Winter champions in Europe: perseverance and emergence

The winter champions in Europe do not receive a trophy or award, but they serve as a good parameter to know the course of the next champion. After the closing of Boxing Day in England, the most important leagues in the world have concluded their first round and are beginning to consolidate towards the end of the season, some with outstanding advantages.

Real Madrid is one of the main ones on the list, having already held the LaLiga leadership in Spain for weeks. The merengue team closed 2021 with a 1-2 victory in their visit to Athletic Bilbao and with this they maintain the eight points of distance over Sevilla, their closest pursuer.

One of the referents for that end of the year is the team captain, Karim Benzema, who has 15 goals and seven assists in 18 league games (plus another five and one, respectively, in the Champions League). The French is the leader in scoring by four more than Juanmi, from Betis, although in third place is another merengue: the Brazilian Vinícius Junior with 10.

Between Benzema and Vinícius they have scored 25 of the 41 goals for Real Madrid this season, which is why their coach, Carlo Ancelotti, does not stop praising them: “Benzema is the best striker in the world because now he adds great ability to his football and scoring consistency, as much as Cristiano Ronaldo or Erling Haaland. He is a player who makes a difference and is in spectacular shape. Vinícius has improved because he does things with less haste than before, he has changed especially in that he takes a break in the important moments of each play.

The important thing in a player is that he does the difficult things well, because the easy things end up coming out. Vini knew how to do the difficult and failed at the easy ”. The surprising thing at the top of the Spanish table is that neither Barcelona nor Atlético de Madrid closed 2021 in the top 4, that is, in Champions League positions for next year. They are followed by Real Madrid Sevilla, Betis and the modest Rayo Vallecano, who has just played two seasons in the second division. With Radamel Falcao at the top and returning to its level of yesteryear, the club with the red stripe has barely lost six of 18 games and has the fourth best defense in LaLiga.

A case similar to that of Vallecano occurs in Germany, with Freiburg, located in third position in the Bundesliga at the close of the first round. The team led by Christian Streich plays its sixth consecutive season in the first division but just finished the 2020-21 session in 12th place and its best time dates back to 2004-05, when it finished third.

“The team is very stable. We have a very homogeneous group with many players who have been with us for a long time. I can only take my hat off to them, ”Streich said in mid-October, being the longest-serving coach in the same Bundesliga team today, at nine years and 11 months.

Although they are 14 points behind the leader, Bayern Munich, they are not far from the second, Borussia Dortmund, who only lead them five points. In addition, Freiburg is ahead of more renowned teams in recent years such as Bayer Leverkusen, Red Bull Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach.

In Italy, although it is not surprising as such, Inter Milan closed as the leader after Napoli had been in that position for several weeks. After the winter break, the Neroazurri were left with 46 points followed by their neighbors, Milan AC, with 42, and Napoli in third with 39. The surprising thing is to see Juventus out of European positions to be fifth with 34.

England, for its part, maintains the constant fight for the lead every weekend, since only with the postponed games has it begun to mark the difference of six points of Manchester City, first place, with respect to Liverpool, second. The other two European places are for Chelsea, with the same units as Liverpool (41) and for the surprising Arsenal, which since December 11 has five victories and four of them have been in the league.

For the Gunners it is essential to close the year in the top four, as they have not played continental competition for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Last year he could not access through the Europa League, where they did not overcome the semifinals when they fell against Villarreal, ultimately champion. Therefore, the importance of being, so far, above Manchester United and Tottenham.

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