Philadelphia, PA – Following the accommodation of another FIFA international break, players and spectators spanning the globe will deliberate back to the club side of world football this weekend.
But what they are returning to is the final quarter of the European season that is devoid of any sort title drama.
Last season, the majority of the title races in the four top leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Germany and Italy) went down to the wire, raising the level of importance for each league match in April and May.
The English Premier League is the greatest example of this instance. Manchester City led the top flight for much of the season but looked dead and buried when Manchester United overtook the Citizens for top spot in April.
The two clubs were level on points heading into the final match day of the season, and what transpired was one of the greatest spectacles in the history of sport.
United's meeting with Sunderland - a 1-0 win for the Red Devils - finished with minimal stoppage time. They caught wind of the status at the Etihad as a 2-1 QPR lead late in the match left Sir Alex Ferguson's side with one hand on the title. The Red Devils began a mild sequence of reserved celebration, clapping in the direction of their traveling supporters and fist-pumping as they awaited the final whistle. But the jubilation turned sour in a matter of seconds as Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero scored a goal apiece at the death to turn the match in City's favor.
The title race came down to the last kick of the season. City claimed the necessary victory to see the club finish level with United on 89 points, but Roberto Mancini's men took home the silverware on goal differential.
If it's drama you seek, you'll want to find a time machine and transport yourself back to May 13, 2012 to relive that compelling, topsy-turvy finish to the Premier League season.
The level of drama achieved on the final day of the season was not matched by the three other leagues last term, but their respective title races still remained relatively close. In fact, the two top teams in England, Spain, Germany and Italy last season finished the campaign separated by an average of 5.25 points. That's a margin capable of being overturned in two matches.
By comparison, the two top teams in those same leagues come into this weekend separated by an average of 14.25 points.
What's interesting in this season's title "race" is the fact that three of the four teams sitting atop their respective tables were on the short end of the stick last term, finishing second in disappointing fashion.
United has bounced back from last season's Premier League disappointment in quite formidable fashion. The Red Devils have dropped points just five times in their 29 league contests to come into the home stretch with a 15-point lead over the Citizens. Manchester United has not lost a league match since Nov. 17.
Barcelona finished the 2011-12 season in second place, nine points adrift of Real Madrid. But the new La Liga season has belonged to the Catalans. Barca opened the season with a sensational 55 points out of a possible 57, and despite a minor "hiccup" in recent form that has seen the Spanish giants drop eight points in their last nine league outings, the club's 13-point lead atop the table with 10 games to go means that the title looks a sure bet to return to the Catalan region.
After finishing second best to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season, Bayern Munich has dominated the new campaign in a unprecedented fashion. The Bavarians have amassed 69 points through 26 matches to create a 20-point separation between themselves and the Borussians. Defense has been paramount to Bayern's command this term as the club has conceded just 24 goals in all competitions, 11 of which came in the Bundesliga.
Juventus is the only club from the four major leagues to win last season's title and enter the weekend at the top of the table. The Turin club went through Serie A last year unbeaten, but 15 draws from 38 matches saw the Old Lady finish just four points ahead of second-place AC Milan. Juve has lost four times already this season, but a slightly watered-down competing field in Serie A has helped the club enjoy a nine-point lead in Italy's top flight.
It could be a matter of last year's disappointment yielding motivation this go-around, but the reason for the relative dominance exhibited by United, Barcelona, Bayern and Juventus this term is of no concern. They enter the final stage of the season with their respective league titles essentially all sewn up.
What is irrefutable is that spectators seeking excitement and thrills will need to go elsewhere to get their fix, whether it's following a relegation battle or race for a European spot in their league of choice, or even a title race in another country.