Another weekend of European football is in the books and, once again, there was drama across the board. Barcelona secured the Spanish title, while Arsenal‘s shock 3-0 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion means that Manchester City has one hand on the Premier League trophy.
Elsewhere, Lionel Messi was given a rough reception by his own fans in Paris, while 22-year-old backup keeper Archie Mair made himself a hero for Notts County.
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ESPN correspondents Mark Ogden, Sam Marsden, James Olley and Julien Laurens break down the most interesting and important stuff you need to know about the weekend.
Barca’s title win soured by angry Espanyol fans
Marsden: For the first time since 2019 and for the 27th time in their history, Barcelona are the champions of Spain. Perhaps more importantly, though, they clinched the first league title of the Xavi Hernandez era with a 4-2 win at local rivals Espanyol on Sunday.
Xavi says winning LaLiga with four games to spare shows their “superiority” over their competitors this season, namely Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. The Barca coach now hopes the experience of that winning feeling will help his core of young players — Gavi, Pedri, Alejandro Balde etc. — take strides forward in Europe next season. That is the next challenge as Barca continue to rebuild after several barren years.
For now, though, Barca will bask in their first league title since Messi left the club, although that did not work out for them too well on Sunday across the city at Espanyol. As the players celebrated in the middle of the pitch at RCDE Stadium, the home supporters took affront to their actions and breached the security ring to chase them down the tunnel.
Xavi admitted his players perhaps slightly over celebrated, although said it can be hard to control your emotions in that moment, while Espanyol coach Luis Garcia condemned the behaviour of his club’s fans. Long after Barca’s players had disappeared, hundreds of supporters remained on the pitch chanting for the Chinese ownership to leave the club. With four games to go, they are four points from safety and in real danger of relegation.
The Premier League title race is all but over
Olley: Arsenal not handled pressure of the title race
James Olley details exactly what has gone wrong for Arsenal as their 3-0 defeat to Brighton effectively hands the Premier League title to Manchester City.
Olley: Manchester City won, Arsenal lost, and the title is heading back to the Etihad. It is not yet mathematically certain but Sunday nevertheless felt like the end of a titanic tussle between the great pretenders (Arsenal) and the proven winners with City’s experience coming to the fore in recent weeks.
Signs that the Gunners were running out of steam temporarily subsided during back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Newcastle United but the mental and physical fatigue of battling a juggernaut caught up with them on Sunday as Brighton thoroughly deserved their 3-0 victory at the Emirates.
It was as if Arsenal’s energy had been sapped by Man City’s facile 3-0 win at Everton earlier in the day. They looked battle-worn, weary and out of ideas as Brighton did to Arsenal what Arsenal have done to so many teams this season: ripping through their defence in a blur of clever passing and inventive movement.
Of course, Arsenal will keep fighting, but lose at Nottingham Forest on Saturday and City are champions. Regardless of whatever the Gunners achieve at Forest, City will win the title if they beat Chelsea next Sunday. Wrapping up the title as early as possible would allow City boss Pep Guardiola greater freedom to rotate with, potentially, a Champions League final to come alongside an FA Cup final against Manchester United on June 3. They have to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday first, but morale could hardly be higher having all but certainly seen off Arsenal’s spirited challenge.
Southampton’s squandered millions
Why Ward-Prowse may stay with relegated Southampton
Janusz Michallik feels Southampton’s relegation from the Premier League doesn’t necessarily mean James Ward-Prowse will leave the club.
Ogden: Southampton were once held up as an example to all medium-sized clubs in the Premier League of how to identify and sign players capable of performing at the highest level. Some of them, such as Sadio Mane, went on to enjoy hugely successful careers elsewhere having ensured a significant profit for Southampton at the same time.
But the club’s relegation from the Premier League, which was confirmed by Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at home to Fulham, came at the end of a season that has seen Saints employ three different managers and see their major signings not only fail, but barely contribute to their disastrous season.
Joe Aribo started just 12 Premier League games after arriving in a £6 million move from Rangers following the Scottish team’s run to the Europa League final last season, while Sam Edozie (£10m) started five games and Juan Larios (£6m) just two after their respective arrivals from Manchester City.
Croatian forward Mislav Orsic was signed for £8m from Dinamo Zagreb in January and has not started a single Premier League game, let alone score a goal. Meanwhile, Ebere Onuachu started just seven games after an £18m move from Genk in January. Duje Caleta-Car has also made a minimal impact since his £8m arrival from Marseille
Kamaldeen Sulemana (£22m) and Gavin Bazunu (£12m) have been successes, but when so many signings fail to perform, you are going to be in trouble and Southampton have paid a heavy price for their dismal recruitment. The question now is whether those players will be good enough to bounce back in the Championship or if they’re actually simply not good enough.
Southampton have wasted a lot of money waiting to find out.
Cheers and jeers for Messi
This PSG fan was showing the people around him who won the World Cup vs. their country 😅 pic.twitter.com/r9IO5Cvima
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 14, 2023
Laurens: Messi made his return for Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend after his suspension, and he was in for a ride from the crowd at the Parc des Princes. Indeed, the Paris fans were clearly divided on which reception to give to the Argentina international. Half of the stands booed him every time he touched the ball and when his name was called. The other half applauded him and tried to cover the whistling. It was a very strange atmosphere.
Some clearly have forgiven Messi for missing training to go to Saudi Arabia and others still feel disrespected. Some are blaming the World Cup winner for wanting to leave at the end of the season. Others welcome his departure after two up and down (more up than down actually) years.
– Laurens: What happened between Messi-PSG, and why he’ll leave
Messi himself didn’t seem too bothered by the half cheers and half jeers. He has not shown much emotion on the pitch since he joined PSG in 2021. On Saturday, he was not very good on the pitch either, despite starting well in the opening 10 minutes. He disappeared after that, and was the first player from the home team to disappear in the tunnel at full-time.
Messi will have one final home game to play at the Parc des Princes this season, and in his career. It will be on Saturday June 3 against Clermont. He is probably not looking forward to it very much.
Abde’s stunner will have many admirers
Marsden: There were good goals and important goals in LaLiga this weekend. Young B team striker Alberto Mari scored a dramatic 88th minute winner at Celta Vigo for Valencia to move three points clear of the relegation zone, while Alex Baena scored a stunning free kick as Villarreal thumped Athletic Club 5-1 to keep their slim Champions League hopes alive.
However, perhaps the best goal was scored by Osasuna‘s Abde Ezzalzouli, who continues to impress on loan from Barcelona. The winger drifted in from the left and ripped the ball into the top corner with his right foot from 18 yards as Osasuna bounced back from last week’s Copa del Rey final defeat to Real Madrid by beating Almeria 3-1.
With four games to go, the Pamplona side are just one point away from the European places, although it is unlikely Abde will still be with them if they do qualify for the Europa Conference League or the Europa League. If Barca don’t take him back, there will be a queue of clubs keen to take him off their hands this summer.
Eze’s double oozes class
Just watch it on repeat, trust us. #CPFC pic.twitter.com/UA4MEmIhvl
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) May 13, 2023
Ogden: Eberechi Eze scored two great goals for Crystal Palace in Saturday’s 2-0 home win against AFC Bournemouth, but it was the second strike which truly showcased the 24-year-old’s ability.
His first, which rounded off a flowing passing move involving Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew, was easy on the eye and an example of how Palace have played with freedom and confidence since Roy Hodgson returned to Selhurst Park as caretaker-manager in March.
But the second was a different level altogether, having been instigated by Michael Olise‘s 10th Premier League assist of the season — only Kevin De Bruyne and Bukayo Saka have registered more. Olise’s 40-yard cross-field pass picked out Eze on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area, but the forward still had plenty to do as he faced up to an array of defenders.
But he attacked the 18-yard box and then unleashed a curling right-foot shot from 20 yards which flew past helpless Cherries keeper Neto. Palace have a truly exciting forward line with Eze, Olise and Zaha and keeping them together will be the priority for whoever is manager next season.
Haller’s sweet back heel
Laurens: Borussia Dortmund destroyed Borussia Monchengladbach 5-2 and Sebastien Haller netted the sweetest back heel possible. Donyell Malen‘s cross from the right-hand side was perfectly hit by Haller with the inside of his right foot behind his standing leg.
It was an outrageous piece of skill to put Dortmund 3-0 up after just 20 minutes. Their superb victory meant that, with two games to go, they stay a point behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race after the league leaders easily beat Schalke 6-0.
Special mention also needs to go to Gael Clichy, the former France, Arsenal and Manchester City left-back now playing for Servette, who scored a ridiculous 40-yard lob against Sion on Saturday.
Teams in trouble
Olley: The fight for survival will be a scrap to the final day of the season and each week one team is looking nervously at the dying of the light more than the rest.
After Nottingham Forest and Leeds United earned a point each against Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, Leicester dropped to 19th place and know a win over Liverpool on Monday would only take them out of the bottom three by a solitary place and a single point. Defeat would leave them staring over their shoulders into the abyss, especially knowing they face high-flying Newcastle away next Monday before hosting West Ham United on the final day.
Leicester have won their last two Premier League home games against Liverpool but Jurgen Klopp’s side are finishing the season strongly as they try to gatecrash the top four, stringing together six consecutive victories. Leicester are feeling the pressure off the field, too, with relegation likely to ask difficult questions of a club that announced the biggest annual loss in its history back in March: £92.5m for the 2021-22 season.
Laurens: At the end of the season, in two games time, Stuttgart and their fans could well look at Sunday’s game against Bayer Leverkusen and think that it’s where things could have turned their way.
Indeed, the 1-1 draw is not a terrible result on paper against a team like Bayer, but it means that the VfB stay 17th in the table and one point behind Schalke in the playoff position. It could have been different had Josha Vagnoman, the young full-back, scored the huge chance he had 15 minutes from time. Alas, his header in the six-yard box somehow went wide and his team will rue his miss massively.
With a win, Stuttgart would have climbed up to 15th ahead of Bochum on goal difference. Now they only have two games to save their lives in the Bundesliga, against Mainz and Hoffenheim. If they can’t turn things around, they will go back to the second division after three seasons in the top-flight.
Mair claims place in Notts County history
Ogden: You’ve probably never heard of Archie Mair, but no player anywhere in Europe made a bigger impact this weekend than Notts County’s second-choice goalkeeper.
Anyone who has followed Wrexham‘s story of promotion from the National League this season will know all about Notts County, though. The oldest football team in the world — formed in 1862 — pushed Wrexham all the way to the wire in the race to go up to the English Football League (EFL) by amassing 107 points to finish second during the regular season.
County’s near miss prompted Wrexham owner Ryan Reynolds to call for more promotion spots at the same time as backing the Magpies to go up via the playoffs.
But in a dramatic final against Chesterfield at Wembley, County went behind twice before finding an equaliser to first take the game to extra-time and then a penalty shootout.
And it is the shootout that turned 22-year-old Mair into a hero, with County manager Luke Williams replacing first-choice keeper Sam Slocombe — who had never saved a penalty for County since arriving in 2019 — on 118 minutes in order for Mair, on loan from Championship team Norwich City, to face Chesterfield’s spot-kicks.
It was an inspired substitution with the Scotland Under-21 keeper producing stunning saves from Darren Oldaker and Jeff King to enable County to win 4-3 on penalties and seal a return to the EFL for the first time since relegation four years ago.
Mair was booked during the shootout for his attempts at distracting the Chesterfield penalty takers, but it was his ability which made all the difference and earned congratulatory tweets for Country from Reynolds and Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney.