What in the world is Relegation?
As the season starts to come to an end, I want to briefly discuss relegation and why it makes what would be a dull soccer match fascinating. This is a concept that is very foreign to American sports. Every year, every team must earn their place their divisions. If the team does not perform well enough, then they are moved down to a lower division. In each of the top 5 leagues, the bottom 3 teams are demoted, or relegated. It is based on points, so the three teams with the least amount of points gets relegated. The easiest comparison to American sports would be to use baseball and say that the worst 3 teams in the MLB would play in the AAA system for the next year. This provides lots of drama and excitement as the season goes on. Teams will do just about anything to stay in the top division. While most teams do not face relegation on a yearly basis, it can happen to anyone and can have a huge impact on the club and the players that it can attract. While most of the league title races seem all but over, the race for the last spot in the top divisions is really starting to heat up. The most interesting relegation battle has to be in Germany, as there are many big name clubs sitting in the bottom half. Germany works a little differently from the other leagues, in which the team that finishes in 16th place (remember there are only 18 teams in the Bundesliga as compared to the others with 20 teams) plays a two-legged relegation match with the team that finishes in third place in the Second Bundesliga (Germany’s second division). Here is my quick recap of the teams in the big 5 leagues that are in the bottom 3 currently or in the relegation battle. For a team to be in the battle, I settled on 5 points from the drop.
German Bundesliga – Bottom 2: Hertha Berlin (21 points), Stuttgart (18) – 16th Place: Freiburg (21) – In Battle: Dortmund (22), Mainz (22), Hamburg (23), Paderborn (23), Koln (24), and Hannover (25)
French Ligue 1 – Bottom 3: Evian Thonon Gaillard (26), Lens (22), Metz (21) – In Battle: Toulouse (28), Lorient (28), Caen (28), Stade de Reims (30), Bastia (30), and Stade Rennes (31)
Italian Serie A – Bottom 3: Cagliari (20), Cesena (16), Parma (10) – In Battle: Atalanta (23), Chievo Verona (24), Empoli (24), and Hellas Verona (24)
Spanish Liga BBVA – Bottom 3: Granada (19), Levante (19), Cordoba (18) – In Battle: Elche(23), Almeria(23), Getafe (23), Deportivo La Coruna (24), Athletic Bilbao (24), Real Sociedad (24)
English Premier League – Bottom 3: Aston Villa (22), Burnley (21), Leicester City (17) – In Battle: QPR (22), Hull (23), Sunderland (24), West Brom (26), Crystal Palace (27), Everton (27)
Let the race to stay in these league really start to heat up! Let me know who you think is going to get relegated for the leagues. Tweet me your thoughts @SoccerPond. I will be tweeting out my predictions later today.
Courtois is the hero once again for Chelsea as they got the result they needed on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw. The visitors scored first on a cross into the box from Terry that was brilliantly flicked on by Cahill, and headed in by Ivanovic. If you would have told me that three players were involved in the Chelsea goal, I think the combination of those three would not have been one I guessed. Ivanovic has a history of scoring big goals for the team and this one could prove to be decisive. Courtois made 5 saves in the game, and was huge coming up with some spectacular efforts to keep Ibrahimovic and company at bay for most of the game. Cavani did score the equalizer late in the game, but the attack was too little too late. They could not make their chances count as they had 14 shots, but only 7 on target and only 1 goal. Chelsea, in the mean time, were happy to defend as they only managed two shots and scored on their only one on target. PSG have struggled with away goals having gone out of the competition both times in the last two years on away goals. Will this come back to hurt them in a couple weeks when they travel to London? We will have to wait and see.
Bayern Munich and Shakhtar Donetsk played to a 0-0 draw. Bayern Munich were the better side but on a bad pitch in Lviv. The match was played in Lviv due to damage done to the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, and the fact that the stadium in now in the middle of a war zone. Lviv is 750 miles away from the Donbass. It is actually closer to Munich than it is to Donetsk. Munich dominated possession but did not create many chances, and could not finish off the chances they did have. Xabi Alonso was sent off for a second yellow and will miss the return leg of the tie. It will be a tense return leg, but it could get ugly for Shakhtar.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid took to the Champions League stage, and Ronaldo didn’t take long to get on the score sheet. A nicely placed cross from Carvajal was sweetly finished off by Ronaldo, as he headed the ball over Wellenreuther. Timon Wellenreuther started in goal for just the third time ever for Schalke, and at 19 played very well for his Champions League debut. Ronaldo also set up Marcelo, but he still had a lot to do. Real Madrid won the match 2-0 and look all but certain to progress to the next round.
The last match of the week was Porto at Basel. The Swiss club took the lead 11 minutes into the match. Derlis Gonzalez took the ball down brilliantly and placed the ball past the keeper into the goal. Porto were the better team for most of the game, registering 15 shots and 7 on target. They did get their deserved equalizer from Danilo. He was brought down in the box and then finished off the awarded penalty.
The first legs of the Round of 32 took place on Thursday this week, and they did not disappoint. Everton won big, as Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick in their 4-1 win at Young Boys. Liverpool kept the all-important clean sheet at home as Mario Balotelli converted a controversial penalty. The foul was not the controversy, but who took it was as it seems Balotelli took the ball off captain for the night, Jordan Henderson. Regardless, Liverpool won 1-0 and will look to advance next week, but the trip to Turkey will be tough. Sevilla won 1-0 over Borussia Monchengladbach, as they look to defend their crown. Wolfsburg continued looking good as Das Bost scored twice to beat Sporting CP 2-0. Napoli won 4-0 on the road. Tottenham drew 1-1 at home to Fiorentina. Celtic and Internazionale probably had the most interesting game, as Inter went up 2-0 within 13 minutes but then Celtic pegged back with two goals in 2 minutes. Palacio gave Inter another lead, but in the 93rd minute Guidetti scored a late equalizer.
In England this weekend, the big matches take place on Sunday when Tottenham host West Ham and Southampton host Liverpool. Will there be an Europa League hangover for these teams or will they both be able to keep climbing up the table? On Saturday, the leaders Chelsea host 19th place Burnley. They will look to increase their 7 point lead. Manchester City host Newcastle as they want to keep pace, or gain some ground, on the leaders. Arsenal will try to jump into the top 4 with a win at Crystal Palace, who have been in a fine vein of form since Alan Pardew took charge. Manchester United will look to keep themselves in the top 4 as they travel to Wales to face Swansea.
The big three in France this weekend all look to take the top spot this weekend. PSG will attempt to get back to winning ways as they host Toulouse. A win for PSG would send them to the top of the table before the other two teams play on Sunday. Current leaders, Lyon, host Nantes. They will work get all 3 points and turn their form around. Marseille have the toughest matchup of the weekend as they travel to St. Etienne. This is the last game of the weekend and Marseille might need to win to stay in this tight race.
In Italy, the pressure could be ramped up on Napoli as they have to wait until Monday to play. They will host Sassuolo, but their lead for third place could only be one point when the game starts. Fiorentina hosts Torino on Sunday, and they want to close in on third place. Juventus play today, as they will most likely extend their lead at the top, as Juve try to extend their unbeaten run to 21 matches. Atalanta will need points, as they are in a relegation battle sitting just 3 points off the bottom 3. Roma have really struggled as of late, having drawn 6 of their last 8 Serie A fixtures. Last weekend, they drew with bottom of the table club Parma, and now face another team in the relegation fight, Verona.
In the Bundesliga, Dortmund will make an effort to continue climb up the table having finally gotten out of the bottom 3 last weekend. This weekend starts with a huge relegation battle as Stuttgart host Dortmund. Stuttgart are now the bottom of the table and are in desperate need of 3 points. This will be a huge battle in deciding the fates for two very proud and history-rich clubs in Germany. Munich travel to Paderborn as they look to maintain their lead at the top. They currently sit 8 points ahead of Wolfsburg, who have been in fantastic form. Wolfsburg will be striving for 3 more points when they host Hertha Berlin this weekend. Looking at the table, the difference from 1st to 2nd is greater than the difference from 18th (bottom of the Bundesliga) to 10th place in the league. The relegation battle should be a fascinating one as teams get desperate for wins and points.
In La Liga this weekend, the leaders take on a team in the relegation zone when Real Madrid travel to Elche. This should be a huge game for Cristiano Ronaldo, as he has scored 6 goals in his last two games against them. Luis Enrique’s Barcelona will drive to make it 12 wins in a row, as they host Malaga this weekend. Malaga comes into the game having lost their last two games. Barcelona will need to maintain their focus since they have a big trip to Manchester City coming up next weekend. Atletico Madrid will toil to get back into the title race with a huge 3 points. They also have a game midweek when they travel to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. The race at the top should continue to be fascinating as each team will need to get all three points each week.
EPL Pick ‘Em
The score is currently Buzz 173 to Me at 162.
My Picks – West Brom 2-1, Stoke 1-0, Chelsea 3-1, Arsenal 2-1, United 2-0, Hull 0-0, City 2-1, West Ham 2-1, Everton 1-0, Saints 1-1
Buzz’s Picks – Chelsea 3-0, Stoke 1-0, Sunderland 1-1, Arsenal 2-1, Hull 2-1, United 1-0, City 3-1, Spurs 2-2, Everton 3-1, Saints 2-1
Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond