Now that it is the middle of May, with only a few weeks left of club football in the 2020/21 season, domestic football leagues across Europe are in the process of wrapping up; this is often the most exciting part of the campaign, with this weekend and midweek as prime examples. As we approach the 11th hour, some leagues have already mathematically crowned their champions while other title races are tightening like vice-grips, going down to the wire. Even in those leagues where the winner is guaranteed, the scramble to qualify for European competitions as well as avoid relegation is still very much alive.
The Premier League (England)
On Tuesday, second-placed Manchester United was defeated by third-place Leicester City, officially confirming Manchester City as the 2020/21 Premier League champions. They sit in first place with a 10-point lead. Pep Guardiola and his players have now won the league three times in the five seasons he’s been in Manchester, but this dominant victory is remarkable given how he skillfully transformed this team this season. However, they could have clinched the title themselves when Man City played Chelsea last Saturday.
In what was arguably the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, Manchester City welcomed Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium. This match was particularly interesting because of Man City’s title finalization and because Chelsea is fighting to stay within the top four spots for Champions League qualification. To add even more drama, both these teams will meet each other at the Champions League Final on May 29. Man City dominated the first half with Raheem Sterling opening the score following an error from Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen, but they missed a chance to go 2-0 up after Sergio Aguero shockingly squandered a penalty with a terrible miss. In the second half, Chelsea gained the foothold and equalized with a great low-shot from Hakim Ziyech. Man City was denied a penalty late on, but Chelsea snatched the victory when Marcos Alonso scored a last-minute winner to win 2-1.
As was mentioned before, third-place Leicester City traveled away from home to face second-place Manchester United in what was a tightly contested match. Luke Thomas opened the score for Leicester before Mason Greenwood equalized with a great goal. Caglar Soyuncu’s towering header ended up winning the match for Leicester 2-1, solidifying their spot in the top four.
After their great victory over Man City, Chelsea could not carry over their form to their midweek game against Arsenal, which they lost 1-0, leaving their spot in fourth place unsecured. Interestingly enough, fifth-place West Ham United can leapfrog Chelsea if they win their next match.
At the other end of the table, Sheffield United has long since been mathematically relegated after a historically bad season. West Bromwich Albion was relegated last week despite hiring the famous relegation escape artist Sam Allardyce in December. Then this week, Fulham confirmed their place as the last team to be relegated with their 2-0 loss to Burnley.
La Liga (Spain)
While the Premier League title race is all but wrapped up, that is not the case in Spain, where there was a four-way race for the 2020/21 La Liga title before this week.
The highlight match of the round, and arguably the best match of the week, was Sevilla’s showdown with Real Madrid. Sevilla traveled to Madrid needing a victory to stay in the race, but Real Madrid took the lead after Karim Benzema’s header, or so they thought, as VAR called it offside. Sevilla officially opened the score 10 minutes later after great footwork from Fernando. Into the second half, Real Madrid laid siege to Sevilla’s goal and finally equalized after a quick shot from Marco Asensio. Then, chaos ensued as a dangerous ball was played into Real Madrid’s box during a corner, but the ball did not find its target, and Benzema was released on the counterattack until he was taken down by Sevilla’s goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, in what was a clear penalty. However, VAR showed that before Benzema’s run, Eder Militao handled the ball in Real Madrid’s box, and Sevilla was awarded the penalty, which Ivan Rakitic scored with ease. Just when it looked like Sevilla’s win was inevitable, Toni Kroos sent a wild shot towards goal, but a lucky deflection turned the ball into the net with almost the last kick of the game, and it all finished 2-2. With this draw, fourth-place Sevilla is realistically out of the race while second-place Real Madrid is still alive but was unable to take a commanding lead.
Meanwhile, third-place Barcelona met the league-leaders in the Camp Nou, knowing that a win would see them jump two spots into first place. Unfortunately for Barcelona, Atletico Madrid dominated the first half and was very unlucky not to score. While Barcelona had more chances in the second, they were denied a series of world-class saves from Atletico’s goalkeeper, Jan Oblak. The pick of the bunch being a jaw-dropping run from Lionel Messi, who dribbled past multiple defenders and would’ve scored the goal of the season if not for the outstretched fingers of Oblak. The match ended 0-0, meaning neither team could take advantage of the other, but Atletico remains in first.
Barcelona’s title aspirations took another significant dent in the midweek as they failed to hold on to a 2-goal lead, drawing 3-3 with Levante, while Atletico Madrid strengthened their control with a crucial 2-1 win over fifth-place Real Sociedad, who themselves stand far behind fourth-placed Sevilla.
The relegation battle is equally tense as only three points separate the bottom three teams as of Wednesday, and no team is officially relegated. Bottom-place Eibar earned a hard-fought win over Getafe, giving them desperate hope to stay up. Following two back-to-back 2-0 losses, 19-place Elche is in free fall while 18-place Valladolid was crushed 3-0 by Valencia.
Serie A (Italy)
With Atalanta’s draw with Sassuolo two weeks ago, Inter Milan has mathematically crowned Serie A champions after a genuinely dominant season. Seeing them break Juventus’ nine-title winning streak, much to the delight of their manager, Antonio Conte, who used to coach Juventus. In their first match as champions, Inter smashed Sampdoria 5-1, proving why they are the best team in Italy, then in the midweek, Inter repeated this feat by professionally defeating Roma 3-1.
Below first place, the following few areas were far from guaranteed going into the weekend, with five teams all competing for three Champions League spots. After Lazio meekly lost 2-0 to Fiorentina, they fell out of contention. Conversely, both Napoli and Atalanta convincingly won their two matches during the weekend and midweek, most likely sealing Atalanta’s spot in second place and Napoli in third, though nothing is for sure yet. Though, what is for sure is that the fight for the final Champions League spot will go right to the very end, especially after these past few games.
Milan traveled to Turin to face the reigning champions, Juventus. Milan started the season so well but has since hit a run of bad form leading most to think Juventus would come away with all three points. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth as Milan thoroughly rinsed the Bianconeri 3-0. Despite Franck Kessie missing a penalty, Milan still scored three beautiful unanswered goals from Brahim Diaz, Ante Rebic and Fikayo Tomori. Milan then continued their excellent form by tearing apart another team from Turin, mercilessly crushing Torino 7-0, the biggest win of any team this season in Serie A.
While Juventus currently sit in fifth, they are far from out as they overcame Sassuolo 3-1 in the midweek, meaning they are only one point behind Milan. Coincidently, both Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala reached the 100-goal milestone for Juventus to victory over Sassuolo.
After having poor seasons, both Crotone and Parma have been relegated, and while Benevento still has a chance to survive, it does not look likely as they sit four points behind Spezia, who are just outside the relegation zone.
In the most straightforward title race of Europe’s Top Five leagues, Bayern Munich waltzed to their ninth consecutive Bundesliga trophy, to the surprise of no one. After second-place RB Leipzig lost to fourth-place Borussia Dortmund, it confirmed Bayern’s victory before their match against Borussia Monchengladbach, against which they won 6-0 — Robert Lewandowski coming only one goal away of Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season.
The match between Leipzig and Dortmund was exhilarating to watch, as an Erling Haaland-less Dortmund side went 2-0 following two skillful goals from Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho. Leipzig did not let up, and deep into the second half Lukas Klostermann got one back off a corner before Dani Olmo rolled in the equalizer 10 minutes later. However, with a little over three minutes left, a beautifully worked team goal saw Dortmund steal the win 3-2 after Sancho’s second strike. Despite hovering outside the European qualification zone not long ago, Borussia Dortmund just snuck back into the top four, sitting just one point above fifth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt. Meanwhile, third-place Wolfsburg further protected their spot in the top four after a comfortable 3-0 win over Union Berlin.
At the other end of the table, Schalke 04 were officially relegated last month after having one of the worst ever performances of a Bundesliga team, winning only two of their 32 matches, losing 23, and conceding 82 goals with a -61 goal difference. After their loss to SC Freiburg, FC Koln looks likely to join Schalke in the second division next season while Arminia Bielefeld is in the relegation play-off spot, though they are level on points with Werder Bremen.
Ligue 1 (France)
Unlike England, Italy and Germany, but similar to Spain, the title race in France looks like to comes down to the last day of the season as three teams have a chance of winning the trophy. Despite Paris Saint-Germain starting the season in topsy-turvy form, most thought the reigning champions would eventually get their act together and steamroll all opposition just like seasons past. To everyone’s shock, PSG remained inconsistent while Lyon, Monaco and Lille all mounted serious title challenges. And though Lyon trailed off slightly and Monaco’s title hopes were damaged after a 3-2 loss to the same club, Lille sits in first place, three points ahead of PSG in second.
Lille marched closer to their first Ligue 1 title since 2010/11 after they defeated Lens 3-0, headlined by a match-winning performance from Burak Yilmaz, who has been one of the best players in France this season.
This weekend, the most eye-catching match in France was the confrontation between PSG and seventh-place Rennes, who are fighting for a Europa League qualification spot themselves. PSG started the match on the front foot, taking the lead right before halftime after Neymar Jr. scored a penalty. PSG never really looked like they had complete control of the match as Rennes continued to find themselves in good positions. Their perseverance paid off when Serhou Guirassy scored a powerful header off a corner. Afterward, the momentum swung in Rennes’ favor, seeing them have the majority of chances and PSG’s defender, Presnel Kimpembe, sent off. Rennes were unable to beat Keylor Navas in goal, though, and the match ended 1-1, marginally widening the gap between PSG and Lille.
The struggle for the last Champions League post intensified as well, with both Monaco and Lyon winning their matches, meaning only one point separates them.
In the relegation-survival skirmish, Dijon had already been relegated, capping off a very disappointing season while Nimes look unlikely to escape. By contrast, the relegation play-off spot is up for grabs. Nantes currently occupy the spot, but depending on future results, one of Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Lorient could fall into the play-off position as only two points separate all four teams.
Outside Europe’s Top Five Leagues
Across Europe, outside of the Top Five Leagues, the Portuguese giants, Sporting Lisbon, won their first Primeira Liga title since the 2001/02 season while the Dutch champions Ajax successfully defended their title, winning the Eredivisie. In the Russian Premier League, Zenit Saint Petersburg was crowned champions after a dominant season. In Belgium, Club Brugge, Antwerp, Anderlecht and likely Genk will enter the play-offs to decide the champions. Elsewhere, Red Bull Salzburg won the Austrian Bundesliga, Rangers won the Scottish Premiership, Dynamo Kyiv won the Ukrainian Premier League, and either Besiktas, Galatasaray or Fenerbahce will win the tightly contested Turkish Super Lig.