It was a weekend of contrasts across Europe. Whilst the Bundesliga and FA Cup produced finales that were, in many ways, anti-climactic, Serie A provided enough drama to make up for it.
The stage was set for an intriguing final day of Bundesliga action. Bayern Munich, having recently claimed top with a resounding victory against erstwhile leaders Borussia Dortmund, had to avoid defeat at high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt to become champions. Dortmund, meanwhile, also faced stiff opposition in the form of Monchengladbach, all they could do was win and hope.
Dortmund fulfilled their end of the bargain, securing a 2-0 away win courtesy of goals from Sancho and Reus but, ultimately, it did not prove to be enough. Much of the drama was dissipated when a very early goal for Kingsley Coman all but settled the destination of the title. Haller’s equaliser shortly after half-time briefly rekindled hope of one last twist but instead it prompted Bayern into action.
Their response was rapid and lethal. Alaba and Sanches made it 3-1 within ten minutes of the equaliser and goals from the departing Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben ensured that the final margin was comfortable. This was a fitting way to mark the end of an era in which Bayern have won seven straight titles, a level of dominance that is unprecedented in Germany. Dortmund looked to be the ones to break the stranglehold but after their implosion it is hard to see where the next serious challenge might come from.
English football has traditionally marketed itself on not having a single dominant side. However, Manchester City are challenging the norm. Since Guardiola has placed the finishing touches on his tailor-made squad they have been virtually unstoppable, as vividly exemplified by Liverpool’s 97-point haul being insufficient to deliver the Premier League this season.
They reiterated this strength by completing the domestic treble against Watford on Saturday evening, cruising to a 6-0 victory in the FA Cup final. The astounding thing is that it did not even feel remarkable; a margin of less than three goals would probably have been more surprising and it raises questions about what the City project is doing for the health of the game.
The enduring memory of the match will undoubtedly be Watford’s show of defiance. At 5-0 down the fans spontaneously began to wave their flags once more and it continued even as the sixth goal flew in. Gestures such as these make football what it is; solidarity, community and loyalty.
Of course, City’s on-pitch achievements can only be applauded and one thing that is undeniable is that their football is some of the best ever been witnessed. The win sets up a Community Shield meeting with Liverpool, by virtue of Klopp’s team placing second in the league.
Battle for Europe
While those seeking drama would have been left disappointed by the fixture that was once the showpiece of English football, they can seek solace in the exciting race for a top-four finish in Italy. The ever-changing picture was bound to shift again this weekend, with many of the teams involved facing tough fixtures.
Atalanta had to take on Juventus, while Inter Milan travelled to second-placed Napoli and neither came away with a win. A late goal for the Old Lady denied Atalanta a victory that would have virtually sealed a historic qualification for the Champions League, whilst Inter were on the wrong end of a 4-1 drubbing.
This opened the door for their city rivals, AC Milan, who duly capitalised with a 2-0 triumph over Frosinone. Atalanta now occupy third, ahead of Inter by virtue of their superior head-to-head record, with Milan just a point behind and poised to strike if either slip up on the last day.
Only two can secure Champions League football next season but it would mean a great deal to Atalanta in particular. The stage is thus perfectly set for the final round of fixtures. On paper none of the last games pose huge challenges but Inter won’t be filled with confidence going into their game against an Empoli side battling to stave off relegation, given their dreadful run of just one win in five matches.
Au Revoir Mbappe?
As on-pitch action slowly begins to wind down, attentions have started to turn to the transfer market. This is always an exciting, if somewhat drawn-out, period and the rumour mill is in full operation already.
Luka Jovic is widely reported to have agreed a move to Real Madrid but PSG star Kylian Mbappe prompted speculation of an even bigger swoop by Los Blancos when he picked up his award for Ligue 1 Player of the Season this weekend. He intimated that his time in Paris might be coming to an end and that he needs to take on more responsibilities elsewhere. It is something of a leap to suggest that this means the Bernabeu but, in fairness, the list of clubs that could afford such a prodigious talent is not extensive.
With Gareth Bale continuing to cut a maligned figure under the management of Zinedine Zidane, this would seem like a natural move for the current European champions. The young forward would undoubtedly improve any team in the world and, if he does move, the ripple effect on the market is bound to make for an interesting summer of transfer activity.