Monday 26 April 2021 9:16 am

Europe's lesser lights put Super League plotting in shade in across the continent

The European Super League (ESL) has hogged the headlines to such an extent lately that it has obscured the real drama playing out across the continent.

With just a handful of games left to play in this most unpredictable of seasons, league titles and Champions League places remain the subject of fierce tussles in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal.

And in an ironic twist given the past week, it is clubs who would not have been in the exclusive ESL club that are providing some of the most compeling storylines.

Spain

Perhaps the most exciting conclusion is in store in Spain, where the LaLiga duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona is under serious threat.

Just three points separate four teams at the top, with long-term pacesetters Atletico Madrid flagging badly as they near the finish.

Hot on their heels are Real Madrid and Barcelona – the latter will go top if they win their game in hand – but Sevilla are by no means out of the race.

Sevilla, the only of the four not invited to the ESL party, beat fellow Andalusians Granada yesterday to make it seven wins from their last eight LaLiga fixtures.

Much could depend on the weekend of 8 and 9 May, when Barcelona host Atleti and Real Madrid visit Sevilla.

France

It is almost as close in France, where four points separate the top four with four rounds remaining.

And again, there is every chance of a less familiar name on the trophy this time, with perennial runaway champions Paris-Saint-Germain – the only French side to receive an ESL invite – trailing Lille.

Lille are a fascinating modern case study, a club geared to find, develop and sell talent but who nevertheless hit severe financial difficulties this season.

But equally intriguing is the bandwagon rolling at third-placed Monaco, who have taken 48 points from a possible 57 since mid-December and beat PSG in February.

Lyon, who trail Lille by six points, are not out of it either. But they are the rank outsiders and will likely miss out on the Champions League, as Ligue 1 gets just three spots.

Italy

Italy is set to crown a team other than Juventus Serie A winners for the first time in a decade, with Inter Milan 11 points clear with five to play.

But the real intrigue lies just below top spot, where five points separate a four-way battle to for three Champions League places.

Atalanta and Napoli, both deemed too small for the ESL, naturally provide the most interesting stories.

Juventus, whose president Andrea Agnelli pushed for the Super League, could miss out on Champions League qualification
Juventus, whose president Andrea Agnelli pushed for the Super League, could miss out on Champions League qualification (Getty Images)

The former are second and on course for their best ever league campaign, while the latter are fifth but with a game in hand on fourth-placed Juve.

The irony levels would be off the scale were Juve, whose president Andrea Agnelli pushed the ESL hard, to fail to qualify for Europe’s club competition this year.

Germany

Not unusually, the drama in Germany lies in the race for Champions League spots.

Two points separate three teams – Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund – fighting over two remaining places.

Dortmund, the only German team other than Bayern to receive (and reject) an ESL invite, have ground to make up in the last three games but are finishing strongly.

Bundesliga behemoths Bayern Munich need one more win to tie up their 16th title of the 21st century, while RB Leipzig are seven points clear in second.

Portugal

Nineteen years after the last of their 18 Primeira Liga titles, Sporting Lisbon are inching closer to a landmark triumph.

Having set the pace all season, Sporting looked to be buckling under the weight of expectation when they drew three of four games this month.

But despite playing 72 minutes with 10 men, they beat fourth-placed Braga 1-0 last night to go seven points clear of Porto with five to play.

It is all the more remarkable given that Sporting – who, like all Portuguese sides, were snubbed by the ESL – lost star names including Rui Patricio, William Carvalho, Gelson Martins after fans attacked players for finishing the season poorly in 2018, and have since sold Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United.

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