Europe’s ‘big four’ leagues appear set to go alreadyLONDON - Winter has only just given way to spring in Europe yet the league titles of the continent’s major leagues already appear done and dusted with around half a dozen games still to be played.
After their main challengers all slipped up, Barcelona, Manchester United, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund would need to slip up spectacularly in the next few weeks to miss out on their respective championships, leaving only France and the Netherlands to provide some excitement in May.
Dortmund, seeking their first title in nine years, are likely to be the first to close out the race among the “big four” leagues after they beat Freiburg 3-0 at the weekend to open an eight-point lead with four games remaining.
Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen lost ground in spectacular style when they were thrashed 5-1 at Bayern Munich and Dortmund can secure the title next weekend by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach if Leverkusen fail to take all three points against Hoffenheim.
Barcelona are also eight clear after their 1-1 draw with second-placed Real Madrid.
Even with the distraction of a Champions League semi-final and a Copa del Rey final against their big rivals to come, it would be a huge surprise if they allowed themselves to be reeled in over the remaining six games.
United spent the weekend being knocked out of the FA Cup in the semi-final by Manchester City but after Arsenal were held 1-1 at home by Liverpool, Alex Ferguson’s team are six clear with six to play.
The top two still have to meet at the Emirates and United also have to host last season’s champions Chelsea but it still looks a formidable gap, particularly as Arsenal seem to have completely lost their form in recent weeks, drawing four and winning one of their last five league games.
Both sides are in action in midweek, when a United win at Newcastle United combined with a defeat for Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur would end any remaining debate.
AC Milan have a six-point lead after Napoli lost 2-1 at Udinese on Sunday to probably end their hopes of winning the league for the first time since Diego Maradona led them to glory 21 years ago.
Milan, 3-0 winners over Sampdoria, are on course to win the league for the first time in seven years - a success made all the sweeter as it will end Inter Milan’s five-year hold on the trophy.
Although Porto wrapped up the Portuguese title two weeks ago there are still some interesting battles to be found elsewhere in Europe.
With seven games to go in France, Lille’s tilt at a first championship in 57 years seems to be getting to them.
Their lead is down to a point after they drew with Girondins Bordeux and Olympique Marseille beat Montpellier.
Lyon are a further five points back after they lost 1-0 at Paris St. Germain but they also remain in the mix.
It is even tighter in the Netherlands where PSV Eindhoven and Twente Enschede both have 65 points and Ajax Amsterdam have 64 points with three games to go.