It was a dispiriting weekend for anyone relying on the top leagues producing thrilling finales to compensate for their own team’s campaigns being drained of any semblance of purpose.
Arsenal’s failure to beat Chelsea effectively ended any chance of pressure being put on the long-term Premier League leaders and Liverpool surrendered their challenge for a Champions League place. Bayern Munich took the Bundesliga title, Barcelona survived one of their trickiest remaining fixtures and Lazio, Roma and Porto declined opportunities to unnerve their division’s table-toppers.
It even spread to the Championship, where point spills for high-flying Middlesbrough and Norwich and low-loitering Millwall and Wigan have created a situation whereby midweek home victories for Bournemouth and Rotherham will confirm the top two and bottom three before the final day.
Don’t lose heart though, for there are several scraps which appear certain to go the distance…
Premier League – Winner Without Chelsea
Within seven days, Man City went from supposedly at risk of dropping out of the Champions League places to regaining second, though Arsenal are fancied to ultimately pass them at [1.42] for what would be the Gunners’ highest finish in a decade. The Citizens are [3.65], with Man United [8.0].
Arsene Wenger’s men trail the champions on goal difference but have a game in hand, with the expectation being that even if they botch their toughest match left at Man United, they will take at least ten points from home clashes with Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom and a trip to Hull.
Premier League – Top Goalscorer
The striker title race has been far more exciting than the club version, and the standings are so open that it may not yet have peaked. Sergio Aguero [1.5] has hit overdue form to lead on 21, Harry Kane [3.85] is one back on 20, Diego Costa [12.0] is on 19 and Charlie Austin [70.0] isn’t finished on 17.
This writer sided with Costa when he first got injured and sees no reason to change now. Aguero scored three in 12 league outings before his recent four-in-three spurt so can’t be trusted to sustain it, Kane is fading with one in four and Costa is fighting to return at Leicester. If the striker does, he’ll have a fixture more than his rivals, and four of Chelsea’s closing five are against bottom-half sides.
La Liga – Winner
Spain’s top tier was never likely to better its enthralling three-team tussle last term, capped off by an extraordinary Atletico Madrid triumph, but it is giving it a grand try. Barcelona bossed the start then Real Madrid enjoyed their longest ever winning streak, only for their Catalan foes to reassert control.
Barcelona won 43 points from their last available 48 to emerge as [1.33] favourites, and sit two clear of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad after prevailing in two of their toughest run-in tests against Valencia and Espanyol. Real’s best hope of delivering on their [3.95] odds is to win all of their (harder) final five and pray that neighbours Atletico take something against the pacesetters on week 37.
Bundesliga – Bottom Two
The English Conference’s elite doubtless feel pretty bummed out about being joined by clubs as big as Tranmere and Cheltenham in 2015/16, but spare a thought for those in the German second tier. The division is already crammed with the likes of Nurnberg, 1860 Munich, Fortuna Dusseldorf and RB Leipzig, and now Hamburg and Stuttgart are threatening to follow.
Two go down automatically with the third-worst tackling a two-legged play-off and, with four games to play, the Bundesliga’s bottom five are inhumanely congested: Freiburg 30, Hannover 29, Hamburg 28, Paderborn 28, Stuttgart 27.
Hamburg and Stuttgart both only just got away with it last season – surely they won’t both be so lucky this time? The former had been freefalling until the arrival of fourth coach of the campaign Bruno Labbadia helped to inspire a first win in ten against Augsburg on Saturday, while the latter can point to a four-match unbeaten run as hosts as proof that they are still breathing.