In this, the strangest of all seasons, the early indications are that the title races across Europe’s top five leagues are set to be appropriately unusual.
Indeed, with no fans – or at the most a small portion – inside stadiums so far, continental hegemonies have seemingly struggled without their swathes of support from the stands. The league tables are way more open than in years gone by.
It’s all very exciting. For instance in LaLiga, Real Madrid and Barcelona are already playing catch up, with Real Sociedad from the Basque country the early pacesetters.
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona have had a difficult start to the season and are currently in 13th
Juventus have been over-reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo and are off the pace at the top in Italy
What could be a more significant factor is the number of matches being played in close succession, particularly for European teams with regular midweek duties, which is resulting in unusual results at the weekend domestically.
Indeed in the Premier League, there is no runaway early leader, with four points separating the top six and Tottenham currently in first.
So, as we head towards the festive period and the gradual return of fans, just how open are the respective other big leagues across Europe – and what are the chances of shock champions?
1st: Real Sociedad, 23 pts; 2nd: Atletico Madrid, 20 pts; 3rd: Villarreal, 19 pts; 4th: Real Madrid, 17 pts; 13th: Barcelona, 11 pts
It is in Spain that there really is a surprise leader after 10 matches.
Real Sociedad are clear by three points going into this weekend’s fixtures, the highlight so far being a six-game winning streak that they will be looking to extend at home to fellow high-flyers Villarreal this Sunday.
Real Sociedad top LaLiga after an impressive start to the season in a side including David Silva
Captain Mikel Oyarzabal is the league’s top scorer with six goals, while the added influence of former Premier League playmakers David Silva and Adnan Januzaj has been keenly felt in midfield.
Three points further back are an Atletico side who must quietly be feeling confident of mounting a serious title challenge this year, following their victory against Barca last week.
A potent forward line of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix has scored 10 goals – five each -and Diego Simeone’s side have the best defensive record in the league, having conceded just twice in eight matches.
Atletico Madrid are in second and are spearheaded by Luis Suarez and Joao Felix in attack
But for the two giants of Spanish football, both Real Madrid and Barca have found the start of the season difficult to varying extents.
It has often been the case of two steps forward, one step back for Zinedine Zidane’s side – a win in El Clasico at the Nou Camp was followed two weeks later by an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Valencia.
While no doubt missing the familiar surroundings of the Santiago Bernabeu, as it undergoes redevelopment and they play at their training ground, Madrid need to find some consistent form in the league if they are to at least keep in touch with those above them.
Zinedine Zidane’s side are yet to find a consistent patch of form across all competitions
As for Barca, things have been pretty dire for new manager Ronald Koeman.
After last week’s defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, Lionel Messi and Co have lost as many games as they’ve won (three) and are just four points above the relegation zone in a clear sign of the growing troubles in Catalonia amid financial problems.
If Koeman wanted – and needed – a strong start to his tenure on the pitch amid off-field problems, he could not be further away. A drastic reversal of form is needed – fast.
1st: AC Milan, 20 pts; 2nd: Sassuolo, 18 pts; 3rd: Roma, 17 pts; 4th: Juventus, 16 pts; 5th: Inter Milan 15 pts
Is a fifth Serie A crown beckoning for 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
The Swede is by far and away the league’s in-form player, having scored 10 goals already in eight matches for a Milan side performing above expectations under Stefano Pioli – so far.
At the age of 39, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a stunning start to the season for AC Milan
But the shock new boys at the top of the table are Sassuolo, who occupy second.
Their highlight has been a 2-0 win at Napoli at the beginning of the month, but they will face a true test of their credentials in a tricky double-header against Inter and Roma over the next two weeks.
As for Juve, who have won the Scudetto nine years running, they’re in fourth – and are finding themselves too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo.
A rough patch came when the Portuguese star had coronavirus, but he has tried to trigger a turn in form since his return, scoring eight in five games as Andrea Pirlo’s side have stuttered to tight victories.
Antonio Conte’s Inter are a point further back in fifth – it’s certainly been a difficult opening period of the season for two of the Serie A title favourites.
Andrea Pirlo has had a tough opening stint at Juventus in what is his first managerial job
1st: PSG, 24 pts; 2nd: Lille, 22 pts; 3rd: Lyon, 20 pts; 4th: Montpellier, 20 pts; 5th: Monaco, 20 pts
PSG top after 11 games – no surprise there. But just four points separate the top five so far in France in what could be an unusually tight Ligue 1 title race
Regularly runaway leaders from the outset, PSG have lost three games so far, the last of which was a 3-2 defeat against Monaco last Friday – after being 2-0 up at half-time.
Thomas Tuchel’s side, as evidenced in their indifferent Champions League campaign so far, are not firing on all cylinders, with Neymar in particular on an unusually barren run of form domestically, having scored just twice.
Neymar is struggling to find form in Ligue 1, scoring just twice so far in the 2020-21 season
Lille are two points further back, with striker Burak Yilmaz currently their top scorer with six goals.
Then Lyon, Montpellier and Monaco are all on 20 points, in a top five very tight in the opening third of the campaign.
Nobody has been able to stop the Parisian juggernaut since Monaco won four years ago – will this season bring a surprise winner in France?
1st: Bayern 19 pts; 2nd: Dortmund, 18 pts; 3rd: Leverkusen, 18 pts; 4th: RB Leipzig, 17 pts; 5th: Union Berlin, 15 pts
It might appear business as usual in the Bundesliga, where European champions Bayern Munich are in first, but several clubs are breathing right down their necks. Chief rivals Borussia Dortmund are just a point back alongside Bayer Leverkusen.
The Bayern winning-machine have been halted twice in eight games – in a defeat against Hoffenheim and a draw versus Werder Bremen – in a sign that Hansi Flick’s men do in fact have vulnerabilities.
Robert Lewandowski is still in lethal form and the Bayern striker is the Bundesliga’s top scorer
Robert Lewandowski is still the top scorer with 11 goals, though he is being closely followed by Erling Haaland after his four-goal salvo last week for Dortmund.
There is no clear lead for Bayern yet – with RB Leipzig in fourth only two points further back.
Maybe, just maybe, we could see surprises across the board come the crowning moments in May 2021.
P.S. And in case you’ve forgotten, here’s how tight the Premier League is
1st: Tottenham 20 pts; 2nd: Liverpool, 20 pts; 3rd: Chelsea, 18 pts; 4th: Leicester, 18 pts; 5th: Southampton, 17 pts
Jurgen Klopp and Co are unlikely to have it all their own way this year, with the runaway train of last season being hindered by an injury crisis. Jose Mourinho now has Tottenham fired up in his own image and will be a formidable opponent, while Chelsea’s ridiculous £250million splurge has strengthened them.
Leicester are again looking strong under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, while Southampton are the surprise package, with Arsenal, Manchester United and even the mighty Manchester City languishing oddly in mid-table.
Jose Mourinho has his mojo back and has inspired Spurs to the top of the Premier League