Soccer, futbol, football, call it what you want, but it is back in a big way. This week, for the first time in many months, we got a chance to feel its full return with games in Germany, England, Spain and Italy. In addition, it has been confirmed that the UEFA Leagues will return for a month-long tournament in August. And the MLS is coming back for a month-long tournament as well along with the return of women’s NWSL. Life is better for a soccer fan right now.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on in each league.
Germany – Bundesliga
Bayern Munich won their 8th straight Bundesliga title this week with a 1-0 “grind-it-out” victory over Werder Bremen. An incredible feat for Bayern, which hasn’t lost a step since returning from the long lay off. They have taken three points in each of their 7 league games, including victories over Dortmund, Gladbach and Leverkusen. It’s Bayern’s league, the rest are playing for second.
With two games left for each team, some storylines remain. Fourth place is up for grabs between Leverkusen and Gladbach. Leverkusen holds a 1-point advantage, but Gladbach has the tiebreaker goal differential. That last Champions League spot is going to be the most intriguing over the final two games. Neither team is in danger of falling into 6th place.
With a shock victory over Dortmund on Wednesday, Mainz 04 have almost secured a place outside of the relegation zone. They hold a 5-point lead over 16th place Dusseldorf, and with two games left, they just need 1-point to clinch. Werder Bremen will be relegated for just the second time in the club’s proud history, as will Paderborn.
Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg are on 46 points a piece, with Freiburg on 45. Those three teams are positioned 6th, 7th and 8th. It looks like only places 5-7 will qualify for Europa League next year. Wolfsburg and Freiburg still have a game each against Bayern while Hoffenheim has a game against Dortmund. Those teams will be fighting hard to secure UEFA money.
The German League Cup final between Bayern Munich and Bayern Leverkusen is set to be held on July 4th. Bayern is looking to do the league double, and with the Champions League being announced for August, they’ll have a shot at the treble. Leverkusen, which was dismantled by Bayern last week, will go back to the drawing board for that one, but they need to secure top 4 in the league first.
Spain – La Liga
La Liga returned last weekend with a full slate of games and their second match day since returning is yet to take place. Their schedule is super crowded as teams are essentially playing every 3 to 4 days between now and July 19th. Barcelona took 6-points out of 6 in their first two games while Madrid will look to do the same today as they face the always challenging Valencia.
Barca holds a 2-point lead over Madrid for the title should Madrid hold serve today. The toughest game left on Barca’s schedule comes tomorrow (Friday June 19th) at Sevilla, just 3 days after playing their last game. If Barca can get through that game unscathed, we may be looking at some early title celebrations. Barca did beat Sevilla 4-0 last October, which was at the Camp Nou. This time, at Sevilla, will be without fans.
La Liga’s start has been notably slower than Germany’s Bundesliga. Teams look way more rusty, and goals have been harder to come by. We also noted this trend in the three games played in Italy thus far.
Italy – Serie A & Coppa Italia
The Serie A hasn’t started yet, for that we wait until the weekend. However, their domestic cup has been completed, with the cup final being played yesterday. Juventus and Napoli played to a 0-0 draw in the Coppa Italia Final, a game in which neither team looked like they wanted to win.
Juventus, despite owning most of the ball, only had 2 or 3 good chances while Napoli had 3 or 4. Forty-two year-old Gigi Buffon cleared a ball off the goaline for Juventus at the very end to preserve the tie. The game went into penalties, Juventus missed its first two, which sealed the deal. Napoli won their 6th Coppa Italia Final in club history in an atmosphere that felt nothing like a cup final.
If the semi finals and finals were any hint of what’s to come in this weekends Serie A return, don’t expect a lot of action. Teams look to be in “figure it out” mode, but Juventus, Napoli, AC and Inter Milan all should have a leg up over their opponents having already run off some rust prior to the start of the league. Juve holds a one-point lead over 2nd place Lazio for the Serie A title.
England – Premier League
The Premier League is back and that was personified by David Luis coming on for Arsenal yesterday against Manchester City. He provided an assist for the wrong team then, just after halftime, committed a foul in the box that resulted in a red card and a penalty kick for City. Manchester City throttled Arsenal 3-0 at the empty Etihad stadium as Pep Guardiola’s boys look like they haven’t missed a beat.
In the other opening game, Sheffield United and Aston Villa played to a 0-0 draw. There was some controversy late in the first half as Sheffield United appeared to have scored, but the referee’s goal line technology said no goal. The ball was clearly over the line as you’ll see here, so there is really no explanation for why Sheffield were not awarded the goal. Other than that, not much doing in this one.
As we head into the weekend, the game everyone has their eyes on is Manchester United verses Tottenham. In it, Jose Mourinho will take on his former side with both squads coming into the match healthy. Liverpool will take on Everton in a Merseyside Derby that will surely be lacking from the absence of fans. All players for this week’s games are wearing “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their jerseys. They will wear a patch on their sleeve for the rest of the season. A great gesture by the players and the league, who have also been taking a knee before the start of each game.
The Wrap Up
By next week, everything will be in full swing in Italy, England and Spain with games on just about every day. Germany will wrap up its season Saturday June 27th. The Champions League will take place in Lisbon starting in early August and the Europa League will do the same in Cologne Germany. Soccer is fully back, it’s a summer full of it with even more games than a World Cup provides. No fans, yeah it stinks, but the game is back, let’s enjoy it while we have it.