We are at the halfway mark of most of the seasons in European soccer and there are some interesting storylines developing. The Manitoban highlights some of the biggest stories.
It’s FC Barcelona’s year, having won five trophies in the calendar year of 2015 and capped it off with the FIFA Club World Cup in December. At the other big horse in La Liga, Real Madrid, manager Rafa Benitez continues under serious concerns for his job despite sitting only two points behind Barca in the table.
One of the more surprising teams this year has been Valencia, as they have brought on England international and former TV pundit Gary Neville to manage the mid-table club. Neville has won everything there is to win in club soccer and will hope to translate that success into his managerial career.
It’s been a wild season in England, to say the least. Leicester City shocked the soccer world when they sat atop the Premier League at Christmas but have since dropped to second place. Riding the backs of English striker Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez, Leicester has been playing fast, high-intensity soccer to overwhelm some of the bigger clubs.
London is the place to be or not to be this year as Chelsea and Arsenal are having polar opposite seasons. Chelsea have imploded just a year after winning the Premier League, racking up defeat after shocking defeat, and manager Jose Mourinho has paid the price with his job.
The other side of London sees Arsenal enjoying great success, leading the Premier League and staying alive in the Champions League. New managers have graced the top clubs in England this season, as Jürgen Klopp took over in Liverpool and Guus Hiddink is now in charge of Chelsea, while Louis van Gaal’s job looks to be in serious jeopardy at Manchester United as the Red Devils continue to play listlessly.
A wild title race is being fought in Italy, with just a few points separating each of the teams in the top five. Juventus have finally started to regain their form after an abysmal start to the season and are sitting fourth in the table, three points behind leaders Inter Milan.
Fiorentina have had a marvelous season, sitting second in the table and just one point behind Inter. With a relatively unknown squad, Fiorentina have relied on cohesiveness and strong defensive play to get results. It’s paid off, and at the very least we should see them in the Champions League next season.
League leader Inter is bouncing back after finishing mid-table last season. They’re led by young Argentinean striker Mauro Icardi who has seven goals in 15 appearances. Inter looks well on their way to capturing their first Scudetto since 2010.
The Bundesliga is commanded by FC Bayern Munich, as they hold a commanding eight-point lead over second place Borussia Dortmund. Bayern have been formidable this season, dropping points on only two occasions. Robert Lewandowski is a man on a mission, racking up 15 goals in 16 Bundesliga appearances including scoring an incredible five-goal display in nine minutes against Wolfsburg, which proved to be world record breaking.
Dortmund have been productive under new man Thomas Tuchel. They currently sit second in the table and are having a fairly successful Europa League campaign, which will see them square off against FC Porto in February.
Hertha Berlin is raising some eyebrows in Germany, as they’re playing very well this season and are amongst the top four in the Bundesliga. Hertha battled relegation last season and they appear to have done everything right this year. They’ll be gunning for Champions League play next season, which is attainable for the Berlin side. It would be nice to see Champions League soccer being played in the historic Olympiastadion.