How they’re shaping up – the situation in top European leagues

THE 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Newcastle United underlined how much progress these two sides have made over the last year, but it also demonstrated, to a certain degree, that both will be challenged to last the pace in the Premier League. Manchester City are waiting in the wings and will have been pleased with the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium.

For the past decade, European football has stagnated in so far that most leagues are dominated by a single entity, maybe two at a push. The Premier League is one of the more democratic, although it is bossed by half a dozen clubs with more money than the rest. The Premier, since 2012-13, has had five different champions, although five of the 10 titles have gone to Manchester City, with four of those won in the last five years.

Here’s the situation in some of Europe’s top leagues as 2023 gets underway:


Red Bull Salzburg are top and six points clear of Sturm Graz, the only side to beat the champions this season. Salzburg have won the last seven Bundesligas, their financial advantages enabling them to dominate Austrian football. Although the Austrian league is a two-stage affair, it is difficult to look beyond Salzburg, who are also in the last eight of the Austrian Cup, which they have won for the past four seasons.


Genk, who last won the Belgian league in 2019, are seven points in front of second-placed Union Saint-Gilloise. Club Brugge, who have won the past three titles, are not faring so well this season, although they are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. They have recently appointed former Fulham and Bournemouth manager Scott Parker as their coach. Anderlecht, who were third in 2021-22, are floundering in mid-table.


It would be a major shock if Paris Saint-Germain were not top of Ligue 1 at the start of a new year. They have a four-point advantage over Lens, who beat them 3-1 to end an unbeaten run that stretched back to March 2022. PSG have Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in their ranks and a wage bill that dwarfs the rest of Ligue 1. If nothing else, the performance of Lens (they have lost just once, too), suggests the French league will be more interesting than usual.


Unsurprisingly, Bayern Munich are on top once more and have a four- point lead over surprise club Freiburg. RB Leipzig, who have recovered after a poor start, are in third place. Bayern have lost just once (against Augsburg) and have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League after ending the group stage with a 100% record. Four points is a relatively modest lead at the top of the Bundesliga, but Bayern are equipped to relentlessly go after their 11th consecutive league success.


Serie A is very interesting this season, but Napoli are winning all the plaudits for their exciting style. They have a seven-point lead at the top and are unbeaten. AC Milan, the reigning champions, are in second place and crisis club Juventus are third, but pressure has been building on coach Max Allegri after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group phase. Napoli have impressed in Europe and are in the last 16 of the competition, along with AC Milan and Inter Milan.


Feyenoord went into 2023 on top of the Eredivisie, three points in front of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven. This should make for an exciting second half of the campaign, although Ajax have been very clumsy in losing points cheaply. They have lost twice, to PSV and AZ Alkmaar. PSV have beaten both Feyenoord and Ajax this season, but they have just lost the talented Cody Gakpo to Liverpool. All three Dutch giants are still involved in the UEFA Europa League.


As ever, the Primeira Liga is being dominated by Benfica and Porto, with Braga and Sporting behind them. Benfica, who enjoyed a successful Champions League group stage, are top and five points ahead of Porto, who also qualified for the last 16. Benfica lost their first game of the league campaign in their first post-Christmas fixture, a 3-0 drubbing at Braga. A prolific player-trading club, they look set to receive another cash windfall if they sell Enzo Fernández to a top Premier league club in the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup.


Already people are talking about Celtic as champions and that it is a case of “theirs to lose”. Certainly, their nine point lead over Rangers looks insurmountable at this stage of the season. The two sides drew 2-2 on January 2 at Ibrox, but their first meeting saw Celtic win 4-0. Both teams saw their shortcomings exposed in Europe, finishing bottom of their Champions League groups. They could yet meet in the Scottish League Cup final in February.


Inevitably, it is a two-horse race once more in Spain, with Barcelona and Real Madrid level on 38 points after 15 games. The two teams have almost identical records, but Barca are ahead on goal difference. Real Sociedad are in third place, but nine points worse off than the big two. Atlético Madrid are having a somewhat patchy season. Real Madrid are the only Spanish side in the last 16 of the Champions League, both Barca and Atléti, along with Sevilla, went out at the group stage, but Barca are in the Europa League, where they will face Manchester United.


While reigning champions Zurich are embroiled in a relegation fight, Young Boys Bern look poised to regain the crown they lost in 2022. They have a 10-point margin at the top of the Super League, with Servette in second position. YB are the league’s top scorers with 35 goals in 16 games, but they have also conceded just nine goals. They look red hot favourites to win the title.  

While most of the title-chasers are fairly predictable, there are possibilities of shocks, notably in England (Arsenal), France (Lens) and the Netherlands (Feyenoord). On the other hand, this list may just read Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax. We can dream.

Dundee United in profit amid gloomy season

IT HAS been a bad season so far for Dundee United – bottom of the Scottish Premiership, out of Europe early on, hammered 9-0 by Celtic and 7-0 by Alkmaar. It has certainly been a tough baptism for their coach, Liam Fox. While their home form has improved, their away results continue to be dire; there’s no doubt that Fox will have his work cut out to take the Tangerines away from relegation trouble.

But from a financial perspective, Dundee United saw their revenues rise from £ 3.8 million in 2020-21 to £ 8.3 million in 2021-22, the highest level of income over the past decade. Their pre-tax loss was £ 1 million, an improvement on the previous season which saw them lose £ 2.6 million. Post-tax, Dundee United made a profit of £ 280,000. The financials include a £ 600,000 covid insurance payout as well as a £ 100,000 Scottish government grant.

The club’s wage bill rose to a record £ 5.9 million, representing 71% of income, a vast improvement on 2020-21 when salaries were 132% of earnings. Since 2013, Dundee United’s wages have gone up by 80% and they have doubled since 2017.

Dundee United’s “football” revenues totalled £ 5.3 million (matchday and broadcasting combined) from an average home gate of 6,500 at Tannadice, contributing 64% of income. Commercial activity brought in £ 1.9 million, 23% of the overall total. A final placing of fourth meant they qualified for the Europa Conference League in 2022-23, but the run lasted two games in which they lost 7-1 on aggregate to Dutch side Alkmaar.

In 2021-22, the club enjoyed their best profit on player sales since 2018, about £ 1.3 million from the sales of Lawrence Shankland (£ 1 million to Beerschot) and Kerr Smith to Aston Villa (£ 2 million). They spent £ 435,000 on players, notably the £ 315,000 paid to Ingolstadt for Finnish winger Ilmari Niskanen. Ogren insists that as well as developing their own talent, player trading is an important part of the club’s business model. Over the past 10 years, their net spend is £ 9 million, suggesting the player development strategy is paying off. A total of 17 players from the academy played in the first team

In the summer of 2022, Dundee United were very active in the market and signed Dylan Levitt from Manchester United for a figure thought to be £ 300,000. Levitt is in the Wales squad for the World Cup in Qatar. They also acquired Australian goalkeeper Mark Birighitti from Central Coast Mariners and Rangers’ winger Glenn Middleton.

The pandemic had an impact on the club’s liquidity and although they have a healthy £ 2.7 million of cash, they do have borrowings of over £ 12 million, most of which is due to the club’s owner. Chairman and owner Mark Ogren said that finishing fourth exceeded the expectations they had in 2021-22. He also told fans the club is firmly behind Liam Fox and is confident of reaching the top six by the end of the season. Ogren’s aim is to make Dundee United self sufficient as he has stated that he is not willing to fund the club forever. According to media reports, he has already pumped in approximately £ 13 million.