Leicester celebrated its title success with Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli serenading coach Claudio Ranieri before a 3-1 win over Everton, but it is what is going on behind the most improbable champion that will seize everyone's focus in this final week of the season.
Manchester City's slip-ups could make for an awkward welcome for Pep Guardiola next season, as the race for fourth place goes down to the very end. Elsewhere, Barcelona is now one win away from clinching La Liga, with Atletico Madrid improbably dropping out of the race.
Bayern Munich did finish off its title charge, but a new team in Germany is promising to shake up the Bundesliga, while Lyon thumped Monaco to clinch second place in France's top flight. In Italy, there was a perfect farewell to a World Cup winner who went out on a high.
Here is what caught our eye around Europe this week:
England's remaining races
It says something for how Manchester City’s form has fallen off a cliff that when Guardiola was confirmed as coach for next season, back in February, a title challenge was still on the cards. Then came Kevin de Bruyne’s injury, a chastening home defeat to champion Leicester, and, after Sunday’s 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal, City’s top-four fate is no longer in its own hands. If Manchester United beats West Ham away on Tuesday and Bournemouth at home next weekend, then it will leap-frog the Champions League semifinalist and set back the Pep project by 12 months.
It could also secure Louis van Gaal’s future at the club.
Leicester City's Top Moments of 2015-16
The first points; Aug. 8, 2015
In what turned out to be a sign of things to come, Jamie Vardy scored the club's first goal 11 minutes into the season and Riyad Mahrez scored two of his own to give Leicester a 3-0 lead 25 minutes into a 4-2 win over Sunderland at King Power Stadium.
Immediate response vs. Spurs; Aug. 22, 2015
Riyad Mahrez answered Dele Alli's 81st-minute goal a minute later, and even though Leicester suffered its first non-win of the campaign in the 1-1 home draw against Tottenham, it showed a promising resiliency against a club it would be fending off down the stretch.
Comeback vs. Villa; Sept. 13, 2015
Facing a 2-0 deficit at home to lowly Aston Villa, Leicester mounted a furious comeback, with Ritchie De Laet, Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Dyer scoring in the 72nd, 82nd and 89th minutes, respectively, to steal three points in dramatic fashion.
Another 2-0 comeback; Sept. 19, 2015
Again down 2-0, Leicester rescued another point from a losing position at Stoke City. The Potters raced out to their lead within 20 minutes, but Riyad Mahrez's penalty and Jamie Vardy's 69th-minute equalizer salvaged the point.
Vardy rescues a point; Oct. 17, 2015
Leicester found itself down 2-0 to Southampton (sensing a theme here?) but roared back late. Jamie Vardy scored twice, once in the 66th minute and the dramatic equalizer a minute into stoppage time, earning the Foxes another point from a losing position.
Clean-sheet pizza; Oct. 24, 2015
It took 10 games and a promise of a pizza party from manager Claudio Ranieri for Leicester to keep a clean sheet, but the Foxes did just that in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. The pizza promise became an instant part of Leicester lore, and the club went on to keep 14 more clean sheets–including six in seven games down the stretch.
Vardy's scoring record; Nov. 28, 2015
Jamie Vardy set a Premier League record scoring in his 11th straight game in a 1-1 draw vs. Manchester United. Ruud van Nistelrooy previously held the mark.
Sweet revenge for Ranieri; Dec. 14, 2015
With manager Claudio Ranieri facing Chelsea–the team that ushered him out in 2004–and squaring off against Jose Mourinho–the man who replaced him–Leicester wound up with the bragging rights and three points. Jamie Vardy scored off a perfect Riyad Mahrez pass, Mahrez added a gorgeous goal of his own, Leicester won 2-1 and Mourinho was promptly fired.
Schmeichel saves a point; Dec. 29, 2015
On the heels of a Boxing Day loss to Liverpool, Leicester proved its title chops by holding contender Manchester City to a 0-0 draw. Kasper Schmeichel made a pair of key first-half saves, and Leicester bounced back three days after the setback to secure a meaningful point.
Huth's header beats Spurs; Jan. 13, 2016
Defender Robert Huth's perfect 83rd-minute header from Christian Fuchs's corner–his first goal since last April–gave Leicester a 1-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane, snapping a three-game winless run. Given how the title race would come down to the two clubs, the point swing has proven to be massive.
Vardy's wonder-volley vs. Liverpool; Feb. 2, 2016
Jamie Vardy scored twice in a February win over Liverpool, but it was his first goal that had the world talking. After running down a long ball from Riyad Mahrez, Vardy unleashed a 25-yard volley off the bounce to stun the Reds and help Leicester exact revenge for one of its three losses on the season.
Huth scores two at Man City; Feb. 6, 2016
A match at Manchester City was supposed to be the start of Leicester's downfall, but the Foxes were having none of that. Robert Huth scored in the third minute to shock the Etihad faithful, and he added another later to proclaim Leicester's intentions in a 3-1 win.
Ulloa beats Norwich late; Feb. 27, 2016
Both times Leicester lost to Arsenal it followed up with wins over Norwich City to right the ship. The second time was far more thrilling, with Leonardo Ulloa scoring an 89th-minute winner at King Power Stadium to put the title ship back on course.
Officially safe! March 1, 2016
Not that it was ever remotely in doubt, but Leicester ensured safety from relegation with a 2-2 home draw vs. West Brom. Given Claudio Ranieri's cautious approach to overstating goals, the preseason expectations and last season's heroic charge out of the drop zone, the achievement was still notable and allowed Leicester to officially look ahead to bigger things.
Kante returns, Mahrez scores vs. Watford; March 5, 2016
Vital midfielder N'Golo Kante returned from an injury and Riyad Mahrez scored a highlight-reel goal–again–as Leicester won at Watford 1-0 to keep pressure on Tottenham and Arsenal in the title chase. The club's record away from home (11-2-4) is a big driver of its overall success.
Okazaki's bicycle kick beats Newcastle; March 14, 2016
Shinji Okazaki's bicycle kick goal gave Leicester a nervy 1-0 win over Newcastle on a day which Leicester entered leading Tottenham by just two points in the Premier League table.
Captain Morgan helps Leicester extend lead; April 3, 2016
With Tottenham dropping points to Liverpool the previous day, Leicester took full advantage. Defender and captain Wes Morgan scored his only goal of the season in a 1-0 win over Southampton that stretched the club's lead atop the table to seven points.
Leicester clinches Champions League place; April 10, 2016
It went overlooked given the club's title aspirations, but Leicester clinched an almost equally improbable place in next season's Champions League with a 2-0 win at Sunderland, cementing a top-four place. Jamie Vardy's two goals did the honors.
Ulloa's late equalizing PK vs. West Ham; April 17, 2016
Leonardo Ulloa calmly converted a penalty kick deep into second-half stoppage time to cap a game full of controversy and secure a vital point in a 2-2 draw with West Ham.
Ulloa scores two in Vardy's absence; April 24, 2016
With leading scorer Jamie Vardy suspended because of a referee altercation in the previous match vs. West Ham, Leonardo Ulloa stepped into the starting lineup and scored twice in a 4-0 rout of Swansea City. A Tottenham draw the following day put Leicester in position to clinch the title with three points from its final three games.
The Vardy Party; May 2, 2016
Leicester players gathered at Jamie Vardy's house to watch Chelsea take on Tottenham in the decisive match in the title race. It was the Vardy Party to top all Vardy Parties, as Leicester was crowned champion following the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Ranieri's Guard of Honor; May 14, 2016
Claudio Ranieri returns to Stamford Bridge, where he was jettisoned in 2004 for Jose Mourinho, and steps through Chelsea's guard of honor, which the outgoing champions provided for Leicester City.
Another fourth-place finish, and a potential FA Cup win, could be enough to keep the Dutchman at Old Trafford and delay the expected Jose Mourinho coronation by 12 months. So much for Manchester being the center of English football next season; at one stage it looked like it would host a Pep vs. Jose grudge match reunion, with the Catalan, who has never not reached a Champions League semifinal in seven years, targeting European success from the start.
That is no longer the case, although West Ham will make it hard for United; Wednesday is its final game at Upton Park before it moves to the Olympic stadium.
Final-day intrigue extends to the race for second place, where Spurs need one point to stay ahead of Arsenal; and at the bottom of the table, where Sunderland was the big weekend winner with a come-from-behind success over Chelsea that moved it out of the drop zone. It could be safe if it wins its midweek game against out-of-form Everton–which spells bad news for Norwich, who looks doomed, and Newcastle.
Leicester City's Premier League title celebrations
Leicester City players hold up the banner that says it all: The Foxes are Premier League champions.
Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge show their support for Leicester during the Blues' decisive 2-2 draw vs. Tottenham that clinched Leicester's title.
Leicester fans gather en masse around King Power Stadium to celebrate their Premier League title
This Leicester fan's scarf says it all: Champions
Fans celebrate as Chelsea's draw with Tottenham secures Leicester's Premier League title.
Fans celebrate Leicester's title outside of King Power Stadium the night the trophy was clinched.
More Leicester fans express their joy after winning the title.
Leicester fans stand outside of King Power Stadium with a trophy of their own–a placeholder until captain Wes Morgan is presented with the actual trophy.
A statue of King Richard III, whose tale and reburial is part of the Leicester title lore, is graced with a Leicester City championship flag.
The day after Leicester won the title, fans continued to celebrate by King Power Stadium.
Jamie Vardy is escorted through a crowd of fans as he joins a team lunch in Leicester the day after becoming a Premier League champion.
Which one is Jamie Vardy? The Leicester forward and his lookalike Lee Chapman celebrate on the team bus.
Leicester fans gather to catch a glimpse of Jamie Vardy and the rest of their title-winning heroes.
Riyad Mahrez makes his way to a car leaving a team lunch in Leicester, as a mob of fans and media try to catch a glimpse.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri makes his way through the masses.
Even the dogs are behind the Foxes amid Leicester's title run.
Leicester City fans Sarah and James Robinson have named their daughter Olivia-June Claudia Robinson–with the middle name in honor of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri.
Claudio Ranieri toasts over Champagne at his first press conference after Leicester clinched the Premier League title.
Leicester's Christian Fuchs poses with the UFC title belt as part of Leicester's title celebrations.
The Premier League trophy arrives at King Power Stadium, where it now belongs.
Famed tenor Andrea Bocelli appears on stage with Claudio Ranieri to sing ahead of Leicester's match vs. Everton as part of the title celebrations.
Everton provides a guard of honor for Leicester City ahead of their match.
Jamie Vardy wastes no time in marking his return to Leicester's lineup after a two-game ban, scoring five minutes in to keep the celebration going on the field.
Andy King, the last holdover from Leicester's third-tier, League One club in 2008, celebrates his goal vs. Everton in the pouring rain.
Leicester captain Wes Morgan lifts the Premier League trophy at a capacity King Power Stadium.
Leicester City lifts the trophy: The 2015-16 Premier League champions.
A team photo for the ages: Leicester City with its Premier League championship trophy.
Leicester City enjoys a parade through a packed downtown, gathering with fans for one massive celebration for its title season.
Leicester fans pack the streets to catch a glimpse of their title-winning heroes at the victory parade.
Flanked by his star players, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri shows off the Premier League trophy.
Thousands upon thousands pack Victoria Park in Leicester to celebrate Leicester City's Premier League title.
Atletico drops out of title race
Is there such thing as scoring too early? That may have been the problem for Champions League finalist Atletico Madrid, who went ahead against already-relegated Levante after 82 seconds. It then sat back and didn't push for a second goal, allowing the host to equalize, the first time Jan Oblak’s goal had been breached in five league games. The rested Antoine Griezmann came on for the second half, but the Frenchman could not break through. Instead, Giuseppe Rossi scored a last-minute winner to end Atletico’s title hopes once and for all.
Atletico has now not won at Levante since 2007. Simeone had no complaints after the game, and claimed that challenging the big two for so long in La Liga deserves credit.
“We are finishing a fantastic, enormous, season, and we have been just one game away from challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid,” he said. “That is what makes me happy, as other times we have been out of the race with 10 weeks still left.”
He is quite right, of course, and a season that will end with a third-place finish and a place in the Champions League final (and potentially, winning it) has to go down as a success.
Barcelona is one more win from clinching the title; it beat Espanyol 5-0 to remain one point clear of Real Madrid. Since dropping points last month, Barcelona has won four games in a row, scoring 21 goals and conceding none. It does not bode well for Granada, who clinched La Liga safety this weekend and hosts Barcelona next weekend. Real Madrid won its 11th game straight in the league and is still in contention should Barca slip up, but it looks highly unlikely.
Will Red Bull Leipzig be an immediate Bundesliga threat?
The Bundesliga will have a new public enemy No. 1 team to follow next season after Red Bull Leipzig was promoted to the top flight following a 2-0 win over Karlsruhe. It is its fourth promotion in seven years; it used to be a fifth-division team called SSV Markranstadt, until 2009, when Red Bull bought the club's license and changed the team's name, crest and kit. In 2010, Red Bull Leipzig moved to the 44,300-seat stadium in Leipzig, and, despite some wobbles on the way, finally made it to the top flight, where it plans to make a splash.
It has already changed its coach, with this season’s boss Ralf Rangnick stepping back to his director of football duties after appointing Ralf Hasenhuttl, who kept up newly promoted Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga this season. Bild newspaper reported that it plans to spend heavily in the summer, with targets including Kevin Volland and FC Basel’s Breel Embolo. One player not coming will be Jamie Vardy, who was offered to Rangnick two years ago.
“We desperately wanted to sign Joe Gomez, who later chose Liverpool, and we were flying back from London to Leipzig with his agent," Rangnick told Sport Bild magazine. "In the plane, the agent said to me 'Mr. Rangnick, it's a crying shame that you are so radical about who you sign and only go for players who are under 24 because I've got somebody who would be just perfect for you. I can guarantee he would become a national team player under you, but he's already 27.' It was Jamie Vardy.” Rangnick replied: "No, he's 27-we're not doing it.”
Rangnick missed the press conference after the game as he pulled a muscle running from a beer shower during the postmatch celebrations. And though most fans are disappointed that a nouveau club is in the top-flight, not everyone sees it that way. German TV commentator Marcel Reif thinks RB could be a title rival for Bayern Munich. Martin Machowecz wrote in Die Welt that the Bundesliga needs more clubs based in the east (the German FA was founded in Leipzig) and he backed Rangnick’s claim that RB “will be a great asset” for the top flight.
Its approach this summer will be fascinating.
Lyon cruises into Champions League
With Paris Saint-Germain 27 points clear of second-placed Lyon (and with a game in hand), the only drama left at the top of the table was the race for the second and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages. Just a few months ago, Monaco was 10 points ahead of Lyon, but momentum coming into Saturday’s game could not have been more different: Lyon was unbeaten in nine, while Monaco had dropped points in six of its last nine.
In front a packed Parc OL, the new stadium, Lyon went for the kill and was 2-0 up inside eight minutes, with Rachid Ghezzal (who destroyed his marker Andrea Raggi) and Alexandre Lacazette scoring. The visitor’s task became even tougher when striker Lacina Traore was dismissed for a second yellow card on 23 minutes. It was 4-1 at halftime and Lacazette completed his hat trick late on. The France striker looks a player reborn under new coach Bruno Genesio.
He has six goals before the winter break and 15 since puts some pressure on France coach Didier Deschamps to take note. Lacazette is the first French striker to score 20 or more goals in consecutive seasons since Stephane Guivarc’h in 1997 and 1998.
Monaco now has to beat Montpellier to be sure of third spot, where it finished last season, but could yet be overhauled by Nice, who is two points back.
Sunday night was awards night in France, and PSG’s dominance shone through. Zlatan Ibrahimovic won best player, Laurent Blanc best coach, and there were eight PSG players in the team of the year. The only non-PSG players were Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, midfielder Lassana Diarra, (also Marseille but heading for PSG this summer) and Nice’s winger Hatem ben Arfa, linked this week with a move to Barcelona.
Farewell to Luca Toni
This has not been a season to remember for Luca Toni. Now at Hellas Verona, the 38-year-old–he turns 39 in a few weeks–was Serie A's top scorer last season but has scored only six goals this campaign and his team has been relegated.
Ten years after his greatest season in 2005-06–when he was at Fiorentina and became the first player to score more than 30 league goals since Antonio Angelillo in 1959, the first Italian ever to win the European Golden Boot, and ended the summer as a World Cup winner with Italy–Toni has decided to call it a day and retire.
This, despite the fact he once said that he was so slow he could play on forever.
Toni made the announcement at a press conference this week. Verona played Juventus at home Sunday night, and Toni declared it would be the last game of his career. He didn't want to bow out in next week’s away fixture at Palermo, another of his former clubs. And so, despite being bottom of the table, despite having only won four games in its first 36, Verona beat Juventus 2-1.
Toni scored, a coolly-taken penalty which he chipped down the middle of Neto’s goal. The only thing that would have made it more poignant was if his World Cup winning teammate Gigi Buffon had been in goal (the 23 on Italy’sWorld Cup squad of 2006 still regularly talk together as they have their own WhatsApp group). Still, it was an appropriate way for one of Italy’s great center forwards to bow out.
Top three goals of the week
Wahbi Khazri (Sunderland vs. Chelsea): A stunning volley from outside the box helped Sunderland beat Chelsea and gave it hope of Premier League survival.
Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon vs. Vitoria Setubal): A smart free-kick routine from the left allowed Ruiz to volley into the top corner from the penalty spot to keep Sporting’s title chances alive. With one game left it remains two behind Benfica.
Diego Gonzalez (Sevilla vs. Granada): The 21-year-old made his first La Liga appearance for Sevilla against Granada and made an impact: with his first touch, he scored with a back heel and although Granada went on to win 4-1, could be another star of the future unearthed at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Top three players of the week
Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon): A hat trick for the Lyon striker cemented his team’s spot in next season’s Champions League.
Juan Valeron (Las Palmas): The 40-year-old was the bedrock of Deportivo de La Coruna’s success in the 2000s. After 415 games in the top flight, the stylish midfielder bowed out at Las Palmas, the club where he started his career.
Bryan Smeets (De Graafschap): The title went to the final day in the Netherlands, with PSV and Ajax level on points but Ajax with a superior goal difference. PSV beat Zwolle 3-1 but Ajax stumbled at second-from-bottom De Graafschap. A surprise equalizer from Smeets, his first goal of the season, pegged it back to 1-1 and allowed PSV to clinch a second straight title.