The European weekend was again filled with adventure and excitement as two title races (German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1) ended with champions being crowned (Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively), while the Premier League hotted up thanks to wins for Manchester City and Liverpool. Elsewhere, Real Betis clinched a historic Copa del Rey, Arsenal applied more pressure and misery on Manchester United‘s plate and Gabriel Jesus had another brilliant game.
Here are Rob Dawson, Julien Laurens, Sam Marsden and Derek Rae with what you need to know from around Europe.
Four talking points
Bayern Munich make it a remarkable 10 in a row
Having been in Munich to commentate on Bayern’s 10th successful title triumph for ESPN, it’s important to recognise the scale of their achievement.
Other clubs in other top leagues with similar resource advantages have tried and failed; not Bayern. The Allianz Arena was bouncing all evening during a 3-1 win over Dortmund that was by no means a cakewalk, either. For many in the 75,000-strong crowd, it was a return to “football as it’s meant to be” after months of crowd restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outpouring of joy was real and palpable, with beer showers galore on the pitch after the final whistle.
Regarding the simmering debate about how other Bundesliga teams can more effectively push Bayern, that’s for another day. The same is true for questions about Robert Lewandowski‘s future — his contract expires in June 2023 — although sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic stated categorically on Sky Deutschland that they won’t sell the FIFA world player of the year this summer. — Rae
Are Everton doomed to face relegation after Liverpool defeat?
Janusz Michallik praises Liverpool’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, after their 2-0 win over city rivals Everton.
Could Everton really get relegated? After this weekend, the answer is an unfortunate, and resounding, “yes.” Burnley‘s 1-0 win over Wolves on Sunday combined with Everton’s defeat to Liverpool moved Burnley out of the bottom three with just a month to go before the end of the season. Even though they have a game in hand on their immediate rivals, it means very little when you’re down at the bottom. Ask any manager; they would rather have the points on the board.
Everton have got a tough run with Chelsea next at Goodison Park followed by a trip to Leicester and Arsenal away on the last day of the season. Frank Lampard will be focusing on Watford away on May 11 and home games against Brentford and Crystal Palace, but survival is far from guaranteed, particularly with Burnley now in a good run of form under caretaker boss Mike Jackson.
Everton’s win over Manchester United and Burnley’s decision to sack Sean Dyche appeared to have tipped the balance in Everton’s favour, but it’s now Burnley with momentum in the battle against relegation into the Championship. — Dawson
Why Real Betis’ Copa del Rey joy was especially sweet
Real Betis beat Valencia to win the Copa del Rey in Spain this weekend, and their triumph and the ensuing celebrations were punctuated by two players at opposite ends of their career: Juan Miranda and Joaquin.
Boyhood Betis fan Miranda came off the bench to score the winning penalty in the shootout after U.S. international Yunus Musah missed for Valencia. Miranda was just five years old when Betis last won the Copa in 2005 — a game he attended with his dad — but this time, now 22, he was the hero on the pitch, showing tremendous nerve under pressure to turn home the decisive penalty following a 1-1 draw in normal time.
In the festivities that followed, it was Joaquin, 41 in the summer, who took centre stage. He was also part of the Betis side that lifted the trophy 17 years ago, and after scoring his penalty, he pulled out some of his old party dances to entertain the thousands of Betis fans at La Cartuja. “How can [I retire] now we’ve started winning?” he joked about his future beyond this season.
The fourth major trophy of Betis’s history (three Copas del Rey, one LaLiga title) means they will be in the Europa League again next season, although they’re also still fighting for a Champions League spot in the Primera Division. — Marsden
PSG wrap up muted season with another Ligue 1 crown
Paris Saint Germain were crowned Ligue 1 champions for the 10th time on Saturday evening at the Parc des Princes, equalling the French record set by Saint-Etienne and Marseille. However, it felt like anyhting but a celebration. The Ultras left the ground 10 minutes before the end of the game to celebrate the title outside the stadium because they reportedly didn’t want to do it inside with the players! They booed manager Mauricio Pochettino before the match — reports indicate he’ll be fired soon — and the Parc des Princes emptied quicker than a pint of Guinness in an Irish bar.
It was an unreal and somewhat toxic atmosphere that sums up very well the season. PSG suffered a shocking Champions League exit against Real Madrid in the last 16, were knocked out of the French Cup at home by Nice, never found an identity or a style of play befitting their squad and their stars, apart from Kylian Mbappe, never really starred!
This is Mbappe’s championship, ultimately — not PSG’s, not Pochettino’s, not Messi’s nor Neymar’s. The Paris born and bred prodigy carried this team from start to finish, with 22 goals and 15 assists in 31 league appearances. (Meanwhile Messi and Neymar combined for 15 goals and 18 assists over the same span.)
Of all 10 league titles in the French capital, this is without a doubt the most forgettable and underwhelming one. — Laurens
Three must-see goals
Kruse turns back the clock for Wolfsburg
You can certainly make a case for Serge Gnabry‘s goal to open the scoring in the Bayern-Dortmund game. Christian Gunter‘s beautifully placed finish for Freiburg in the 3-3 thriller with Gladbach also merits a mention, but my vote goes to Wolfsburg’s entertainer, Max Kruse, for his performance in Friday’s 5-0 rout of Mainz.
The pick of the goals from his first-half hat trick saw the 34-year-old slam the ball home with his preferred left foot after a timely right flank cross from Ridle Baku. It was a remarkable individual strike and performance from Kruse who can still get you out of your seat with his array of skills and incredible vision. — Rae
Xhaka exact for Arsenal against Man United
Granit Xhaka doesn’t score many goals, but his strike against Manchester United could prove crucial in the race for the top four. United were threatening to equalise at the Emirates when he rifled in Arsenal’s third from 20 yards to keep Mikel Arteta’s side in pole position for a return to the Champions League.
Xhaka hasn’t always had the easiest relationship with the Arsenal fans, but they loved him for that one. — Dawson
WHAT A STRIKE GRANIT XHAKA! :⚡
Arsenal take a 3-1 lead over United.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 23, 2022
Alvaro Garcia scored a goal at Camp Nou that had implications at the top and the bottom of LaLiga as Rayo Vallecano stunned Barcelona, 1-0, making it a third consecutive home defeat in all competitions for Xavi’s side. Garcia struck the only goal of the game in the seventh minute, making a brilliant run in from the left to latch onto a through-ball from Isi Palazon and fire past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The win moves Rayo 10 points clear of the drop zone, alleviating any relegation fears, and leaves Barca embroiled in a battle just to finish in the top four. (That said, they do still have a six-point cushion for now, and with just five matches remaining.) More painfully for Barca, the result also means Real Madrid are just one point away from clinching their 35th LaLiga title. — Marsden
Rayo Vallecano get the opener vs. Barcelona 😳 pic.twitter.com/ciOmhnK8nQ
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) April 24, 2022
Two teams that should be worried
Napoli‘s title hopes are finally finished
Many believed that 32 years after their last title, which came with Diego Armando Maradona as captain, Napoli could lift again the Serie A trophy. But clearly the pressure got to Luciano Spalletti and his players down the stretch. Napoli started the final sprint almost level with Inter and AC Milan, but after two defeats and a draw in their last three league matches, they’re now seven points behind the leading Rossoneri and five behind the Nerazzuri, who have a game in hand on Wednesday against Bologna.
Sunday’s defeat at Empoli laid bare all their struggles. They were 2-0 up after 53 minutes, but conceded 3 goals in seven minutes between the 80th and 87th minute! The second one was a gift from their keeper Alex Meret, too. Since the start of the season, the Napolitans have lost against Spezia and Fiorentina, twice against Empoli, and they’ve dropped points against Cagliari and 9-men Verona. Worse, their home form is pathetic for a title contender: they’re seventh-best in Serie A with nine wins, three draws and five losses.
Barring a miracle, Napoli’s drought will continue this season. — Laurens
Arminia Bielefeld feeling the blues
Arminia Bielefeld took a big gamble last week when they parted ways with coach Frank Kramer and installing goalkeeping coach Marco Kostmann. Bielefeld hoped for an immediate impact away to Köln this weekend, but didn’t get the much-needed bounce and the 3-1 defeat leaves the Ostwestfalen club in dire straits. They have taken just 1 point from 8 matches, are languishing in 2nd bottom and remain favourites to go down automatically with Fürth’s fate is already sealed.
Injuries have taken a hefty toll in recent weeks, and it’s frankly hard to visualise Bielefeld extricating themselves from this mess. Their final three opponents are at home against fellow relegation fighters Hertha and double trophy chasers RB Leipzig, with a trip to derby rivals Bochum sandwiched in between. — Rae
Shaka Hislop says Gabriel Jesus should swap Manchester City for Arsenal if Mikel Arteta’s rumoured interest is true.
Gabriel Jesus leads Man City to a big win
For player of the weekend, you can’t look beyond Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian striker scored four times in City’s 5-1 win over Watford on Saturday, even creating the other for Rodri. It was a fantastic all-round performance and gives Pep Guardiola a welcome headache ahead of Real Madrid’s visit to the Etihad in Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg.
Jesus has found opportunities hard to come by this season but he has a record of scoring big goals, including home and away against Real Madrid in the last-16 in 2020. The 25-year-old has been linked with summer moves to Arsenal and Juventus but Guardiola was strong in his post-match news conference, saying defiantly: “He is our player”. Things might change if City land Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund but Jesus could still have a key role to play between now and the end of the season as Guardiola chases a Premier League and Champions League double — Dawson