Winter break: Neymar, Ibrahimovic & Gervinho star in Europe

Diego Costa celebrating, Zlatan Ibrahimovic smiling and Didier Drogba frustrated.

As Europe's top leagues close down for the winter break, it's natural for England's Premier League stars to wonder whether they might benefit from something similar ahead of what promises to be an intense World Cup in Brazil next summer.

It's not solely about looking after the body, though. A week or so off is standard Europe-wide - Bayern Munich head off to train in Qatar during their month off Bundesliga duty, while even Russian Premier League players only have an average of 15 days' holiday during their domestic competition's three-month hiatus.

It can still make a difference. Players who move to England from France, for example, tend to argue that the extra mental freshness gleaned from a pause in the campaign is at least as vital as the physical benefits.

The break also, of course, gives us the chance to look around the continent and pick out the highlights from the season so far. Here is BBC Sport's look at the hits, misses and those that need to do better after the resumption.

Neymar moved to Barcelona from Santos for a fee of £48.6m last summer


Despite the loss of Radamel Falcao to Monaco, Atletico Madrid have continued their relentless upward trajectory under their outstanding coach Diego Simeone. The Vicente Calderon side go into hibernation on level points with Barcelona at the top, and are heaving with goalscoring power via Diego Costa, David Villa and Raul Garcia.

Yet even if Tata Martino's team are creaking, they continue to be title favourites. Key signing Neymar has been excellent, providing a string of assists as a foil for Lionel Messi before taking centre stage in the Argentine's injury absence. Brazil's star has 10 goals and as many assists to date.

In France, the fledgling partnership between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani is starting to click for Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain, despite the former having a history of mostly individual feats.

While Falcao has not left his scoring boots in the Spanish capital, it is Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho who has arguably been the pick of moneybags Monaco's signings, pulling the strings as Claudio Ranieri's side sit pretty in second place.


Porto tried to replicate the success of Andre Villas-Boas at the club by appointing up-and-coming Paulo Fonseca as coach, after the 40-year-old guided tiny Pacos de Ferreira to the Champions League play-offs. It hasn't worked.

The Portuguese champions have looked unbalanced and have lacked fluency, and also exited the Champions League after failing to win a home game for the first time in 20 group campaigns.

One coach who has already bitten the dust is Miroslav Djukic, fired from Valencia last week. The Serb enjoyed an illustrious playing career at the club, including a 2002 title win and appearances in the 2000 and 2001 Champions League finals, but the 3-0 Europa League defeat to Swansea in September rang early alarm bells.

With Valencia having lost star players at some rate in recent years, Djukic always had a tough job on his hands. The debt-ridden Mestalla club are drifting badly, in 11th position in La Liga.

Gervinho has scored four goals in 13 appearances for Roma this season
Gervinho has scored four goals in 13 appearances for Roma this season

Biggest surprises

When Roma sold coveted starlets Erik Lamela (to Tottenham) and Marquinhos (PSG), it looked as if the foundations of their future had been whisked away.

Instead, new coach Rudi Garcia has inspired a revival, getting the best out of established stars like Daniele De Rossi and new blood such as Mehdi Benatia alike. Reunited with Garcia, even Gervinho has begun to recapture the form that first attracted Arsene Wenger.

After an opening run of 10 straight wins, Roma now lie second behind Juventus, but Champions League qualification would be a tremendous result for them.

Further north, Vitesse Arnhem are level on points with Ajax at the top in the Netherlands despite the summer exits of Wilfried Bony (Swansea) and Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea).

The Eredivisie side are almost a nursery side for Chelsea and are again benefitting from a number of loans from Stamford Bridge, with teenage Brazilian Lucas Piazon scoring and creating regularly.

Biggest disappointments

After last season's thrilling Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid, Galatasaray were hoping to go even bigger this season.

Instead, a 6-1 mauling by Real Madrid in this season's competition precipitated the departure of iconic coach Fatih Terim. New boss Roberto Mancini did guide The Lions past Juventus into the last 16 - with a little bit of help from Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder - but the SuperLig title has almost gone. They trail resurgent Fenerbahce by eight points.

Former Arsenal midfielder Remi Garde's Lyon didn't even make it to the groups after being humbled by Real Sociedad in the play-off round. With a squad decimated by wholesale slashing of the wage bill - as the club's new 59,000-capacity stadium, which will be used in Euro 2016, eats up capital - Garde must rely on increasingly green youth products. The seven-time champions lie 10th at the break.

Shakhtar Donetsk did meet Real Sociedad in the Champions League, but failed to get through the group they shared with Manchester United. With now-Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho badly missed, veteran coach Mircea Lucescu has struggled to get his new signings, including Brazil winger Bernard, to settle quickly.

They lead the Ukrainian Premier League, but are currently a shadow of the side that played out two such entertaining clashes with Chelsea last season.

Max Kruse has scored eight goals already this season for Borussia Monchengladbach
Max Kruse has scored eight goals already this season for Borussia Monchengladbach

Emerging stars

Germany's talent factory keeps on doing the business, with teenagers Timo Werner of Stuttgart, Wolfsburg's Max Arnold and Max Meyer of Schalke all impressing.

It might be too early for the trio to expect a World Cup call from Joachim Low, but Borussia Monchengladbach's Max Kruse will, with the clever forward enjoying an excellent debut season for Lucien Favre's high-fliers after arriving from Freiburg.

Italy have a few players in the sort of form that will have Roy Hodgson on his guard. After two successive cruciate knee ligament injuries, Giuseppe Rossi is back with a bang.

The former Manchester United forward has hit 14 in 17 Serie A games already for Vincenzo Montella's thrilling Fiorentina side. Rossi will be joined in Cesare Prandelli's squad in Brazil by a former Viola forward, winger Alessio Cerci, who is reported to be interesting Arsenal and United.

A fine dribbler, Cerci has added goals to his game, with nine so far in Serie A alongside seven assists.

Top Stories

Get Inspired Activity Finder

Run by the BBC and partners

Find ways to get active near you: