milan on the other hand, appeared to be cruising towards the title after Juve’s run of four straight league draws and just three wins in ten games across February and March.

However four wins on the trot for Antonio Conte’s men has helped them take advantage of Milan’s own wobble in form which has seen them drop points against Catania last week before succumbing to a shock 2-1 defeat against Fiorentina on Saturday. The match-winning goal-scorer at the San Siro? On-loan Juventus striker Amauri.

Now Milan and manager Massimiliano Allegri must fight back from not only losing the lead in Serie A – Juventus now have a one point but also from the disappointment of their Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona.

It is a similar tale of a tight title battle going down to the wire in Germany as well, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund separated by just six points after the mid-week game.

Reports from Germany indicated that 450,000 requests for tickets to the 80,000 capacity Signal Iduna Park, while Bayern president, Uli Hoeness declared ‘war’ with their rivals.

Dortmund walked away with all three points then the Bundesliga title is their to lose and bayern’s defeat dented their historical treble chase that is on the on the cards if they can continue their charge towards Champions League glory and defeat Dortmund in the final of the DFB Cup in May.

Premier League fans were robbed of their own title showdown at the Etihad Stadium later this month as Manchester City’s stutter in form handed Manchester United a seemingly unassailable five point advantage.

After a 1-0 defeat at Wigan, United now need to recapture their recent form which has seen them match their points tally of their 1998/99 treble winning season with five games remaining to claim a record 20th title.

With what was meant to be the tightest battle for the English league title in years fizzling out, it would seem the best place to watch the most dramatic football in the final games of the season in on the continent.

 

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