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Trekking Around Europe: Happy ho-ho-holidays for some, for others a lump of coal

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It’s time to take a trip around Europe once again to see how some of the other leagues in the continent are shaking out as we head towards the new year (you did know that there was football beyond the English Premier League, right?).

The Bundesliga is on break until February, and heading into its hiatus, there’s a familiar face at the top, as Bayern Munich hold top spot with 36 points from 17 matches. They hold that top spot on goal difference over Werder Bremen (+23 to +18), with Hamburg SV four back with 32 points. Hamburg are holding onto third place (and for their sake, hopefully onto Juventus and Chelsea target Rafael Van der Vaart) by two points over Bayer Leverkusen, who have 30 points. Schalke, the only German side left in the Champions League, are fifth, seven points off the top, with reigning champions VFB Stuttgart in eighth place, 11 points back.

In the SPL, it was a rather forgettable weekend for the Old Firm.

On Saturday, leaders Celtic fell behind early at home to Hearts, but thankfully for Jiri Jarosik’s 78th minute strike, Gordon Strachan’s side were able to get at least a point from the 1-1 draw.

On Sunday, Rangers missed the opportunity to draw level on points with Celtic as they could only draw 1-1 at Pittodrie against Aberdeen. Rangers went ahead on the half hour through Charlie Adam, but Lee McCulloch’s sending off minutes later, and a Lee Miller equalizer on the stroke of half-time dented their hopes for three points.

So, Celtic remain on top with 37 points from 18 matches, while Rangers are second on 35, but have two matches in hand. Motherwell are third with 32 points, but missed their chance at closing the deficit with a surprising 3-0 home defeat to Falkirk.

Celtic have had a down December, winning one, losing one, and drawing three in their five league fixtures this month, and aren’t looking anywhere near as dominant as they have been in the last several seasons. For once, there could be a real title race in the SPL, and not just between Celtic and Rangers.

PSV are back on top of the Eredivisie after Saturday’s 4-1 whipping of Utrecht. Kenneth Perez scored twice to lead the reigning champions to an easy three points and give them 33 points from 15 matches.

They took the lead from Ajax, who lost 2-1 away to Excelsior on Sunday, and as a result, are now in third, two points behind PSV and one point behind Feyenoord, who now occupy second after a 2-0 win at NEC Nijmegen.

There was a top-of-the-table clash in France, as Lyon visited second-placed Nancy. Lyon were assured of coming out of the clash still on top, but keeping or extending their cushion was the objective. It looked like that cushion would be extended to seven points, when Milan Baros put Alain Perrin’s side up 1-0 on 80, but Nancy rescued a point through Chris Malonga’s equalizer in the 87th. As a result, Lyon, who haven’t won in their last three Ligue 1 matches, have 39 points from 19 matches, while Nancy are still hanging close with 35 from 19.

In Portugal, Porto lost their first league match of the season, going down 1-0 away to CD Nacional de Madeira, but still hold a comfortable seven-point lead over Benfica, with 35 points from 14 matches to Benfica’s 28, with the other giant, Sporting, in third with 26 points.

In Turkey, things are very tight at the top. As expected, the big three of Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas are all right there, but the one above them all is Sivasspor, the new kid on the block.

Sivasspor went top two weeks ago, but quickly dropped back after a loss to Galatasaray last weekend. However, they’re on top once again, after their 2-0 win over Genclerbirligi on Sunday. Sivasspor have 37 points from 17 matches, and hold the top spot on goal difference over Fenerbahce, who defeated Trabzonspor 3-2 on Saturday.

Galatasaray are now third, one point behind after Sunday’s 0-0 draw away to Genclerbirligi OFTAS. The team to watch out for is Besiktas, who are only three points off of the top after Friday’s 2-1 away win against Vestel Manisa.

In Greece, AEK Athens, who qualified for the UEFA Cup round of 32 this past week, ended the week on a high note by taking sole possession of first in the Greek Super League, with their 4-1 demolition of last-placed Ergotelis. AEK are now two points up on Olympiakos, who could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Larissa. Panathinaikos, meanwhile, are within reach of the two leaders, with their 3-1 win over OFI Crete keeping them in third with 27 points from 13 matches.

The closest race in Europe might be in Austria, where things are very, very tight heading into the top flight’s winter break. Through 23 rounds, SK Sturm Graz (37 points) are on top by goal difference over reigning champion SV Salzburg and Austria Vienna, with Rapid Vienna one point back of the top three, LASK Linz two back, and SV Mattersburg only five points back.

Last season, Salzburg won the championship by 19 points over SV Josko Ried (currently eight points back, which is good for 7th in the ten-team league), but if the final 13 rounds are as tight as the first 23, then it’s going to be much closer than that.

If there is a league that you would like covered in the roundup – Romania, Switzerland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, or anywhere else in Europe – let me know, and I’ll get them to them in the next roundup. Happy holidays!

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