Football News

Girona make UCL, Still leaves Reims: Football stories across Europe you may have missed

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:00, 5 May 2024

The end of the domestic season is near, with several European leagues entering their final stages.

As champions are crowned, the football world is witnessing a fierce battle among clubs, each vying for a coveted spot in UEFA’s competitions.

Even with Euro 2024 on the horizon, clubs are thinking about next term, with some personnel already playing their final games, and managers overseeing the last couple of matches.

With so much happening, it’s understandable if you missed an important or memorable event. But don’t worry. Squawka is here to help you catch up on things you missed this weekend.

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Tractor Boys are back

Kieran McKenna has done an outstanding job as Ipswich Town’s head coach. The former Manchester United assistant coach took over in 2021 and has made history by leading his team to a remarkable promotion to the Premier League. Going into the final matchday of the Championship season, Ipswich only needed a draw to secure promotion, as they already held a three-point advantage over third-placed Leeds. However, they secured promotion in style by beating Huddersfield 2-0.

This marked Ipswich’s return to the top flight after 22 years, and they became the first club since Southampton in 2012 to gain back-to-back promotions from the third tier to the Premier League. Unfortunately, the result also meant that Huddersfield were relegated to League One. McKenna’s achievement of back-to-back promotions to reach the Premier League makes him the fifth coach to achieve this feat and the first in 12 years. He can now also look forward to an Old Trafford return.

Moving one step closer

A seventh European Cup is still on the cards for Bayern Munich, who surrendered their Bundesliga crown to Bayer Leverkusen a few weeks ago, but plenty remains left for the Bavarian giants to fight for on the domestic front, notably guaranteeing a runners-up spot while helping their leading marksman Harry Kane break predecessor Robert Lewandowski’s goalscoring record.

The lethal Pole famously netted 41 strikes during the 2020/21 campaign, smashing Gerd Müller’s previous haul (40 – 1971/72). With three matches left heading into this weekend, Kane had already bagged 35, leaving him still on course. His equaliser at Stuttgart in a humbling 3-1 loss means that, with two games remaining, he requires a double hat trick to break Lewa’s record effectively.

Title 36

One year ago, Real Madrid finished a distant second behind La Liga champions Barcelona, and few thought that Carlo Ancelotti’s men could win the title from Xavi’s seemingly all-conquering team. However, football is full of surprises, and in a season where the Barcelona manager resigned before changing his mind, Real Madrid is once again competing on two fronts.

They are close to reaching the European Cup final for the umpteenth time, with the possibility of winning their 15th trophy. In more immediate matters, Los Blancos could secure their 36th domestic championship and second under their Italian head coach today. For this to happen, they needed to win against Cadiz at home, while Barcelona dropped points at Girona. First, the former happened, with Brahim Díaz, Jude Bellingham, and Joselu netting in a 3-0 victory before Barça fell to a humbling 4-2 loss.

With champagne corks popping in Madrid, more will flow at Estadi Municipal de Montilivi. Girnona’s success here will secure their place in next season’s Champions League, capping off an incredible campaign for the high-flying Catalonians.

“This is wonderful. I hope everyone enjoys it. It’s incredible. We have 74 points. It’s incredible what these players have accomplished. We’ve qualified for the Champions League, defeated Barcelona, and now we want to finish above them,” Girona head coach Michel said afterwards.

Standing alongside giants

It’s hard to see anyone else named Newcastle’s best player this season besides Alexander Isak, who has undoubtedly levelled up in England’s top division. He came into today’s showdown at Turf Moor against Burnley having already netted 19 goals. His most prolific league campaign, surpassing his 17 strikes for Real Sociedad during the 2020/21 season.

Another goal would have seen the Swedish marksman join an exclusive list. He did more than score; Isak grabbed another brace (en route to Newcastle’s 4-1 win), meaning he became only the fifth different Newcastle player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season, after Alan Shearer (4 times), Andrew Cole (1993-94), Peter Beardsley (1993-94), and Les Ferdinand (1995-96).

An impressive run

After confirming their relegation last weekend, Sheffield United are playing for pride. Today’s meeting with Nottingham Forest started promising before the proverbial s-word hit the fan. Despite not making his debut until late January, no player has scored more Premier League goals for the Blades this season than Ben Brereton Díaz (six). However, they have failed to win any of the five games where he’s found the back of the net (two draws and three losses).

Callum Hudson-Odoi netted twice before Forest skipper Yates found the net. His effort was his first in England’s top division, meaning he became the ninth player to score in each of England’s top four tiers since the start of the 2017-18 season. Furthermore, Sheffield United have now conceded 100 Premier League goals in 2023-24, the joint-most by a side in a single season in the competition’s history (Swindon also 100 in 42 games in 1993-94), while the last side to concede more in a 38-game top-flight campaign was Leicester City in 1908-09 (102).

A second goodbye

Marco Reus, a Borussia Dortmund academy graduate, started his professional career at Rot Weiss Ahlen before achieving recognition at Borussia Mönchengladbach. His performances were impressive enough to convince Dortmund to return him in 2012. Despite suffering from numerous injuries, Reus has become a symbol of Die Schwarzgelben, thanks to his countless standout performances. However, after 12 seasons with the club, Reus has announced his departure as the club and player could not agree on a contract extension. The former German international is now a free agent this summer.

“I’m incredibly grateful for and proud of this special time at my club Borussia Dortmund,” he said. “I have spent more than half of my life at this club and enjoyed every day, even though there have of course been difficult moments too. I already know now that I will find it difficult to say goodbye at the end of the season.

“And yet I’m happy that there is now clarity and that we can focus fully on the very important final games that we still have to play. We have a big objective in our sights that we all want to achieve together. To do so, we will need every single one of our unbelievable fans, to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks for their unbelievable support over the years.”

Sudden depature

One of the most remarkable stories in football is that of Will Still. Despite not having a UEFA Pro Licence, he was appointed the youngest manager in Europe’s top five leagues at 30, when Reims hired him for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. Born to English parents in Belgium, Still began his tenure as the head coach at Reims with an impressive unbeaten 14 games in all competitions, including two draws against league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

He extended his unbeaten start to 17 matches, creating a new Ligue 1 record. This accomplishment made him the second manager to reach this mark in the top five European leagues in the 21st century, following Tito Vilanova, who achieved 18 matches at Barcelona in the 2012/13 season. A long-term future at Reims, which is currently struggling in the bottom half of Ligue 1, seemed to be on the cards, but earlier this week, the French club announced his departure.

In a class of their own

It is still too early to determine the current PSV team’s rank among the club’s all-time greats, but they have certainly positioned themselves well. The bespectacled manager, Peter Bosz, who returned to Dutch football last summer, had a point to prove. He assembled a ruthless team that came close to perfection by remaining unbeaten for the entire league season. Although they could not achieve this feat this season, they still managed to clinch the Dutch championship for a record 25th time.

The Eindhoven-based team looks formidable, with the best attack in the league (104 goals) and the tightest defence (19 conceded). However, it remains to be seen whether Bosz can keep the team’s core intact or if they will fall victim to the usual trend of Dutch teams breaking up before reaching their full potential.