Football fans in continental Europe have some big reasons to love the English Premier League.
It is pretty widely regarded as the most exciting in the world (based purely on the standings at the time, Manchester City’s win over Arsenal last week was the equivalent of Barcelona being thrashed 6-3 by Athletic Bilbao).
Not only that, but these days of global broadcasting mean that they have quality football to watch while their own domestic teams are on a winter break.
And as a bonus, it also means that every single member of England’s squad will be totally exhausted by the time they kick off the World Cup in Brazil next summer, while the likes of Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Thomas Mueller, Cesc Fabregas etc have time to let their bodies and brains recuperate for the second half of the season.
So it’s win-win for fans and players on the continent, and must-win for players in England as they contest four rounds of fixtures in 11 days up to January 1, including the matchday that concludes with Arsenal against Chelsea on Monday night.
The big-four leagues on the mainland went into hibernation on Sunday, some of them sloping off to bed already half-asleep while others went to town before crashing out until January.
In the second bracket was the French Ligue 1, which signed off with a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Lille at the Parc des Princes which showed that Lille are serious contenders to upset the nouveau riche pair of PSG and Monaco in the title race.
Swedes and bananas
Monday’s cartoon in the L’Équipe sports paper was titled “The north – number one producer of bananas” (hint: it isn’t), and showed Zlatan Ibrahimovic slipping on a banana skin labelled ‘Lille’, and Radamel Falcao of Monaco taking a tumble on one marked ‘Valenciennes’, following their respective results against northern sides at the weekend.
Second-placed Monaco had the worst of it, losing 2-1 at home to 18th-ranked Valenciennes on Friday, before Lille dealt PSG a bloody nose with a 2-2 draw on Sunday.
|Mavuba and Ibrahimovic had their differences but both scored as Lille drew at PSG on Sunday [GALLO/GETTY]
The bloody nose was almost literal as Rio Mavuba shoved Ibrahimovic in the face shortly after the Swede had opened the scoring, and was probably lucky to stay on the pitch to hit Lille’s equaliser just before half time.
The end result means that Lille’s Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has still only let in eight goals in 19 matches this season, and keeps them four points behind PSG in third over the winter break.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich may have had to stifle a yawn as they got back from winning the Club World Cup in Morocco to find that no-one had bothered making a serious stab at challenging their supremacy in their absence.
Of the chasing pack in the Bundesliga, only Hertha Berlin in sixth made any progress, as they moved within a rather-dispiriting 16 points of Bayern after beating Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.
That match marked a further fall from grace for the team that lost the Champions League final to Bayern in May, with Dortmund falling 12 points behind in fourth.
Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen lost at Werder Bremen, while Borussia Moenchengladbach in third and Wolfsburg in fifth cancelled each other out with a 2-2 draw on Sunday.
In Spain Barcelona have been in the odd position of being spoken of as if they were in some kind of crisis, while at the same time leading the Spanish Primera Division without the injured Lionel Messi.
Lacking Neymar as well through suspension, they looked in trouble against Getafe before retaking first place from Atletico Madrid thanks to a nine-minute hat-trick from Pedro and two goals from Cesc Fabregas.
Ronaldo was in his usual fine fettle as Real Madrid overcame a test at Valencia to win 3-2, so five points separate them from Barca and Atletico – while the rest of the teams can, as usual, forget about a title challenge.
In Italy, AC Milan will be shivering beneath a thin blanket of mediocrity over the festive period.
Their late defeat to Inter in the Milan derby on Sunday leaves them 13th, 27 points behind Juventus at the top of Serie A.
Time to check that Premier League TV schedule.
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