It is an exciting time of year for soccer as competition fires on all cylinders around the globe. European soccer leagues have shaken off the summer dust and are about 1/3 of the way through their seasons. The North American MLS is in play-offs at the semi-final stage, South American leagues are in full swing or near the end (Brasil).
In Europe the Champions and Europa leagues are more than half way through the group stage and national cup competitions are entering the final knock-out stages.
And FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers are well underway.
With all the activity at the club level FIFA needs to block out certain weeks for it’s competitions. This week is one of them as qualifying picks up across the globe. It’s a good time to review some key facts from around the world of soccer.
European Club Soccer
The fierce competition I predicted in England is happening. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal are separated by two points, followed by Tottenham and Manchester United. Last year’s surprise champion Leicester is in the middle of the standings.
Bayern is on top of the German Bundesliga, no surprise here. What is surprising is that newcomer RB Leipzig is in second place, tied on points. Recall that Leipzig is part of the Red Bull soccer franchise with Salzburg and New York. Rounding out the top six are further surprise teams Hoffenheim, Berlin, Dortmund (not a surprise) and Cologne.
The usual suspects Real and Barca are sitting atop the Spanish league separated by two points. Villareal (surprise), Atletico, Sevilla and Sociedad round out the top six spots.
In Italy Juventus has a four point lead on Roma with AC Milan one point behind Roma. Milan is celebrating a return to the top after years of mediocrity. Lazio, Atalanta (surprise) and Napoli follow. Inter is in 9th and still struggling.
In France Nice, Monaco and Paris SG are separated by three points, followed by Guincamp, Rennes, and Toulouse (surprises) leaving Lyon and Marseille behind.
All in all the big names are where you’d expect them but some smaller clubs are challenging for top spots.
The MLS is in the semi-finals. Two Canadian clubs (Toronto and Montreal) will meet in the Eastern final after knocking out NY City FC and New York Red Bulls. In the West Colorado and Seattle will fight for a spot in the final.
In Mexico Club Tijuana sits at the top. With four games to go Palmeiras is leading by six points in Brasil. Estudiantes has a surprising five point lead over Boca Juniors after nine games in Argentina.
After four of six group games the following teams have already qualified for the knock out stages:
Arsenal, Paris SG, Atletico, Bayern, and Dortmund. Virtually through are Barcelona, Real, Sevilla, Juventus,and Leicester (surprise). This leaves six spots contested. Again, the usual suspects are present with Leicester trying to repeat last year’s league upset on the big stage.
The Europa league has still too many teams (48) to be worth a review. Once the field gets down to the final 16 we’ll review it.
World Cup Qualifying
Europe is entering the second half of group play. So far four teams have won their first three games – Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and Greece. Already struggling are the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, and Turkey. Surprise teams at or near the top of their groups are Azerbajan, Montenegro, Lithuania.
South America is entering match day 11 of 18. Brazil and Uruguay are sitting on top with 21 and 20 points respectively. The next five teams are separated by just two points and will determine the last four qualifiers. The mild surprise is that Peru seems out of the running.
North and Central America are just starting the final group match with six teams competing for four spots.
Africa is playing the second game in group stage (five groups) and no conclusions can be drawn yet.
Asia is entering match day five of two groups. In group A Iran, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic are at the top while Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan lead group B. No surprises.
So enjoy watching the competitions wherever you are and whenever you can.