Race for the Champions League- Salzburg closes in, St. Gallen fights for Swiss lead

With many European leagues back in action after a break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the spotlight on the Champions League has returned. And while the light shines brightest on Europe’s top leagues, there are still plenty of races going on down the line. Here is where the races currently stand among Europe’s mid-majors, with FiveThirtyEight’s projections showing each team’s chance of making it in.

Austria (2 bids)- Red Bull Salzburg (>99%), Rapid Vienna (68%), LASK (29%), Wolfsberg (3%)

With four games remaining, Red Bull Salzburg holds a six-point lead over Rapid Vienna. And with a 37-goal advantage over Rapid, Salzburg can effectively end the title race when these two sides meet in Vienna on Wednesday.

Below Rapid are LASK and Wolfsberg, who respectively trail by 4 and 7 points. These two sides will meet on Sunday, and have favorable matchups coming Wednesday. For LASK, a Rapid loss to Salzburg would pull them within a point of second place, as LASK has a 7-goal advantage in case of a tie.

Denmark (1 bid)- Midtjylland (92%), Copenhagen (8%)

Midtjylland currently leads by eight points with seven games to play. Much like Salzburg, the Wolves have a chance to close the door on the title race Sunday, when they play at Copenhagen. For the home team, this is a must-win scenario. Win and you stay in the hunt. Lose and you’ll be spending next season in the Europa League.

Greece (2 bids)- Olympiacos (100%), PAOK (72%), AEK Athens (28%)

Olympiacos is a runaway train. PAOK was only 7 points back entering the Championship round, but a 7-point deduction and a rough start to the second phase has them 19 points behind and down into 3rd. Olympiacos will have a chance to clinch on Sunday when they play at AEK Athens.

As far as the second UCL slot is concerned, it is two-horse race between AEK and PAOK. They are tied on points at 56, and will face off July 1st. PAOK are the favorites in this matchup, and won their last matchup 1–0 back in January.

Portugal (2 bids)- Porto (>99%), Benfica (>99%)

It isn’t a question of whether they will make the Champions League or not, but where they will start. While the league champion gets to go straight into the group stage, the runner-up has to start in the third qualifying round. Porto has a 55% chance of winning the league.

Russia (3 bids)- Zenit St. Petersburg (>99%), Lokomotiv Moscow (91%), Krasnodar (89%), CSKA Moscow (10%), Rostov (9%)

Zenit is nine points clear of Lokomotiv with seven games to play, and have a 98% chance to win the league. Krasnodar, who has a game in hand, is the only other team with a 1% chance. And with Zenit the clear front-runners in the league, that means the spotlight goes to the race for 2nd place and a spot in the UCL group stage. In this race Lokomotiv gets the edge with a 51% chance of 2nd, while Krasnodar is given a 45% chance.

Outside the top three, both Rostov and CSKA Moscow remain within striking distance. Rostov actually had a chance to catch Krasnodar on Friday, but treated their supporters to an abominable 10–1 defeat against Sochi. None of the top five teams meet head-to-head until July 1st, when Rostov plays host to Krasnodar.

Switzerland (1 bid)- Young Boys (51%), St. Gallen (38%), Basel (11%)

Now this is a title race! Young Boys, the 13-time Swiss champions, in second. Behind them are 20-time champions Basel. But who’s at the top? St. Gallen, a team who hasn’t won the league since the turn of the century, and who’s only Champions League experience has been a one-and-done in the qualifiers.

St. Gallen and Young Boys are tied at 48 points, with St. Gallen holding a 5-goal advantage. And with 12 games left to play, anything can happen. But let’s not leave out Basel, who has been on a horrid skid. They have only taken four points in their last seven games. But their schedule eases up over the next few games, giving them some time to recover before hosting Young Boys July 11th.

Turkey (2 bids)- Basaksehir (96%), Sivasspor (65%), Galatasaray (31%), Besiktas (7%)

FiveThirtyEight gives 2nd-place Trabzonspor a 90% chance to qualify for Champions League. Only problem is that they are banned, so I had to recalculate using percentages for third place. That gives current 3rd-place Sivasspor the advantage, with Galatasaray and Besiktas right behind. Galatasaray is only two points behind Sivasspor with six games remaining, and Besiktas is only six points back.

However, Sivasspor also has a chance at overtaking Basaksehir. Sure, it’s only a 1% chance, but a chance nonetheless. They are six points back of Basaksehir, with the best team remaining on their schedule being 7th-place Fenerbahce. Basaksehir’s schedule isn’t that frightening either, but a looming date with Galatasaray remains. And with Galatasaray having Champions League hopes of their own, it ensures that this race is far from over.

Europa League- Rangers, Basaksehir, Basel

If you need reminding about how the Europa League’s Round of 16 played out, here’s what happened:

Basaksehir 1–0 Copenhagen

Olympiacos 1–1 Wolves

Rangers 1–3 Leverkusen

VfL Wolfsburg 1–2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Frankfurt 0–3 Basel

LASK 0–5 Man United

Inter Milan-Getafe and Sevilla-Roma did not play their first legs.

Several of the teams I mentioned above are also still alive in the Europa League race, which provides them with an alternate route to the Champions League. Rangers’ season is already done, meaning that this is their last hope at making it. Copenhagen and Basel are on the outside looking in, and they could be in Rangers’ boat pretty soon. And major sides like Wolves and Getafe are caught in their own UCL races back home. Add in the August restart date for Europa League, and you have a mad chase for the Europa title. Freeze the standings today, and 10 of the 16 teams remaining see this as their last pathway into the UCL, and its a pathway straight into the group stage.

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