As the domestic leagues are wrapping up a long season to make way for the World Cup, there was no shortage of highlights this past week as Chelsea, Bayern, Marseille and Benfica sealed their respective league titles. Barcelona passed its toughest remaining test, while minnows Argentinos Juniors took the Clausura lead in the most dramatic fashion and are now one win away from being champions of Argentina. No celebration for Inter yet as Roma came from behind to salvage its Serie A title hopes, leaving everything to be decided on Sunday.
Predictably, Chelsea completed a formality against Wigan on the way to lifting the Premiership trophy for the first time in three years, giving the Ancelotti era a positive beginning despite the Champions League crash. The side story of the match was Drogba’s visible tiff after Lampard refused to let him take the first penalty. At that moment Drogba was tied with Rooney as the Premiership top scorer with 26 goals. Drogba expressed his displeasure on the field and at halftime, before being admonished by Ancelotti. In the end he scored three in the second half and everything turned out well for club and player, so the story was really blown out of proportion. But it was understandable both why he wanted to take the penalty and why Lampard, correctly, did not relinquish the responsibility.
For its part, Man United has an interesting off-season ahead with protests against the club’s ownership set to continue on both sides of the Atlantic. Sir Alex is still devastated by what he referred to as the “nightmare week” spanning the two Bayern games, Rooney’s injury and the decisive Chelsea match at Old Trafford. What became clear this season is that Nani and Berbatov are insufficient complements for even an extraordinary Rooney. United need to bring in a central defender, a couple of playmaking midfielders and a scoring machine like Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, a target for which they will have plenty of competition.
Arsenal finished the season on an up note, another good looking third place finish for a club that will surely get stronger and have Robin van Persie back. Already Chamakh from Bordeaux is already lined up and word is Italy goal-keeper Gian-Luigi Buffon is intrigued by a move to Arsenal, the only matter remaining is two very thrifty sides coming to an agreement. Otherwise, Arsenal may let go Eboue and Niclas Bendtner, but most of the pieces to the puzzle are there, assuming Fabregas stays too. Meanwhile, Man City has no real future with Mancini at the helm an would be wise to try to lure someone like Fulham’s Roy Hodgson to take over. The Man City players do not enjoy Mancini’s style, the situation was evident on several occasions. Aston Villa has gone as far as it can with the resources at disposal, another great season for Martin O’Neill who is set to meet with Villa American owner about the transfer budget. Finally, for Liverpool there is no clear solution and Rafa may end up staying simply because there are no suitable alternatives. Liverpool has a lot of talented players still, three or four great additions would suffice. But the players must play much more consistently and Rafa himself also must perform much better.
The match of the week in Spain took place in Sevilla where Barca faced its greatest challenge on the way to another La Liga title. Barca, again under Xavi’s direction, performed like Swiss clockwork for the first hour of the match and built a 3-0 lead, only to lose concentration and in a span of a few minutes Sevilla pulled back two goals with twenty minutes left. Barca showed its character though and resumed control of the match to take all three precious points and practically put the champagne on ice. The Catalans are at home against Valladollid in the last round, while Madrid, who trounced Athletic Bilbao in the second half at the Bernabeu, must travel to Malaga, not an easy away match. Sevilla is still in the fourth and final Champions league spot, but must now win at Almeria to prevent Mallorca from leap-frogging them.
Benfica clinched its first Portuguese title in five years, a long wait for the big Lisbon club lead by Brazilian Luisao and in-form Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo. A tip of the hat to second placed Braga, a small club that will have the chance o compete in the Champions league next season. Porto finished a respectable third, while Sporting Lisbon endured a miserable campaign and finished almost 30 points off the lead in fourth. In Germany, Bayern celebrated the Bundesliga title in Berlin with a comfortable victory over relegated Hertha, while Schalke will have to be content with second place and an automatic Champions League berth. Werder Bremen also finished the season well to seal the qualifier CL spot. Leverkusen, Dortmund and Stuttgart will play in the Europa League, but Hamburg’s season ended with nothing to show for. St. Pauli and Kaiserslautern are coming back up next season in the Bundesliga.
Fresh off the Champions League and Italian Cup highs, for a little while Inter felt the Scudetto was also theirs on Sunday, up 4-1 against Chievo and with Cagliari even or winning in Rome. The celebrations were premature, of course. First, Chievo cut the lead to 4-3 to deliver an anxious final quarter of an hour at San Siro, then Roma hit twice in the last 12 minutes to take the three points – deservedly – and maintain the pressure on Inter. Roma are away at Chievo, Inter at relegated Siena on the final day. The other great encounter of the round took place in Sicily, a direct clash for the fourth and final Champions League spot between Palermo and Sampdoria. The draw means that Palermo still has a chance with a win in the last round and a Napoli win in Genova. At the other end of the table, Bologna, Catania, Lazio and now Cagliari will fight to avoid the last relegation place.
Finally, an incredible match in Buenos Aires on Sunday. Trailing leaders Estudiantes by one point and trailing Independiente 3-1 in the 65th minute at home, with its championship hopes seemingly extinguished, Argentinos Juniors put on a miraculous comeback to win the match 4-3 deep into injury time and claim control of its title destiny. Argentinos, Diego Maradona’s first club, can become Argentine champions with a win away at Huracan next week-end. Estudiantes could only manage a draw at home against Rosario Central, playing a man short for most of the match after the elimination of its mercurial captain Juan Sebastian Veron. It was a costly slip-up for Estudiantes who must now travel to Porto Alegre to take on Internacional in a mid-week Copa Libertadores tie, then travel to Santa Fe in a must win situation against Colon. River’s revival under Angel Cappa is taking hold, the Millionarios were 3-0 winners at Racing Club. Boca and San Lorenzo, on the other hand, continued their terrible campaigns.