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Eight LaLiga clubs in top four race

By Guardian Nigeria
25 December 2021   |   4:06 am
While the Premier League plugs away with its traditional festive fixture schedule - even in the midst of an Omicron surge across the country - the other four major European leagues are taking a well-deserved rest.

Real Madrid (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

• Inter, AC Milan, Napoli, Atalanta Top In SERIE A
While the Premier League plugs away with its traditional festive fixture schedule – even in the midst of an Omicron surge across the country – the other four major European leagues are taking a well-deserved rest.

It’s been an action packed start to the season for LaLiga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, with some teams running away with the title while other divisions are offering up a fascinating contest between a handful of sides at the top.

There are also some big name outfits struggling to make their way up the standings – with Barcelona still finding their feet under new boss Xavi and Juventus well off the pace in Italy.

Sportsmail provides the state of play and explains the biggest talking points in all four of the major European leagues.

It’s a new era in Spain’s top flight without Lionel Messi, and fans have certainly been served up a few surprises with some unlikely challengers for the top four spots.

It’s Rayo Vallecano who have produced arguably the biggest shock, with coach Andoni Iraola lifting the Spanish minnows into fourth place, above both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

Real Betis, meanwhile, were knocking on the door of the top four last season and now look serious about gatecrashing it – they are third on 33 points, but still five off the current second placed side Sevilla.

LaLiga fans are so used to seeing Barcelona challenging with Real for the league crown, but it is the six-time Europa League winners – coached by Julen Lopetegui – who are pushing them closest. Sevilla have lost just twice, with 11 victories, but remain eight points off the pace, albeit it with a game in hand.

Madrid look like the clear favourites to take home the trophy under new boss Carlo Ancelotti, whose side have lost just once, with 14 wins and scoring a league high of 41 goals.

But for their usual rivals Barca, it looks like they face a battle simply to get into the top four.

They are currently seventh on 28 points, with seven wins, seven draws and four defeats. It is not the form of title contenders, though they are still just two points off fourth-placed Rayo, so will be confident they can still qualify for the Champions League next season.

Just above them are Real Socieded on 29 and reigning champions Atletico Madrid in 5th – also on 29 – following an up and down season under Diego Simeone.

Incredibly, only six points separates Athletic Bilbao in tenth and Rayo Vallecano in fourth.

The relegation picture isn’t too surprising – with Alaves, Cadiz and Levante currently occupying the bottom three spots.

Meanwhile, Inter, AC Milan, Napoli, Atalanta are the top four in SERIE A.

Most expected Inter Milan to struggle after losing Romelu Lukaku with the club in a difficult financial situation too, but they’ve held their own under new boss Simone Inzaghi and have pushed their way to the top of the table.

The Nerazurri are on 46 points after leapfrogging their local rivals AC Milan – on 42 – who had led the way for most of the season before suffering a blip.

The two rivals could not be separated when they played in a 1-1 draw last month and it promises to be an enthralling inter-city battle, with Milan looking for their first title since 2011.

After finishing runners up to Inter last season, they will be hopeful of making a better fist of it this time out.

Following behind are Napoli, who trail Milan by three points on 39. Luciano Spalletti’s men beat Milan 1-0 this month, but that was their only win in their last five games and will look to bounce back in January.

Atalanta have been consistent challengers for the top four over the last few years, so it’s not a shock to see them occupy fourth spot as we go into the break.

But for Juventus, it’s another year of turbulence – and it appears they have problems that even Max Allegri can’t fix after bringing back their successful boss to replace the troubled Andrea Pirlo. They are fifth on 34 points and the title looks out of reach already. The top four will be their priority.

And in sixth it’s Jose Mourinho’s Roma, who are 14 points off the top and facing a battle to earn a Champions League spot – although an impressive 4-1 win at Atalanta has given them hope.

Making up the bottom three in Serie A is Genoa, Cagliari and Salernitana.

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