Perhaps with a large sigh of relief, the last international break of the year is over. There was plenty on the line in World Cup qualifying, of course, but the pauses on domestic football always seemed to arrive at the worst time.
Now, however, it is full steam ahead for the top leagues across Europe. There is so much to play for, with title races, Champions League and Europa League, and relegation places still to be decided as we enter the hectic holiday period.
In, there is a runaway leader in but an enthralling contest for the spots below them. in has three teams all within a single point of each other in the title race, while several sides have been dragged into the bottom three dogfight.
PSG are flying at the top of Ligue 1 ahead of football resuming across Europe this weekend
Across Italy and Germany, there is a two-horse race at the top of both Serie A and the Bundesliga, as well as countless clubs pushing for European football next season, promising thrills and spills galore over the second half of the campaign.
Here, Sportsmail takes you through the state of play in the top leagues…
There is plenty at stake, particularly in Italy and Germany with two-horse title races thrilling
LIGUE 1 (FRANCE)
In short, there isn’t really one this season. Last term, Lille lifted the trophy ahead of the heavy favourites Paris Saint-Germain, but it is PSG, led by Mauricio Pochettino, who top the standings with 34 points. They are 10 clear of Lens already.
Despite the rumblings around the club at their underwhelming style of play, PSG have won 11 of their 13 fixtures, drawing one and losing just one. It has been a formidable start to their title bid, and they are destined to take the cup back.
Lens sit on 24 points in the second, and final, automatic Champions League group stage place, marginally in front of Nice and Marseille. Their achievements may fly under the radar due to PSG’s winning machine, but they have been truly superb.
Lens are in second in Ligue 1, ten points behind PSG but enjoying a Champions League push
With a lack of a scrap at the top, it falls to the race for the Champions League and Europa League to provide most of the entertainment over in France. There, the team that finishes third come May makes it into the Champions League qualifiers.
After that, fourth enters the Europa League group stage, and fifth take part in the Europa Conference League qualifiers. At present, it is high-flying Nice in third, Marseille sit in fourth and Rennes, just one point behind, hold fifth place.
Montpellier and Lyon both have 19 points heading into the resumption of the top-flight, and may fancy their chances of sneaking into the table’s upper reaches.
Two teams will drop into Ligue 2 at the end of the campaign, while the team that finishes 18th will contest a relegation play-off. Metz, the basement club, have eight points and are four adrift of safety, seemingly already consigned to the drop.
St Etienne, the one-time giants, are in 19th, meanwhile. They have nine points and the second-worst goal difference tally in the division, placing them in real peril. Bordeaux, meanwhile, are currently primed to take part in the crunch play-off.
A number of other teams, though, remain within touching distance of the dreaded bottom three. Brest and Reims have 12 points each, while Clermont Foot and Troyes, who are in 14th, are on 13 – and therefore at risk of relegation, too.
Metz are the basement club in France with just eight points to their name, four from safety
Realistically, there are three teams currently fighting it out to win LaLiga this season. At the top of the table are Real Sociedad, on 28 points, while Real Madrid – one of the title favourites – and Sevilla are just below them, both with 27 points.
Sociedad, superbly coached by Imanol Alguacil, have won eight of their 13 games this season, drawing four and losing just once. They are moderately low scorers, with 19 goals to their name, but have flourished this year by staying tight at the back.
Atletico Madrid, the reigning champions, are in fourth, on 23 points. Five points off the pace already, Diego Simeone and his stars will want to pick up some early victories after the restart to close in on the summit, and their fierce city rivals Real.
Real Sociedad are the surprise leaders in LaLiga, with Real Madrid and Sevilla just behind them
The top four in the top-flight are guaranteed a place in the Champions League group stage next season, while fifth spot sees the team enter the Europa League group instead. Sixth, meanwhile, is for the qualifiers of the Europa Conference League.
As it stands, Atletico hold the final Champions League place, while Real Betis in fifth are heading for the Europa League. Rayo Vallecano are in sixth, and therefore on course for a spot in the newest competition, which was introduced this season.
Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao are on 19 and 18 points respectively and will now want to give up on their dreams of Europe just yet. As for Barcelona, they are languishing in a lowly ninth, and club great Xavi is tasked with leading them back up the table.
Real, coached once again by Carlo Ancelotti, are in second and still remain the title favourites
With no play-off in LaLiga, there are just three teams who will drop into the second tier for the next campaign. Two of the sides in the drop zone, Getafe and Levante, have just six points to their name and are already five adrift of safety.
Elche are in 18th, but find themselves level on points with 17th-placed Granada and one point away from climbing into the middle of the bottom half of the table. Currently, Granada, Cadiz, Celta Vigo and Alaves are in danger of the drop.
Intriguingly, both Getafe and Levante are both also locked on the same goal difference, -13, and have work to do if they are to avoid tumbling out of the league.
SERIE A (ITALY)
The battle to take the crown in Serie A this season is a tantalising one. Top of the table heading out of the international break is Napoli, on 32 points. Level on points with them, but behind on goal difference, are the impressive AC Milan.
Napoli also remain unbeaten, having won 10 and draw two of their first 12 games. And perhaps even more impressively, they have conceded just four goals and scored 24, handing them a formidable goal difference of 20 at a very early stage.
Inter Milan may still harbour hopes of closing the gap on the top two, but are sitting on 25 points and therefore seven adrift. Below them, Atalanta sit in fourth, but a late title charge appears beyond their reach with ten points to make up.
Napoli are top of Serie A on goal difference, but the impressive AC Milan are level on points
In the same fashion as LaLiga, the top four in Serie A will go on to play in the Champions League next term. As it stands, Napoli, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atalanta will qualify for the top table, although the chase is far from over yet.
Knocking on the door of fourth are Lazio, who are in fifth on 21 points. Below them, four teams may also be eyeing up a spot in Europe – Roma, Fiorentina, Juventus and Bologna. All of these sides are on 18 points and within touching distance.
Juventus have struggled this season despite the much-heralded return of Massimiliano Allegri. With just two victories from their last five, the pressure is already on for the manager to help transform his side’s fortunes, and quickly.
As with many of the top divisions in Europe, the relegation tussle in Serie A is evenly matched and incredibly fierce. Propping up the standings are Cagliari, with Salernitana and Sampdoria occupying the other two spots in the bottom three.
The basement club have just six points so far, having suffered eight defeats in their first 12 games, while the sides above them have seven and nine respectively. Their poor goal difference tallies have also complicated their bid to stay up.
Genoa, meanwhile, sit in 17th and are level on points with Sampdoria. Minnows Spezia and Venezia cannot rule themselves out of the quagmire either, however.
Cagliari prop up the standings in Italy’s top-flight, and have suffered eight defeats this season
The battle to win the Bundesliga has quickly panned out into a two-horse race, too. Leading the way is Bayern Munich, on 28 points, while Borussia Dortmund are four points behind them – inspired on by the heroics of Erling Haaland.
Bayern have been nothing short of formidable. They have nine wins from 11 games, and have scored 40 goals in the process. Under Julian Nagelsmann, they are free-scoring and look destined to retain their title, admittedly to little surprise.
Provided Dortmund can shore up their leaky defence, they will also remain in contention for the crown, though. Behind them, Freiburg occupy third on 22 points, but they are unlikely to push Bayern despite their flying start this season.
To no surprise, Bayern Munich lead the way in the Bundesliga, inspired by Robert Lewandowski
This scrap has been wonderfully unpredictable. Bayern and Dortmund are odds-on favourites to take two of the Champions League spots, while it is Freiburg and Wolfsburg – with 19 points to their name so far – who occupy the other two.
Fifth in the Bundesliga qualifies for the Europa League group stage, and at this point in the season, RB Leipzig will take that accolade. They have endured a rollercoaster start to life under Jesse Marsch, and memorably finished second last season.
Sixth enters the Europa Conference League. Currently, Bayer Leverkusen will compete in it – and finished in the same spot last term. Also in contention are Mainz and Union Berlin, but Borussia Monchengladbach look too far off.
RB Leipzig, who finished second last season, are in fifth spot after a rollercoaster start this year
Greuther Furth have one point and are certainties to drop out of the Bundesliga sooner rather than later. Their sole result came against fellow struggles Arminia Bielefeld in August, and this season has been an eye-opening one for them.
Arminia, though, have eight points and a puncher’s chance of securing survival. The likes of Augsburg, Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt will be way of the drop, too.
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