As the season nears its climax in Europe, Goal.com takes a closer look at the championship race in the top domestic leagues
Despite the likes of AC Milan, Manchester City and Real Madrid streaking away at some point or another in their respective domestic championships, this year looks set to be one of the closest and most climactic title races of all time in many of Europe's top leagues after a dramatic turnaround in fortunes in recent weeks.
Below, we look at how the standings are shaping up at the summit in England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, starting with the leagues with the smallest points margin in the title race and working our way down to the championship with the biggest gap at the top.
|LIGUE 1 - FRANCE
Ligue 1 may be looking like a two-horse race with seven games remaining, but it promises to provide the most thrilling climax of any major European league as wealthy Paris Saint-Germain, fresh from a year of lavish spending, attempt to overhaul an upstart Montpellier side that has a very strong influence from their youth academy.
Montpellier are presently top of the standings, level on points with PSG but boasting a game in hand, which will be played on Wednesday night against Marseille away from home - no easy task, even given OM's recent record of 10 defeats from their last 11 games. Although their run-in is not hugely complicated, it is still fraught with difficulties. Trips to Toulouse and Rennes are unlikely to yield easy victories, while a home match against Lille will be tough to negotiate too, despite their fearsome record at the Stade de la Mosson this term. With many sides still battling against the drop, even so-called 'easier' games could prove to be banana skins.
Carlo Ancelotti's team probably have a marginally easier conclusion to the campaign, though their journey to Lille on the last weekend of April is harder than anything Montpellier face on paper. PSG do tackle more lesser-ranked clubs, and the stronger outfits they are set to face - Rennes and Saint-Etienne - they will do so from the comfort of the Parc des Princes.
The destination of the title is, therefore, tough to call, and Lille shouldn't be completely discounted either, though from their position seven points back, it would take a remarkable charge for them to retain their crown.
Le Championnat has a recent tradition of going down to the wire, and this term is set to be no different. Indeed, this could be the most dramatic climax to a campaign since Pascal Feindouno's late goal for Bordeaux against Marseille snatched the title away from PSG's grasp in 1999.
|EREDIVISIE - NETHERLANDS
Last year’s Eredivisie season wasn’t decided until matchday 34 when Ajax beat Twente in a direct confrontation to pip them to the title, and an even more exciting finish appears in store this term as six teams are still dreaming of glory with only six more games to be played.
Leaders Ajax currently hold a four-point lead over sixth-placed Heerenveen, with AZ, Twente, PSV and Feyenoord all aiming for the title as well, making the Eredivisie arguably the most unpredictable league on the continent as far as the title race goes.
AZ were the team to beat halfway through the season, but the Alkmaar side have allowed their rivals back into contention after the winter break, and Ajax are now the favourites to retain their crown.
The reigning champions have some difficult games coming up though, as they meet Heerenveen on Wednesday and also have yet to face Twente for a second time. Runners-up AZ do not have an easy schedule either, as they take on Twente this week, and will also have to deal with Feyenoord later on.
Only PSV seem to have a relatively easy programme from the remaining title candidates as they are only playing AZ from their five rivals. The Eindhoven outfit won the KNVB Beker trophy at the weekend and will be brimming with confidence now that the season has reached the decisive stages.
|SERIE A - ITALY
For the first time since before the Calciopoli outbreak in 2006, there is a proper title race in Italy between two teams who have been neck and neck almost since the first day of the campaign. Ten days ago it looked like Milan's title to lose as they led Juventus by four points at the top, but a disastrous week during which they were also eliminated in the Champions League by Barcelona has seen them draw at Catania and lose at home to Fiorentina.
This has allowed the Old Lady to move above them by a point - on the back of a four-game winning steak. With seven games to go, there are still many twists and turns ahead. Milan arguably have an easier run-in - despite tricky away trips to Chievo and Siena, and a derby with Inter on the penultimate matchday - as Juventus still have to welcome Lazio and Roma to Turin.
But the momentum is with the Bianconeri, who are in their best form of the season and are even now finding the back of the net with regularity (12 goals in their last four matches) having struggled badly in attack earlier in the campaign. Milan are plagued by injuries in defence and midfield, and have started to display signs of fatigue.
Juventus are slight favourites for their first on-field Scudetto for six years, but this is a title that could be decided on the final day, minute or even second.
|BUNDESLIGA - GERMANY
The top four in Germany have been decided for some time, and just a few weeks ago it appeared that Dortmund were bound to claim their second consecutive Bundesliga title.
But the champions have twice slipped up in recent matchdays, allowing red-hot Bayern Munich to draw within striking distance. And with BVB's lead just three points now, Wednesday's clash between the Ruhr side and the Bavarians could decide the title.
A win for hosts Dortmund, who have claimed victories in each of their last three fixtures against Bayern and are unbeaten in the Bundesliga since September, would put the title holders six points clear with just four games to play. But should Bayern claim all three points, it is hard to imagine Jupp Heynckes' side stumbling before the season's end - the title will be theirs to lose.
Also in the Bundesliga, there are five teams within three points of one another in the fight for places five through seven, and with them, Europa League berths. Nearly all the other sides remain in danger of being relegated, so there is no "mid-table anonymity" heading into the final few matches of the calendar.
|PRIMEIRA LIGA - PORTUGAL
The Portuguese Liga took quite a dramatic turn this weekend, with Porto moving four points clear at the top after defeating Sporting de Braga, while Benfica saw their title chances suffer a heavy blow after a 1-0 defeat at Sporting Lisbon.
With only four matches left before the end of the championship, Porto look all but certain to be crowned champions, given the difference to their closest rivals. They can even afford to draw two of their last four games and still finish ahead of Benfica due to a better head-to-head record this term. After defeating Braga, the match against Sporting in the penultimate round of fixtures seems to be the only game where they could potentially drop points.
With this said, what remains to be seen is who will join Porto in the Champions League group stage next season. Benfica have the edge, but two setbacks in less than a week may have caused irreparable damage to the team's morale. And while this happens, Porto will be breathing a sigh of relief as they are inching closer to the title with Vitor Pereira, one of the most criticised coaches in the club's recent history and one who looks set to leave in the summer.
|LA LIGA - SPAIN
Real Madrid's seemingly insurmountable 10-point lead at the top of La Liga has been cut to four and there is still the added attraction of a Clasico clash at Camp Nou to come later this month.
Madrid have been held three times in five games, by Malaga, Villarreal and finally Valencia on Sunday, while Barca are hitting their peak at just the right time and have now won their last nine Primera Division fixtures.
Jose Mourinho's men can still afford to lose the Clasico on April 21, but they cannot slip up in any of their remaining matches unless they avoid defeat at Camp Nou. Wednesday's derby against Atletico at the Vicente Calderon will be a significant test for their title credentials, while Real must also travel to Athletic Bilbao later in the run-in.
Other than the Clasico, Barca's hardest game will come away to surprise package Levante, where they drew last season to claim La Liga. In order to win this title, however, the Catalans must claim the three points in all of their remaining games and hope Madrid slip up one more time as well.
|PREMIER LEAGUE - ENGLAND
Manchester United have not only wiped out a five-point deficit to City just six rounds ago, they have carved out an eight-point advantage over their 'noisy neighbours', the biggest gap at the top in any of Europe's major leagues.
It's no coincidence that ever since exiting the Champions League group stage, Sir Alex Ferguson's side have gone gangbusters in the Premier League. After the back-to-back defeats at the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, United have won 11 of their last 12 league games, drawing the other 3-3 at Stamford Bridge. The Citizens, meanwhile, started faltering at the start of March and they have picked up just one win from their last five league fixtures, a 2-1 triumph at home to Chelsea.
The eagerly-awaited Mancunian derby on April 30 was touted as the definitive title decider not long ago, but now it looks like the clash at the Etihad Stadium might be nothing more than a parade rehearsal for Ferguson's men.
Both clubs will have a manageable run-in to the final day of the season - bar the clash with each other - as United only have to face one top-seven opponent in Everton, while City will have just one encounter against a top-five side in Newcastle United.
As things stand, the Red Devils can afford to lose to both City and Everton and still be crowned league champions for a 20th time, provided they win their other remaining games.
In other parts of Europe, the Russian Premier League second phase only has six rounds to go. After Zenit St Petersburg topped the first stage, Luciano Spalleti's men are once again leading the charge as they lead CSKA Moscow by a massive 11 points.
In Turkey, Galatasaray claimed top spot in the regular season with a nine-point gap over Fenerbahce. The two teams are joined by Trabzonspor and Besiktas in the Championship Group in the season-ending play-offs.
Celtic have already clinched the Scottish Premier League with an 18-point margin over Rangers.
Over in Ukraine, the title race looks set to go down to the wire as Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev are currently locked on 67 points, four rounds from the end of the championship.
In Romania, CFR Cluj have a five-point lead over Dinamo Bucharest and Steaua Bucharest but there are nine rounds still to play.
In Belgium, Anderlecht triumphed over Club Brugge in the regular season, and the two clubs are joined by Gent, Standard Liege, Genk and Kortrijk in the Championship Play-Off.
There are seven rounds to go in Serbia as FK Partizan hold an eight-point lead over Crvena Zvezda.
Basel look primed for another Swiss title thanks to a 17-point gap over to Luzem despite seven games still to be played.
In Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb have clinched their 14th title as they boast an unassailable 15-point lead over Hajduk Split with five rounds left to spare.
Olympiakos have also been crowned champions over in Greece thanks to their seven-point buffer over Panathinaikos with just two matchdays remaining.