Death. Taxes. Thanos. A key component missing from an Ikea flatpack. Those are the only things I could come up with which are more inevitable than Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga.
Up until this week, it’s been a truly thrilling season over in Germany, with two clubs – Union Berlin and Freiburg – putting themselves in a fabulous position to do a Leicester City and lift an almost unimaginable league title. And there may yet be twists and turns – but Bayern are starting to tick, and things are looking rather ominous.
The German champions put Union firmly in their place last week with a 3-0 victory, and have now followed it up with a 2-1 defeat of Stuttgart – courtesy of goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who may still be under the impression that his post-Stoke City career is a mid-coma product of his subconscious. But he is awake, he’s still playing at the very highest level, and is still scoring important and improbable goals.
Bayern are now five points ahead of Union and seven clear of Freiburg and RB Leipzig as they hunt down an eleventh consecutive championship title, and it looks an awful lot like Borussia Dortmund are the only team with the chops to cling on to Julian Nagelsmann’s immaculately-tailored coat-tails for a little longer – goals from Marco Reus and Emre Can saw them past Leipzig in a booking-strewn game which keeps them level on points at the top. For now, at least.
Over in Italy, meanwhile, a sense of inevitability usually brews around Juventus – but with a hefty points deduction in place they instead find themselves scrambling desperately for a European berth of any description, and a chastening 1-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Roma leaves them no fewer than 12 points shy of a Champions League spot. They’ll also have to go without Moise Kean for a few matches after he came on as an 89th-minute substitute, aimed a petulant little kick at Gianluca Mancini, and was sent off 40 seconds after he’d come on. Fine work from the wayward former wonderkid.
Unfortunately, Juventus’ struggles don’t mean we have anything resembling a competitive title race to look forward to. Napoli lost just their second match of the season on Friday, going down 1-0 at Lazio, but still have a whalloping 15-point cushion over second-placed Inter Milan. Napoli will wrap up the Serie A title before you can say Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (don’t try too hard – if you say his name three times in a row, the furniture starts floating around the room).
We’re also drifting in the direction of a foregone conclusion over in Spain. Real Madrid could only manage a 0-0 draw away to fifth-placed Betis, leaving them nine points adrift of Barcelona, who seem to have started pulling some of the right levers after a difficult campaign last year. Not that there aren’t any clouds hanging over Catalonia – a scandal is brewing over a series of substantial payments made by Barcelona to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice-president of the Spanish refereeing body. Both sides insist that the payments were for consultancy and that no impropriety took place, but we can expect investigations and implications to haunt the Nou Camp for a while to come.
At the other end of La Liga, two giants of the Spanish game find themselves in deep, deep trouble. Much has been made of the enormous protests that Valencia fans are holding against their embattled owner Peter Lim, protests that are unlikely to ease after they lost 1-0 to the champions elect – but another club in dire relegation trouble are Sevilla, who found themselves on the receiving end of a 6-1 thumping by Atletico Madrid. Two goals each from Memphis Depay and Alvaro Morata leave one of Spain’s European staples dangling above the bottom three by goal difference alone. This year’s relegation scrap has some seriously high stakes.
Across the other side of Europe, the Turkish Super Lig has resumed as best it can after the immense tragedy of the earthquakes that took so many lives in the country’s eastern provinces. Several teams in the affected regions have dropped out of the rest of the season with the Turkish FA’s blessing, including the late Christian Atsu’s side Hatayspor. With the fixture list in understandable chaos, just six games took place this weekend. One can only hope that football can provide some light relief following such a devastating few weeks for the nation. With any luck, this screamer from Fenerbahce midfielder Ferdi Kadioglu will have provided a few smiles in a time when they’re desperately needed.
On a happier note, football – sorry, soccer – has made its professional debut in the American city of St Louis, with their new MLS franchise, the imaginatively-named St Louis SC, winning their first ever home game 3-1 against Charlotte. Star signings are a little thin on the ground for the US new boys – Aston Villa fans may vaguely recall their lesser-seen forward Indiana Vassilev, while Swiss goalkeeper Roman Burki has made Missouri his new home after making 176 appearances for Borussia Dortmund – but football is continuing to gain steady ground in the States, and the birth of a new side can only be a cause for celebration.
There was also some fun to be found in Japan, where Shimzu S-Pulse’s Akira Silvano Disaro scored this absolutely glorious equaliser in the 94th minute of their J2 League fixture against V-Varen Nagasaki.
Even better than the goal is the discovery that S-Pulse have a Brazilian defender on their books called Yago Pikachu. With a name like that, he wasn’t going to end up playing anywhere else, I suppose.
There was also a serious scorcher to enjoy up in Scotland’s League One, where Falkirk’s Craig McGuffie capped a hat-trick by pelting one in from his own half against Peterhead. The goalkeeper might want to work on his distribution a little, but let’s not split too many hairs – this is a humdinger.
And finally, I thought I’d trawl the world’s leagues to find some good news, any good news, for Manchester United fans – and I found the faintest glimmer in Austria, where alleged transfer target and notorious Football Manager starlet Benjamin Sesko netted a seven-minute hat-trick as a substitute. Granted, the Red Devils still need to actually buy him, but let’s call it a silver lining for now.
That stellar striking display gave Red Bull Salzburg a meaty-looking nine-point lead at the top of the Austrian league, as they look for a tenth straight Bundesliga title. The same team heading towards continued domination of the Bundesliga? Surely not…