- Titles, Champions League places, farewells and eyes to the future were on the docket around Europe, as a number of league seasons came to a close.
It was a weekend of long goodbyes across Europe as the final day of the season fell across the continent for nearly all the major leagues, and the remaining titles were doled out.
For some players, like Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso the weekend marked their last appearance as professional players. For others, like Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Alexandre Lacazette, their adventures will almost certainly continue elsewhere. The next few months will tell us where for them and a number of high-profile players and managers, with a pre-World Cup summer of jockeying, wheeling and dealing sure to capture our attention.
As for this week, here is what caught our eye around Europe:
The Premier League's finale produced a day of goals, goodbyes but not much else as the table shook out much as expected. Manchester City took third, Liverpool finished fourth and Arsenal and Manchester United landed outside the Champions League places. Tottenham finished with a 7-1 win at Hull to ensure it ended up with the best attack, defense and top goalscorer after Harry Kane scored seven goals in his last two games to claim a second straight Golden Boot–much to his doubters' chagrin.
With the drama largely zapped out of the final day, it almost felt like the calm before a summer storm. Chelsea said goodbye, mid-match and with a guard of honor, to John Terry. Manchester United might be doing the same and moving on from Wayne Rooney and David de Gea, while for crosstown rival Manchester City, Sergio Aguero scored City in its 5-0 win and looked like he was trying to prove a point.
The summer madness is almost here, though, and that means more spending.
At the top end, there is a shortage of quality goalkeepers, especially if De Gea moves to Real Madrid, and that dearth could mean that this usually under-priced position will see its value shoot through the roof. Man United, Man City, Everton and possibly Liverpool will all be in the market for a new No. 1, and that leaves the likes of Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), and Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester) more valued than ever.
Elsewhere, there will be a coaching change at Watford and could be one at Southampton, though not necessarily at Arsenal, where it appears that Arsene Wenger could confirm his new two-year deal after next week’s FA Cup final. Stability is a rare commodity in football today, but here is one example where it might not be in the club’s best interests. It is a debate sure to continue throughout the summer and into next season.
The talk of conspiracy was not necessary in the end, the whispers that Malaga would get a €1 million bonus if its former player Isco won La Liga, as part of its transfer agreement with Real Madrid in 2013, totally irrelevant.
Real Madrid did not drop points in the final game of the season, and though it was tested by a Malaga side who found Keylor Navas in his best form of the season, Madrid’s title never looked in doubt after Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring, from an Isco pass (of course) after 97 seconds. Barcelona needed to win and have Madrid to lose to steal the title, and its task was made even harder when it went 2-0 down at home to Eibar. It came back to win 4-2, with Messi missing a penalty but scoring twice along the way in a match that summed up Barcelona’s season. This year, it did things the hard way.
And so the spoils go to Madrid, where coach Zinedine Zidane was lifted in the air on the field and doused in champagne during his press conference.
In is his first full season in charge of the club, he has won La Liga, Real Madrid’s first in five years. Pundits noted that it was no surprise this came in a season in which Ronaldo was rotated and rested, and that the squad depth, with decisive contributions from the likes of Alvaro Morata, Isco, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio, gave Madrid an advantage that Barcelona lacked.
It could get even better for Zidane. On June 3, the Champions League final could see Madrid become the first side to successfully defend its European title since AC Milan in 1989-1990. Despite this undoubted success, and proximity to history, no one puts this Madrid in the same bracket as the great Barcelona team of Pep Guardiola, or the Ajax side that won three straight European Cups from 1971-73. Why? As Jonathan Lieuw, writing in The Daily Telegraph, put it: “This is a team whose talisman is gently tiring, whose record signing could be on his way out, whose stars are unhappy and whose manager may not actually be any good, and who are on the verge of achieving a feat unmatched in the modern game.”
Maybe if Real Madrid beats Juventus in Cardiff, we will see more love for this side–but don’t bet on it.
The drama in the Bundesliga came at the bottom of the table, where Serbian forward Filip Kostic scored two goals for Hamburg, the second with 86 minutes gone, to beat Wolfsburg 2-1, ensure survival and send the Wolves into the relegation playoff places. Close to the top, Borussia Dortmund beat Werder Bremen 4-3 to clinch third place and a spot in the Champions League group stage.
But there was barely a dry eye in the house at Bayern Munich when, with six minutes left to play, Xabi Alonso’s No. 14 was signaled by the assistant referee to draw time on the Spaniard’s playing career. The game stopped for over a minute as Alonso was embraced by teammates, Arutro Vidal, Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm, Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Franck Ribery before a huge hug from coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Alonso took it all; a playing career spanning 18 years, he has played under Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Ancelotti; not a bad grounding in becoming a successful future coach one day.
Bayern also said goodbye to Lahm the player, after 517 games, eight titles and six cups with the club; though he will be joining the club on the executive side.
There was still a sense of what might have been in the post-match celebrations. Lewandowski, who was pipped to top goalscorer by one as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice to reach 31 goals, had his shoulders slumped during the lap of honor and initially refused to give interviews. As Suddeutsche Zeitung put it: “With his personal disappointment, Lewandowski was also a symbol for Bayern’s entire season–the conclusion for the year is ‘incomplete.’”
Yes, Bayern won a fifth straight Bundesliga title, but elimination from the cup competitions–quarterfinals of the Champions League and semifinal in the German Cup–left a bitter taste.
Bayern will now turn its attention to the transfer market, with Hoffenheim pair Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Sule already confirmed to join next month.
It’s now six titles in a row for Juventus, who has already completed the domestic league and cup double for this season. The priority for the campaign, the reason the club splashed out money for the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, is to win the Champions League. There has been a big turnover since Juventus last played in the Champions League final, when it lost to Barcelona in 2015. Patrice Evra, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez, Alvaro Morata and Fernando Llorente have all left the club. But the current team is arguably stronger now, having been boosted with new signings like Dani Alves and Mario Mandzukic, who have already won the Champions League trophy elsewhere.
The recent form of Mandzukic, who scored in Juventus’s semifinal win over Monaco, has shown just how smart Max Allegri has been as coach. He changed the system from the normal three at the back to a four-man unit to allow Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado to play just behind Higuain. With Miralem Pjanic as a deep-lying playmaker, it works.
And so the talk before the final is already turning to how Juventus will keep things fresh for success in the future. Speculation continues to swirl over the future of Leonardo Bonucci, who, if he leaves, could go for a world-record fee for a defender. Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara has already been signed for 2018. Then there is Allegri, with talks scheduled for after the final in Cardiff.
“When he arrived there was general skepticism, but he’s earned the trust of everyone,” club director Giuseppe Marotta said. “The relationship between the club and the coach is great.”
After the Scudetto was sealed with the 3-0 win over Crotone, the players wore T-shirts emblazoned with ‘LE6END’ to represent its sixth successive Scudetto. The same headline ran in the Gazzetta dello Sport and the Corriere dello Sport Monday morning. That status will be deserved if it beats Real Madrid in Cardiff next month and becomes the second Italian side to complete the treble, after Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in 2010.
With the curtain falling on the Ligue 1 season, the weekend brought a number of "au revoir" moments to the surface.
Paris Saint-Germain will bid farewell to Maxwell, who is one of the most decorated players in the modern game after winning titles with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona and PSG. The 35-year-old Brazilian could make it trophy No. 34 if, as expected, PSG beats Angers in the French Cup final next weekend.
Lyon is set to part ways with its star striker Alexandre Lacazette, who topped 100 goals for the club last week and is likely to move to Atletico Madrid, with the club's president confirming there is an agreement between the player and Spanish side and only a transfer fee needs to be agreed upon.
There was a less joyful goodbye for Christophe Galtier, the Saint-Etienne coach who leaves the club after seven-and-a-half seasons in charge. In the last two weeks, Saint-Etienne lost to PSG (5-0), Monaco (2-0) and Nancy (2-1) to slip to eighth and out of the European places. This was a huge disappointment after this season’s run to the last 32 in the Europa League. Galtier felt some of the players sabotaged his final weeks in charge.
“We were missing so many players, some had real injuries others were just on holiday,” Galtier said.
The coach accepted that some criticism for safety-first football were justified, although he said it was tough when at times, he was missing eight players through injury. Galtier’s finest moment was winning the League Cup in 2013.
“I couldn't believe Les Verts had never been to the Stade de France,” he told RMC. “As a kid, I knew what this club represented in France, so playing in a Cup final was simply a return from 30 years earlier.”
Galtier is in no rush for a new job and is open to working abroad. He would be an intriguing choice.
Top three goals of the week
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund): A sumptuous scooped pass by Ousmane Dembele and a fantastic volley from Aubameyang; the pair may not link up next season as at least one is likely to leave.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus): Another free-kick special from the young Argentine, who has been in great form this season, gave Juventus breathing room en route to polishing off its sixth straight Serie A title.
Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon): A fantastic turn on the volley and side-foot finish was a nice way to say au revoir to OL after the home draw against Nice. The club's president acknowledged a likely sale to Atletico Madrid.
Top three players of the week
Aubameyang: Two goals clinched Aubameyang the title of Bundesliga top scorer, pipping Robert Lewandowski by one, after a tricky season that could end in a cup final success.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur): The England striker scored back-to-back hat tricks as Spurs ended the season winning 6-1 and 7-1 in the span of three days. Kane is one of the world’s top strikers, but he never seems to be in the conversation.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid): The in-form Ballon d'Or winner scored the opening goal for Real Madrid two mintues into its title-clinching win at Malaga.