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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Dominance of Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern will allow them breathing space to focus on Uefa Champions League

The four sides all have big advantages in their domestic leagues and that may become a factor as the knockout stages of the Champions League now recommence.

Manchester City are among some of the sides in the Uefa Champions League who are dominating their domestic league. Jason Cairnduff / Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City are among some of the sides in the Uefa Champions League who are dominating their domestic league. Jason Cairnduff / Action Images via Reuters

Complacency is a buzzword around most of the top leagues of Europe right now. It is, as the head coaches of Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona keep repeating, the menace to be kept at distance. No matches are straightforward, they insist, when most of the evidence suggests otherwise.

Surreptiously, though, the calculators are being brought out, as the champions-elect of England, Germany, France and Spain work out how soon they are likely to confirm their league titles in as lop-sided a landscape at the top of Europe’s leading domestic leagues as there has been in many years.

The one-horse race is the dominant mode, with City, Bayern and PSG all holding points advantages in double-figures over their nearest chasers, and Barcelona sitting on a nine-point lead in Spain.

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This, of course, is no good for suspense, but for the runaway leaders it represents a luxurious cushion as they approach the churn of Uefa Champions League knockout matches, starting next week, and anticipate that their midweek nights will leave them fatigued on Saturdays and Sundays ahead.

Pep Guardiola has complained that injuries have left his City so short of cover they cannot name the full allowance of substitutes. His first Premier League gold medal is hardly in jeopardy.

City may have dropped four points in four matches, untypically, but they could still afford to take just one point from each of their next six matches and still guarantee being above Manchester United, in second place, when the Manchester derby take place in early April.

At 13 points clear, City could mathematically have tied up the title by then. That would require some slippage from United, but if the City juggernaut continues at the rate maintained over the first 26 games then the record winning margin of the Premier League era - United’s 18 points in 1999-2000 - is a real target, a total of 100 points or more achievable.

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Others are chasing even more impressive badges of excellence. By losing to Liverpool last month, City gave up the prospect of an invincible league campaign. In Spain, where 22 of 38 games have been played, Barcelona still have that possibility, having rescued a late equaliser at Espanyol last weekend.

Barcelona, nine points clear of Atletico Madrid, who they host in early March, target a date celebrations with at least a month left of the season, and well in advance of the April visit to Camp Nou of Real Madrid, whose defence of the Primera title is in tatters, at 19 points behind Barcelona.

There may still be snow on the ground in Bavaria when Bayern become champions, this despite their changing head coach in the autumn, when Jupp Heynckes returned to the club to replace Carlo Ancelotti.

Heynckes takes a record of 13 Bundesliga wins, no draws and a single defeat into Friday’s meeting with fifth-placed Schalke.

At 18 points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig, with 13 matches left of the 18-team division, Bayern are on course to wrap things up in time for their April fixtures against Leipzig, runners-up last season, or, a week later, Borussia Dortmund, the last club other than Bayern to have won the Bundesliga.

Heynckes will certainly be eyeing a record. The most hurried sprint to the title before this was Bayern’s 2013-2014 procession. Their coach when they lifted that prize? One Pep Guardiola.

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PSG, 11 points clear of Marseille in Ligue 1, have suffered two defeats this season but can still eclipse their own record points tally, the 96 they achieved in running away with the title in 2016. And like City and Barcelona, a 100-point total for a 38-match season is still plausible.

Like City and Barcelona, PSG were not champions in 2017. And in Italy, Napoli, the leaders by a point in a rare, utterly gripping race, have not been champions since way back in the last century.

Juventus, holders of the Serie A title for six years on the trot, can sneak ahead, at least for 24 hours, if they take a point or three from Fiorentina on Friday, but at the suffocating summit of Italian football, they all look enviously at how much easier it seems to take control of the best leagues elsewhere.

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