Champions League, Premier League, LaLiga: Top December games

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Champions League, Premier League, LaLiga: Top December games

The European soccer season is long and arduous, but it still does a pretty fantastic job of steadily building momentum over a lengthy, arduous campaign. With the possible exception of January, every month is full of matches more important than the previous month's.

That's certainly the case for December. Over the coming month, we'll see the final knockout round spots claimed for the Champions, Europa and Conference Leagues. We'll see increased title stakes for matches like Arsenal-Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund-Bayer Leverkusen and a number of matches in Italy. We'll get huge home-and-away ties like Real Madrid-Paris FC and PSG-Roma in the Women's Champions League. (We'll get our first Chelsea-Arsenal match of the women's season, too.)

Titles aren't won or lost in December, but the final month of the calendar year will set the stage for everything that comes after it. It is the biggest month of the season thus far, even if it will be surpassed by most of the months to come.

Let's walk through the biggest December matches in all the biggest competitions.


UEFA competitions

Dec. 12: Bayern Munich at Manchester United (Champions League)
Dec. 13: PSG at Borussia Dortmund (Champions League)
Dec. 13: AC Milan at Newcastle United (Champions League)
Dec. 13: Shakhtar Donetsk at Porto (Champions League)
Dec. 14: Marseille at Brighton (Europa League)

The Champions League group stage is pretty good at giving us small doses of chaos and uncertainty before quickly snuffing that out and reverting to form. Remember when Sheriff Tiraspol beat Real Madrid and Ajax looked like the best team in the field in 2021-22? (Sheriff lost three straight and got knocked out, and Ajax bowed out meekly to Benfica in the round of 16.) Remember when Club Brugge won its first three matches last season (and then got destroyed by Benfica in the round of 16)?

This year's been a bit different, as the underdogs and surprises sneaked up on us. Shakhtar Donetsk had three points after three games, but now back-to-back 1-0 wins have put them within one game of knockout-round qualification. Borussia Dortmund looked rather dire in managing just one point in two matches, then won three straight to qualify before the final match day. That leaves PSG, Newcastle and AC Milan to fight for a single spot.

That all gives us some last-minute drama to follow over the Dec. 12-13 match day. And on Dec. 14, we'll find out how Brighton's first European foray will finish. Early inconsistency gave them some work to do over their final two matches.

Premier League

Dec. 2: Manchester United at Newcastle United
Dec. 3: Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester City
Dec. 6: Manchester City at Aston Villa
Dec. 10: Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur
Dec. 23: Arsenal at Liverpool

The top of the Premier League table is delightfully crowded at the moment. Arsenal leads Manchester City by one point, Liverpool and Aston Villa by two and Tottenham Hotspur by only four. Hell, sixth-place Manchester United is only six points back and they haven't even started to look good yet.

This could actually be a fun and deep title race ... but the numbers over at Opta Analyst aren't convinced just yet. They still give City a 78% chance of winning its sixth title in seven years, with Liverpool at 11%, Arsenal at 10%, and the other 17 teams at a combined 1%.

City's odds have shrunk of late, however, with draws against Chelsea away and Liverpool at home. And now their next two league matches are against the teams in fifth and fourth, respectively. The results of those two matches, plus the enormous Arsenal-Liverpool battle on Christmas Eve Eve, will tell us a lot about whether this is a title race or a City title procession.

How convenient, then, that Newcastle plays both Manchester United and Spurs this month, eh? Between those matches, Manchester United's trip to Liverpool and City-Villa at Villa Park, we should get quite a bit of clarity regarding who's most likely to finish fourth, fifth, and so on.

Bundesliga

Dec. 3: Borussia Dortmund at Bayer Leverkusen
Dec. 9: Bayern Munich at Eintracht Frankfurt
Dec. 9: RB Leipzig at Borussia Dortmund
Dec. 10: Bayer Leverkusen at VfB Stuttgart
Dec. 17: VfB Stuttgart at Bayern Munich

It makes sense, of course: Bayern, after all, are only two points back of Leverkusen and solved last season's whole "no reliable center-forward" problem by signing one of Europe's best ever goal scorers, Harry Kane. For as strong as Leverkusen look, Bayern is on pace for its best league point total since the Pep Guardiola era, and if you had to bet on which team is more likely to maintain this pace, you would almost certainly choose the Munich giants.

The Hinrunde (first half of the season) wraps up with a nice, backloaded set of big matches. Bayern has to visit both an in-form Eintracht Frankfurt and welcomes the upstart story of the early season, third-place Stuttgart, to Allianz Arena. Both of those matches are opportunities to drop points.

LaLiga

Dec. 3: Atletico Madrid at Barcelona
Dec. 9: Real Madrid at Real Betis
Dec. 10: Girona at Barcelona
Dec. 16: Atletico Madrid at Athletic Bilbao
Dec. 21: Girona at Real Betis

Girona remains an incredible tale, of course, tied with Los Blancos in points despite Monday's draw with Athletic Club, but once again Opta wants to make sure we don't get our hopes up for a season-long race: It currently gives Real Madrid an 82% title chance, with Atletico (11%) and an even more banged-up Barcelona (6%) vacuuming up most of the remaining percentages.

Real Betis actually has an opportunity to make a mark this month, with the visits from both Girona and Real Madrid. And if Barca, four points back of the leaders, wants to avoid digging too big a hole during this injury-plagued period, they'll have to find a way past Atletico this coming Sunday.

Serie A

Dec. 3: Inter Milan at Napoli
Dec. 8: Napoli at Juventus
Dec. 9: AC Milan at Atalanta
Dec. 17: Inter Milan at Lazio
Dec. 30: Roma at Juventus

Defending Scudetto winner Napoli, eight points behind first-place Inter at the moment, has either a golden opportunity to make a move or a scary chance to tumble with matches against both Inter and Juve in a six-day span. Opta gives Napoli just a 3% title chance at the moment despite a healthy 82% chance of finishing in the top four. Either the former rises or the latter falls after this pair of matches.

Both primary Rome clubs, fifth-place Roma and 11th-place Lazio, face big months. Lazio has a light schedule before the Dec. 17 visit from Inter, so if they are to make a march back up the table, now's the time. Meanwhile, before Roma visit Juve at the end of the month, Jose Mourinho's squad has to face both seventh-place Fiorentina (Dec. 10) and seventh-place Bologna (Dec. 17).

Other European matches

Dec. 3: PSV Eindhoven at Feyenoord
Dec. 6: Sturm Graz at RB Salzburg
Dec. 17: PSG at Lille
Dec. 18: Porto at Sporting CP
Dec. 26: Union Saint-Gilloise at Club Brugge

If you like mess, Europe's secondary leagues can often be founts for it. Sure, PSG has gathered itself and appears ready to roll through Ligue 1 (unless Nice can keep up the fight for a few more months), and PSV Eindhoven is on the verge of running away with the Eredivisie, especially with a win at Feyenoord this weekend.

And you know that super-young Salzburg team that has been fun but flawed in the Champions League? They've got a sprightly dance partner in the Austrian Bundesliga this year: They're tied with Sturm Graz atop the table, and the two play next week.

Throw in your typically huge Sporting-Porto match (Sporting's tied with Benfica atop the table in Portugal, with Porto three points back), and you've got plenty to keep track of here.

Women's matches

Dec. 10: Chelsea at Arsenal
Dec. 13 & 21: Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Benfica (Champions League)
Dec. 14 & 20: Real Madrid vs. Paris FC (Champions League)
Dec. 14 & 20: PSG vs. Roma (Champions League)
Dec. 16: PSG at Paris FC

Man oh man, this is going to be a fun month on the women's side. The UEFA Nations League gives us some interesting matchups in the coming days (namely, Netherlands-England, Denmark-Germany and Italy-Spain this Friday), and then the club game takes over. Chelsea and Arsenal have taken 41 of a possible 48 points early in the season, and the winner of December 10's match will claim Early Favorite status in the Women's Super League. And in France, we've got a derby between giants PSG and upstarts Paris FC.

In the Women's Champions League, we're rounding the turn in group play, where PSG, Real Madrid and Paris FC have all left themselves with some work to do. PSG lost to both Bayern and Ajax in their group and might need to sweep reigning Italian champ Roma to put itself in decent position again; elsewhere, both Paris and Madrid fell to Hacken to start group play. There's no margin for error for either team.

And while Eintracht Frankfurt has been strong thus far, beating Juventus to qualify for the group stage and giving Barcelona hell in a 3-1 loss, they need to handle Benfica to put themselves in position to advance. There remains plenty of uncertainty in a loaded group stage.

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