Promotion, Relegation and More: Handicapping the Remaining European Soccer Races
While the title race may have run its course in England, Germany, France and Spain (should results go Barcelona’s way this weekend), that’s not to say there is not still plenty of drama to unfold in Europe’s major leagues.
In fact, there’s so much that’s set to go right to the wire as we assess five of the biggest battles to watch out for between now and the end of the season.
Can Napoli overthrow Juventus?
This one is unavoidable after Napoli blew the title race wide open with victory in Turin at the weekend. The Little Donkeys were nine points adrift at one stage earlier this month, but Maurizio Sarri’s side reduced the deficit to just one with a last-minute header by Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday.
The psychological impact of the goal, and the timing of it in particular, certainly has the potential to hamper Juventus — the six-time defending champions — in the coming weeks, and a match with Inter this weekend is hardly the ideal recovery for Juve. Max Allegri’s side then have a Coppa Italia final with AC Milan to concern themselves with before facing Roma, another side who has a lot to play for in the league.
Napoli don’t have it as easy as they would like either, with Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Torino still to play, but the latter two sides would enjoy nothing more than seeing Juventus — their fiercest rivals — knocked off their perch after six years. The leaders are still the narrow favorites, but at even money, Napoli are breathing fire down their necks.
Udinese sliding at an alarming rate
Serie A is certainly still the league that offers the most signs of life in the dying embers of the European calendar, but the same certainly can’t be said of Udinese. Now on a remarkable 11-game losing streak in the league following defeat to a Crotone side in the bottom three ahead of said loss, Massimo Oddo’s men sit just four points above the drop zone having harbored slim hopes of a European finish as recently as February.
Their superior goal difference is almost as valuable as a point as things stand, but the three teams directly below them have winnable fixtures coming up. If Udinese can’t snap their losing streak against bottom club Benevento this weekend, they could be in serious trouble, making huge odds of 34.00 (+3300) on their relegation incredibly tempting.
Another great escape from Hamburg?
Sticking with the dogfights at the bottom for the time being, this year had looked certain to be the one that finally condemned Hamburg to their first ever Bundesliga relegation. The historic outfit have flirted with the drop for years, winning back-to-back relegation play-offs in 2014 and 2015, but their nine lives appeared to be up earlier this season.
Two points adrift at the foot of the table this time last month following a defeat to Hertha Berlin, Der Dino took seven points from four games since then to restore hope that they can still avoid the drop. Hamburg are still five points behind the three teams above them, so their mission is still very difficult, but the fact that they face one of said sides this weekend gives them a real shot at survival. That’s not reflected in the odds, however, with the price on their automatic relegation as low as 1.03 (-3333) — the bookies are almost certain the Dinosaur will finally go down.
Hoffenheim on the charge for the Champions League
At the opposite end of the table in Germany — while Bayern have romped to the title yet again — the competition directly below them has been fierce all season long. Last weekend was a big one in the battle for the remaining spots in the top four (which qualifies you for Champions League), with Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim the big winners in more than one sense. They beat the teams that are scrapping for said places with them in the form of Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig, respectively, and while Hoffenheim still have plenty to do, they seem to have the best chance of finishing the season the strongest.
Die Kraichgauer are unbeaten in eight games and young coach Julian Nagelsmann’s stock has rocketed yet again. Just two points behind Leverkusen in fourth, Hoffenheim could take a big psychological swipe with a win over Hannover on Friday. That would put them ahead of Leverkusen heading into the latter’s game over the weekend. With a price of 4.00 (+300) on a top-four finish from Unibet, theirs is a price worth taking up.
A fight of Olympique proportions
Another league that has a runaway leader (PSG) but has profited from an entertaining race for Europe is Ligue 1, and it’s heating up as the season comes to a head. It’s Lyon, boosted by the return of the fantastic Nabil Fekir, that are really on the charge right now. Bruno Genesio’s side have won six on the trot in the league, having previously looked in real danger of missing out on the third spot.
That is still the case, but both they and Olympique rivals Marseille are now in hot pursuit of Monaco in second after two consecutive defeats for last season’s champions. Just a single point separates the three sides now, with a runner-up finish earning direct qualification to the Champions League while third will go into qualifying for the tournament.
All three sides have pretty favorable run-ins in the final four matches of the campaign, so things couldn’t be much tighter. A tough home game against Saint-Etienne for Monaco in the penultimate game week could yet see them surrender the second spot that they have held for the past 10 weeks and perhaps drop them out of the top three altogether, despite remaining favorites to finish as PSG’s closest rivals with the bookmakers.
All odds current as of Wednesday evening.
Top Photo courtesy of Hoffenheim.