Another weekend in European soccer yielded another flurry of talking points! In England, Manchester City clawed back at West Ham to remain in charge of the Premier League title race with one weekend remaining, while Liverpool looked tired in the FA Cup final but still had enough juice to defeat Chelsea on penalties. The German Bundesliga season ended with Erling Haaland‘s farewell to Borussia Dortmund and Robert Lewandowski saying he wants out of Bayern Munich. In Italy, AC Milan and Inter Milan both won to keep the Serie A title battle alive heading into the final round of games, while Spain’s LaLiga (and PSG in France) enjoyed a fairly relaxed weekend.
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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Jump to: man city stumble | Liverpool win another cup final | Milan stay on top | Lewandowski’s future | Inter still chasing Serie A | Real take it easy | Haaland’s Dortmund goodbye | Messi’s PSG reminder | Barca clinch second | Tottenham’s penalty win | Suarez’s last Atlético game
Man City stumble, Mahrez misses penalty as draw at West Ham means title will be decided on final weekend
At half-time in East London, Manchester City were 2-0 down against West Ham and staring down the barrel of a 93:20 situation. If they didn’t turn it around and if Liverpool got a big win away to Southampton on Tuesday, then it could (hell, likely would) come down to a Premier League title assigned on goal difference. And at that moment, City were at +5 over Liverpool. But factor in the hypothetical big win at Southampton and, yeah, it could be really darn close on Matchday 38, when Liverpool and City would welcome Wolves and Aston Villa respectively.
It didn’t work out that way, of course. City battled back to a 2-2 draw and would have taken all three points if not for Riyad Mahrez‘s penalty being saved by Lukasz Fabianski with four minutes remaining. But you imagine the above thoughts (or some variation thereof) flashed through every City supporter’s mind, starting with Pep Guardiola’s.
Above all, it ought to be a reminder that, even when things appear straightforward, pitfalls await around every corner. Like the defensive errors that led to West Ham’s two goals, or the non-call when Kurt Zouma booted Gabriel Jesus and neither the referee nor the VAR seemed to notice. And if you do stumble, you need to pick yourself back up to be champions.
– Dawson: Man City stutter, show character vs. West Ham
– Which Premier League teams will qualify for Europe?
West Ham, riding the emotion of the home crowd and Mark noble‘s last home appearance, defended well, countered well and fully deserved their two-goal lead thanks to the exceptional Jarrod Bowen (in fact, he might have had a hat trick). But City turned it around after the break, as evidenced by the second-half xG of 1.75 to 0.38. It wasn’t about performance, which was good, as much as it was about persistence and belief in what Guardiola was asking on them.
That said, the defensive errors were avoidable. And here I go back to what I’ve been banging on about for much of the season: the fact that Manchester City went into the campaign with 19 senior outfield players, presumably by choice, since resources aren’t wanting at the Etihad. And, presumably also by choice, when they lost Benjamin Mendy and Ferran Torres, they were not replaced. And now, with an injury crisis — Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker are all done for the season while Nathan Ake was on the bench, but is clearly not fit — they have to play key games with a 37-year-old defensive midfielder, Fernandinhoat center-back (and, yes, it was his mistake that led directly to one of the goals).
We hear about meticulous planning and attention to detail, which is what makes some of Guardiola’s choices all the more baffling. (Another might be how, needing to win the game, Phil Foden remained on the bench.) His record is exceptional — we know that — and he’s obviously entitled to do what he thinks is best. But it’s mystifying how you would allow yourself such a tiny margin for error.
Liverpool outlast Chelsea from the penalty spot … yes, the quadruple is on
Two down, two to go. Having added the FA Cup Saturday to the League Cup they won earlier this season, Liverpool’s hopes of winning the Champions League and Premier League are alive. No, they’re not favorites in the league and yes, injuries to Mohamed Salah, Fabinho and Virgil Van Dijk weigh heavily, but Jurgen Klopp will be demanding that they still believe. And why not? It’s football. Stranger things have happened.
– Ogden: Do Liverpool have the energy to complete Quadruple?
– Olley: Chelsea’s striker issues shown again in FA Cup
– Klopp: ‘Good season’ even without PL, CL
The FA Cup final (a bit like the League Cup final) was a thrilling end-to-end match with frankly nothing to separate the two sides. Nothing, that is, but penalties, and for the second time this season, Liverpool bested Chelsea from the spot.
Both teams created chances and played well, honoring the occasion with intensity and quality. Luis Diaz was at times unplayable, but Christian Pulisic also had his moments (everything bar the finishing) as did Romelu Lukaku who, for all the criticism, put in a shift at center-forward.
(A word on Andreas Christensen, who was due to start, but deserted the game for unknown reasons: Tuchel simply confirmed he wasn’t injured. With Christensen leaving the club next month to join Barcelona as a free agent, it’s inevitable folks will link the two things. I don’t know Christensen personally, but I know plenty who do, and I feel like I want to hear his side of the story before passing judgment. After all, this is a guy who has been at Chelsea for a decade and who got regular playing time at the back. I can’t imagine why you would pull out of an FA Cup final. It had better be a pretty good reason, though, because on the surface, it smacks of a craven lack of professionalism and loyalty.)
One final thought on the penalty shootout. Jurgen Klopp dedicated the win to a neuroscience company which, he says, Liverpool employed to help them with penalties. Geir Jordet, a Norwegian football psychology researcher, noted on Twitter how different Klopp’s and Tuchel’s approaches were before the shootout. He noted how Klopp was concise and prepared, whereas it looked as if Tuchel was still scribbling notes when he got in the huddle. He pointed out that Klopp spoke to each penalty taker individually and diffused the tension by having a laugh with Van Dijk and concludes that “monsters of mentality” are “born, not made.”
– HIGHLIGHTS: Tsimikas converts winning penalty in FA Cup final (US only)
– Klopp: Salah, Van Dijk injuries ‘kind of OK’
– Tuchel: Sanctions make it harder for Chelsea to catch Liverpool
I’m all for innovation in football and, yes, psychology plays a part. But if you watch the penalty shootout again, you’ll note that the worst penalty was taken by Sadio Mane. And, in fact, other than Mason Mount‘s, I thought all the other penalties were well-taken (including Cesar Azpilicueta‘s, which hit the post.
I’m not suggesting that Klopp’s preparation and Neuro11 are irrelevant, just that whatever Tuchel did differently probably didn’t impact Chelsea negatively. After the fact, it’s always easy to point to factors that support your thesis.
Milan one step closer to Serie A title with win over Atalanta
Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez (thanks to his gem of a coast-to-coast run) powered Milan’s 2-0 win over Atalanta this weekend, a victory that leaves them two points clear of Inter heading into the final game of the season. Given that they have an edge in the head-to-head tiebreaker, they look firmly in the driver’s seat for the trip to face Sassuolo, where even a draw will suffice.
– Weekend Review: Milan on brink of Serie A glory
Atalanta aren’t what they were earlier in the season, but they still made life tough on the day in the first half. Milan used the tools they’ve relied on so many times this season — patience, work rate and sudden, blistering pace — to overcome them. And, in many ways, that seems to fit.
Bayern’s final game overshadowed by Lewandowski’s future
Bayern’s 2-2 final day away draw with Wolfsburg was classic end-of-campaign irrelevance. Bayern had already clinched the title and Wolfsburg mid-table respectability; there was nothing at stake. Julian Nagelsmann’s crew went 2-0 up, the opposition came back, and a few batted an eyelid. What is capturing people’s attention, however, is the growing battle of wills between Robert Lewandowski and the club.
The Polish striker has a year left on his contract. Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic says he turned down a new deal. Lewandowski’s camp reportedly say there was no offer of an extension, and he’s being strongly linked with a move to Barcelona, who supposedly are ready to give him a three-year deal. It’s a sour coda to the season, and you don’t want to overshadow the fact that even though he turns 34 in August, Lewandowski notched 35 league goals and 50 overall (both the second-highest tallies of his prolific career).
Bayern are disciplined when it comes to contracts — just ask David Alaba, who was allowed to walk on a free transfer … and yes, he was advised by Pini Zahavi, the same guy who is advising Lewandowski. So it’s not surprising they’re cautious about being on the hook for Lewandowski beyond his 35th birthday, which is what would happen if he gets another year or two. (They may have offered him an extension, but it may also have been the sort of extension that ushers you towards the exit.)
As I see it, Bayern hold most of the cards here. Right now, Barcelona are already way over LaLiga’s spending cap for next season, which means they have to offload players or cut wages before they can buy. Even if they somehow clear space, it’s not obvious how…