The 2020/21 finishing line is firmly in sight and across Europe titles are being wrapped up, relegations are moving from ominous prospect to grim reality and top-four races are really hotting up.
The month of May is the biggie in club football; a 31-day emotional tombola where the season comes to a head and everything is decided. It really is a bit of a curate’s egg for the football fan, with titles bringing elation, but relegation sapping that all too familiar ‘this is our season’ feeling we all had in September.
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Already the Janus-faced month has delivered an unexpected title for Inter Milan, but relegations are totting up across the continent, with Fulham and West Brom now confirmed to be joining Sheffield United in the second tier next season.
And this weekend brought more of the same, with a domestic cup first, more titles in the bag (one in unbeaten fashion, and another on goal difference), player records equalled and some very interesting things happening at the summit in La Liga.
1. Rangers are ‘Invincible’
As if winning a first top-flight Scottish title in nearly a decade was not enough to seal Glaswegian bragging rights, Steven Gerrard has also masterminded an ‘Invincible’ season, going the entire 38-game campaign unbeaten to consolidate his standing in club folklore, while also preventing Celtic from sealing a 10th straight title.
The Liverpool immortal has now earned ‘legendary’ status at another club and this particular triumph, the Gers’ 55th, will exude a twinge of emotion as it was only eight years ago that they were slogging it out in the fourth tier after financial ruin jeopardised their existence.
The blue ribbons were embellished on the trophy as early as March, such was Rangers’ supremacy and utter dominance this season, but Gerrard ensured complacency didn’t creep into his side’s game, and as a 38-year-old Jermain Defoe struck the fourth to put the gloss on a 4-0 win over Aberdeen on Saturday, history was made.
2. Alisson becomes sixth Premier League goalkeeper to score
It was a dramatic finish at the Hawthorns, with Alisson coming up for a corner in the dying embers as the clock ticked on and Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League football faded away, but the Brazilian managed to get on the end of a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross and divert the ball past Sam Johnstone.
It was a cultured header any established centre-forward would have been proud of, let alone a goalkeeper. By netting the last-gasp finish, Alisson not only won the game 2-1 for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but he also kept the club’s top-four aspirations alive, and became the sixth goalkeeper to score in the Premier League era.
Only four goalkeepers have scored a goal AND provided an assist in the Premier League:
◎ Peter Schmeichel
◎ Paul Robinson
◎ Tim Howard
◉ Alisson Becker
Get yourself a goalkeeper than can do both. 😁 pic.twitter.com/fRpD74Qb33
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2021
He will now go down in history with the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Paul Robinson, Asmir Begovic, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard, while he is also one of just four goalkeepers to both score and provide an assist in the division, alongside the aforementioned trio of Schmeichel, Robinson and Howard.
It looked as though Chelsea and Leicester could breath a sigh of relief as they prepare to tango in a proverbial six-pointer on Tuesday, particularly after West Ham drew 1-1 with Brighton the day before to all but end their chances of gatecrashing the top four, but Liverpool refused to lie down, and have instead put huge pressure on that midweek battle. They will be lying in wait to pounce on whoever comes up short in the capital.
3. Robert Lewandowski equals Gerd Muller’s 49-year record
It is a record that has withstood the test of time, but Gerd Muller’s 40-goal haul for a single Bundesliga season has finally been matched nearly 50 years on, and it could yet be overtaken with one game remaining in the German top flight, an unprecedented feat Robert Lewandowski will no doubt be eyeing up.
Only two players have scored 40 goals in a Bundesliga season:
☉ Gerd Muller (1971-72)
☉ Robert Lewandowski (2020-21)
And he's done it in six fewer games too. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/KggAbMdnIE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 15, 2021
The prolific Pole has been in stellar scoring form this season for the umpteenth time, but there has been a cut-throat, almost uncompromising ruthlessness to his play, different from previous campaigns, as he sought to notch home 40 goals, with his penalty finish in the 2-2 draw with Freiburg equalling the record.
It is a testament to Lewandowski’s utter devastation in front of goal that he has matched the once seemingly unassailable tally having played just 28 times this season, six fewer than Muller when he set to work frustrating every goalkeeper in the division in 1971/72.
With Augsburg to come next weekend, Lewandowski could yet surpass the Bayern legend and become the Bundesliga gold standard.
4. A first for the Foxes
And there we have it. As is tradition in English football, Leicester City can now use triangular corner flags at the King Power Stadium , a right bestowed upon the winners of the FA Cup, of which they can now claim to be, having overcome a gruelling contest with Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
Leicester have now won more major trophies in the 21st century than Tottenham.
Get them in the European Super League, now. pic.twitter.com/feCeengyyY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 15, 2021
It was a cagey affair, but a Youri Tielemans ‘worldie’ straight out of the top drawer settled the tie, with the long-ranged effort befitting of a cup-winning strike on such hallowed ground. There was late drama as Chelsea thought they found an equaliser but Ben Chilwell was deemed offside upon a VAR referral.
So, the silverware will now be heading to the East Midlands, embellishing the King Power trophy cabinet for the first time, and continuing Leicester’s fairytale century, while Chelsea will be licking their wounds after becoming the first club to lose back-to-back FA Cups since the turn of the millennium.
5. Besiktas win Super Lig by the skin of their teeth
It was the ‘barest of margins’ as Ian Smith once famously remarked when England won the Cricket World Cup, and that is exactly the scenario for Besiktas in the Super Lig, who won their 16th top-flight Turkish title on Saturday, finishing ahead of fierce rivals Galatasaray by a one-goal advantage.
Both clubs finished level on 84 points, but Besiktas’ +45 goal difference was superior to Galatasaray’s +44 goal difference by one. It’s an absolutely incredible finish to what was a scintillating Super Lig season, and as the dust settles, Galatasaray fans will now be thinking back across the campaign to any needless goal conceded, or gilt-edged opportunities missed.
For Besiktas, it looked like it could be final-day heartache after Alpaslan Ozturk equalised for Goztepe, but Sergen Yalcin’s men kept their nerve and Leicester loanee Rachid Ghezzal grabbed a winner from 12 yards, ending a four-year wait for Kara Kartallar title glory.
6. Atleti are not making this easy
Atletico Madrid have seemingly been the architects of their own downfall since the turn of the year, handing rivals Real Madrid every opportunity to steal a march in La Liga’s hotly-contested title race, and it looked like Diego Simeone’s men had completely blown it 15 minutes from time at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday night.
It what should have been a routine victory over middling Osasuna, Atleti decided against the drama-free route and instead found themselves a goal down in the 75th minute through Ante Budimir. With Real winning their game against Athletic Bilbao, it was advantage Zinedine Zidane heading into matchday 38.
However, Atleti refused to wave the white flag, instead set to work mounting a late comeback. Even a draw would not have been enough to reclaim their position atop the table, and so, two late strikes from Renan Lodi and of course Luis Saurez kept the dream alive, and swung the pendulum back in their favour ahead of a nerve-jangling final day against Valladolid.
Luis Suarez has scored 20+ goals in a La Liga season for the fifth time.
What a time get it. 😀 pic.twitter.com/KO34dAaOUa
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2021
7. Dortmund secure Champions League football
If Borussia Dortmund are to quell any interest from Europe’s covetous elite for their prized assets, chiefly Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, then they simply had to secure Champions League football for next season, which was anything but a foregone conclusion just a few months back.
BVB were in serious threat of missing out on a top four finish in the Bundesliga, with Eintracht Frankfurt occupying the final Champions League qualification place just a few weeks back, but interim incumbent Edin Terzic has since turned the tide in Dortmund’s favour and got them over the line.
The former West Ham assistant manager will now be handing over the reins to BVB-bound Marco Rose in style, not only sealing a top-four finish after comfortably dispatching Mainz 3-1 in Sunday, but also with silverware in the Westfalenstadion trophy cabinet, having secured the DFB-Pokal earlier this week.
8. Barcelona Femeni win first Women’s Champions League
Having finished runners-up in their only other appearance in the Women’s Champions League final in 2019, losing 4-1 to the competition’s most successful club, Lyon, Barcelona Femeni ensured it would not be heartbreak a second time, clinically seeing off Chelsea 4-0 in the Gothenburg showpiece.
It was a ruthless display from Lluis Cortes’ side, who found themselves four up before half time and out of sight. A Melanie Leupolz own goal set the tone in the opening minute, and from there the floodgates were open, with vice-captain Alexia Putellas netting a penalty on the 14-minute mark, and then further goals from Aitana Bonmati and 85-capped Norway international Caroline Graham Hansen.
Given the strength of this Chelsea side under Emma Hayes, who guided the Blues to a WSL and League Cup double, it only serves to highlight to quality of Blaugranes; this is a side, after all, who have won 26 out of 26 games in the Primera Division this season, with a goal difference of +123.