We are reaching that time of the year when football viewership reaches a delicate point. Excitement, yes. Nervousness - perhaps even more. This is that time of the season when the casual fan watches as many of their favourite team's games, as their closest competitors. One eye is perpetually fixed towards challengers. This is the European title race after all!
It is probably the time the casual fan discovers that hidden gem from a team they would otherwise never have known. And as the world functions on context, so does our beautiful game. When there is prize at stake, it usually results in added everything - excitement, nervousness, emotions and viewership. Such is true across all sport and beyond sport too.
And there is no bigger prize at stake than silverware. Victory followed by that walk to the podium as photographers await with finger on shutter. As confetti awaits explosion and fireworks accompany the sinew tightening trophy lift! Almost as though it was all choreographed. Everything synchronized to celebrate the achievements of the entire season. For some, this moment is a culmination of their whole lives. That one glory moment!
And hence, this is a special time of the year. No better time to watch or play football. So, with the season winding down, here is how the title race is shaping up in Europe's top five leagues.
Title race - Spanish La Liga
Real Madrid are running away with the title in Spain this season. Sevilla, their closest competitors, are nine points behind. And they have won only one of their last five games. In fact, Sevilla's four draws in this duration has really pegged them back. So much so that they are now looking across their shoulders rather than ahead. Barcelona, only three points behind, with a game in hand could creep up soon.
The Blaugrana have found form recently. They beat champions elect Real Madrid 0-4 at the Bernabeu. It was quite an astonishing result that sent shockwaves around Spain. Down and out this season, Barcelona wiped the floor with Real Madrid. And this is not any other Madrid team. This is the team that completed a remarkable comeback against PSG in the second half of the second leg of the UCL Round of 16.
However, that defeat of Real Madrid, seems only just a blip en route to their 35th La Liga title. A nine-point lead with as many games to go is a cushion too comfortable not to resist the odd hiccup. Last season's champions Atletico Madrid are level on points with Barcelona - 54 from 29 games - and are thinking more about a Champions League spot than title retention.
Los Blancos, thus, are favourites to canter to the podium in Spain.
Title race - German Bundesliga
The German leg of the European title race, strangely, is closer than its Spanish counterpart. Bayern Munich, of course, lead the pack with 63 points from 27 games. Borussia Dortmund follow them on 57 points from as many games.
The Bundesliga, unlike the other top 5 European leagues, has only 18 teams in the top flight. Thus, the teams play a maximum of 34 games which puts Bayern in pole position to retain their domestic stronghold. The title race, however, could get very interesting on April 23 when Bayern host Dortmund.
Bayern will remain confident of extending the lead over their rivals in the faceoff. This season, Bayern have beaten Dortmund on both occasions they have played each other. In the previous league meeting, a five goal thriller was decided by a Robert Lewandowski penalty. Before that, in the DFL Super Cup, Bayern had also scored three goals. Dortmund, on that occasion, managed the sole strike through Marco Reus.
Bayern also, possess enough firepower compared to Dortmund. And one might even say that if Dortmund do hare their rivals down, it will be quite the upset.
Title race - Italian Serie A
Italy is an extremely interesting place to watch football these days. We are far from those times when Juventus would dominate the league. In fact, these days, they are more the challengers than champions elect. Juve are seven points adrift of league leaders AC Milan after 30 games and are placed fourth. Ahead of them are Inter Milan on 60 points. They are six points behind their city rivals. However, they have a game in hand over the rest of their competitors.
Napoli are on 63 points, only three behind AC Milan. Thus, the Italian leg of the European title race is genuinely intriguing. One where every team is frantically following what the other teams are doing. And across the world, some of the lesser fancied teams will find unforeseen support. It perhaps works well for their social media teams who will have greater engagement numbers to boast for future sponsorships.
In the run in, Juventus vs Inter Milan promises to be an intriguing. An Inter win almost certainly takes away any outside chance Juve still has. The defending champions also have to play Roma. Meanwhile, Roma also have a game left against Napoli who also play Atalanta.
Atalanta will have a major say in the title race as they also face current leaders AC Milan. The league leaders will also square up against Lazio in their run in. 8 games and plenty of twists remain in the Serie A title race.
Title race - French Ligue 1
Paris Saint Germain seems to be marching towards the Ligue 1 title. Thus rendering the French leg of the European title race utterly redundant. In fact, so commanding is their lead that despite losing three of their last five games, PSG are still as many as 12 points ahead of competition.
Marseille are second on the table with 53 points from 29 games. And defending champions Lille are not even in the top five. After a logic bending season, Lille have struggled this term. It looks unlikely they will even make it to one of the Champions League spots. In fact, the real race in France is actually for the Champions League spots.
Marseille are on 53 points followed by Rennes on 52. Nice are only one win away from second on 50 points. Strasbourg, meanwhile, are only two away from fourth. And Lille are two further points behind.
PSG, on 63, are thus odds on favourite to sleep walk to the title. Their season, however, will not be a success following the UCL Round of 16 exit. PSG, only like they can, dramatically imploded at the Bernabeu. Pochettino's men conceded three goals in the last 45 minutes of the tie. Thus, the triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe will have only the domestic league title to show.
Title race - English Premier League
The world's most popular league has a title race. A proper one at that. And it is the two usual suspects who have emerged as the leading dazzlers of our time. Pep vs Klopp yet again. Manchester City and Liverpool have unconsciously choreographed some of the most scintillating modern displays of art. Football with a purpose. Purpose to entertain, challenge and be remembered. All in style and panache.
These two teams truly are box office. Liverpool and City are playing out today what Arsenal and United did to make the Premier League what it is today. Undeniable box office. Plenty of remonstrations. Unmatchable theatrics. Exciting games. And simply unmissable television.
City are currently leading the Premier League pack. The blue side of Manchester are on 70 points after 29 games. And when blue advances, in England, can red be far behind? Liverpool are hot - if not scorching - on cross town heels. 69 points from as many games. For a fair bit this season, this title seemed City's to lose. And now, after a draw and defeat in the last five games, the season is set for yet another epic finish.
This league has already seen 97 points leading to heartbreak. That famous 2018-19 season when Liverpool were denied by City who finished on 98 points. It was one of the finest set of unrelenting performances which saw both teams go 16 games unbeaten to finish the season trading one knockout after the other. And this one promises similar theatre.
To top it off, the two contenders face each other. And that could be the decider. Common bitter rivals Manchester United may yet have a say in the race. They are to travel to Merseyside in April. City and Liverpool also have an FA Cup semifinal meet. That, however, is after the league meeting.
Two goliaths. 70 vs 69. The podium has space for only one!