Well, well, well … that was quite the weekend? On Saturday, we had final day drama in the German Bundesliga as Borussia Dortmund let the title slip away and allowed Bayern Munich to claim a remarkable 11th straight title. Then, on Sunday, we had the last day of the 2022-23 Premier League season, with Everton escaping relegation and Aston Villa clinching a spot in the UEFA Europa Conference League at Tottenham’s expense.
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It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.
Dortmund self-destruct to throw away Bundesliga, but Bayern aren’t resting on laurels
What sets you apart is how you react. And no, I’m not just talking about Borussia Dortmund’s meltdown that handed Bayern their 11th consecutive Bundesliga title on the final day of the 2022-23 season. I’m talking just as much about how Bayern reacted to the season, firing sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and chief executive Oliver Kahn despite winning the league. (More on them in a minute.)
You have to start with Dortmund. Going into the final day on Saturday, at home to Mainz, they had a two-point lead over Bayern, which meant all they had to do was match or beat Bayern’s result away to Koln. A win would guarantee Dortmund the title, and this was a Mainz side that was in free fall. Yes, they were midtable, but they had also lost four consecutive games, conceding three or more goals in each of them.
You probably know what happened next. Andre Hanche-Olsen beat everybody at the near post to give Mainz the lead. Sebastian Haller missed the penalty that would have levelled the score and restored some semblance of normality. Some of the worst marking you’ll ever see allowed Karim Onisiwo to put Mainz up 2-0 and maybe, that’s when the demons surfaced in the Dortmund heads.
At that stage, a superb Kingsley Coman goal had given Bayern the lead at Koln. Dortmund were chasing. Again. It’s not that they didn’t try — they would end up with 29 shots on goal, 10 of them on target, and an Expected Goals of 3.78 — but that nothing seemed to work. Having failed with their defending, the finishing was messing with their heads. Still, they huffed and they puffed and pulled one back with Raphael Guerreiro and because life is cruel, they got a lifeline from Koln when Dejan Ljubicic equalised for the home team, nine minutes from time.
It meant that they were back in the driver’s seat, they were champions…
… and it lasted all of seven minutes, until Jamal Musiala‘s darting run and finish put Bayern ahead 2-1 on the day and gave them 71 points to Dortmund’s 70 in the table.
Nicklas Sule’s late, late goal gave Dortmund the draw and the most pointless point in their history. It enabled them to finish level on points with Bayern, but it was totally meaningless, given the Bavarians held the goal difference tie-breaker. (By the way, assigning titles on tiebreakers like goal difference or head-to-head results is nonsensical, but it’s been done that way for so long that folks come up with the silliest reasons to justify it.)
It’s going to take a long time for Dortmund to undo the psychological damage. Few things hurt you more than living up to your stereotypes as a flimsy, mentally weak club that crumble when it matters most.
If they’re honest with themselves, Borussia Dortmund will know that they are probably an inferior team to Bayern. But they’ll also know that the run they put together after the World Cup showed the sort of resilience they possess. That’s what they need to build on, rather than dwelling on Saturday. Jude Bellingham will likely be on his way out this summer, but his transfer fee can offer the launchpad for this team to come back stronger next season, even without him, and truly compete for the title. But for that to happen, they need to heal first.
Terzić: ‘We were 90 minutes away, now we’re 34 games away’
Borussia Dortmund manager reflects on his team failing to win the title on the final day of the Bundesliga season.
As for Bayern, this is their lowest points total in twelve years. The title won’t change that and, more importantly, neither will the awareness of how badly they screwed up when they sacked Julian Nagelsmann just before April Fools’ Day and brought in Thomas Tuchel. As we’ve said and written before, it’s not necessarily the change — Tuchel is a fine coach, though I would have persevered with Nagelsmann — but the way it came to pass, the timing of it and the way it burdened Tuchel with additional pressure and no time to work. It’s a credit to the club that they had the courage to own the mistake.
The sackings of Salihamidzic and chief executive Oliver Kahn may seem ruthless and perhaps politically motivated (Uli Hoeness is still behind the scenes, pulling strings), but it shows that the club is fully aware of the mess they created, and they’re taking steps to remedy it. That’s big club mentality and that’s responsible stewardship: not hiding behind silverware to pretend nothing is wrong.
With Dortmund and RB Leipzig, Bayern’s most serious domestic rivals, probably losing their star players this summer (Bellingham and Christopher Nkunku, who is off to Chelsea), they’re obvious favourites for next season, too, but Tuchel knows that’s not enough. There is a ton of work to be done. And he’ll need to do it without the people who gave him his job, because they’re also the people who got the club into this mess.
PSG finally win the title, but it’s all about Mbappe’s future
It’s extraordinary to think that, out of the Big Five European leagues, Paris Saint-Germain were the last club to secure their title. They backed into it, too, the arithmetic finally coming together Saturday night in the 1-1 draw away to Strasbourg. Given how the season unfolded and the changes to come — Christophe Galtier? Gone. Lionel Messi? Gone. Neymar? Gone, if PSG find someone who’ll take him. The Qatari owners? Officially staying, but given the spending and the World Cup project come and gone … who knows? — it was probably the most underwhelming title celebration in recent history.
Kylian Mbappe, on the other hand, said he’s going to play for PSG next year because he has another year left on his contract. Maybe he didn’t mean it this way, but it sounded like when you were a kid if you said, “Yes, Mom, I’m going to church on Sunday because if I don’t, you’re cutting my allowance.” Hardly a ringing endorsement, though you appreciate his honesty.
Needless to say, Mbappe’s future will be the biggest distraction for the club next year. It may end up like last time — with him signing a massive new deal — but it does feel as if he’s ready to move on. And if that’s the case, you wonder if maybe PSG wouldn’t be better off cashing in now and beginning the rebuild straight away, with the funds raised by a Mbappe move, rather than getting zero from his departure in a year’s time.
Xhaka says farewell as Arsenal thrash Wolves
It was the best way to say goodbye to the Emirates until August, with a fun and straightforward 5-0 win over Wolves. And Granit Xhaka‘s two goals to cap it off led to some emotional farewells, as he’s poised to join Bayer Leverkusen next season.
It’s one of those moves that isn’t entirely clear to me. Xhaka had his ups and downs with Arsenal, but this was probably the best of his seven seasons at the club. He had a year left on his contract and I assume Arsenal weren’t offering him a new one (or, at least, the sort of new deal he’d want). So he picks up and goes to Bayer Leverkusen on a four-year deal. Sure, job security and all that, plus he gets to play for Xabi Alonso (at least for a year). But it also means no Champions League, not being a part of this new Arsenal chapter and, well, swapping London for Leverkusen (no offense).
My hunch is it’s not (entirely) about money. Mikel Arteta probably told him that with Jorginho (31), Thomas Partey (30 next month) and Xhaka (31 in September), they’d probably be bringing in some younger midfielders and maybe he would have to compete for playing time in a way hasn’t had to do this year. Either way, it feels like a loss.
Milan clinch Champions League spot, but Juve’s future still murky
A fine Olivier Giroud header gave Milan a 1-0 victory away to Juventus that seals their place in the Champions League next season. It was a campaign of ups and downs for the Rossoneri — the positives include the run to the Champions League semifinal, negatives include a season that will see them finish nearly 20 points off their mark last year — and if they’re clever about it, they’ll learn from their missteps. But another year of Champions League cash (and the new deal for Rafael Leao) suggest they can look ahead with some optimism.
As for Juventus, there’s not much more to add. It was a wretched campaign on the pitch (let’s not forget the Champions League group stage elimination) and off it (witness the points penalty and the various legal proceeding against them). The one bright spot is the youngsters who got on the pitch and contributed.
However, it’s galling to hear Max Allegri talk about how he knew he wasn’t coming to Juve to win trophies, but rather engage in a rebuild. The reality is that he took over a squad that finished one point out of second place the year before and added the likes of Dusan Vlahovic, Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria and Manuel Locatelli, while maintaining (by some distance) the highest wage bill in Serie A.
Man United beat Fulham as Ten Hag sets target for Rashford
It was a meaningless game in the end, but it’s still nice to conclude the league season with a win, especially on a day when you’re resting players ahead of the FA Cup final. Sunday’s 2-1 win over Fulham also sealed Manchester United‘s third place in the table and their second highest points total since the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
I was struck, though, by Erik Ten Hag saying Marcus Rashford, whose seasonal tally is 30 goals, is capable of scoring 40 goals in a season. I’m sure he probably is, but if he ends up scoring 40 goals it will likely mean United have not added an A-list center-forward and that’s something that, I think, most agree must be an absolute priority.
Barcelona rolled over Mallorca 3-0 this weekend in what was classic late-season fare. The Camp Nou gave their tribute to Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets as they celebrated their farewells, and there was a certain symbolism in the goal scorers: Gavi and Ansu Fati, who bagged two.
The latter’s situation is particularly emblematic. He’s still only 20, yet has been a household name since making his debut at 16. Several years of injuries have slowed him down and, right now, he’s not in Xavi’s best XI. Not long ago, he was the most hyped kid in town; now it’s unclear whether he’ll stay, if only because Barca need to balance the books (again) and he has a massive upside.
I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him in a Barca shirt at the Camp Nou.
It’s easy to get somewhat overlooked when you share the stage with the reigning Ballon d’Or (Karim Benzema) and arguably LaLiga’s biggest star (Vinicius). Especially when, often, you end up on the bench in favour of an extra midfielder like Fede Valverde. But Rodrygo’s two goals in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Sevilla took his seasonal total to 19, which is not a bad return when you’re 22 and the third option up front.
He’s not clinical like Benzema and he’s not explosive like Vinicius, but he’s growing as a player and, given the number of times he has popped up with big goals, might well have been Madrid’s most important player this season, other than Thibaut Courtois.
Kane’s numbers are eye-popping on a poor Tottenham team
Harry Kane‘s two goals in Tottenham Hotspur‘s 4-1 victory over Leeds United mean he has hit the 30-goal mark in the league for the second time in his career. In the Premier League era, only Alan Shearer has done it more than once (he did it on three occasions). Kane started every Premier League game this season and you can even make an argument — like my “Gab + Juls Show” colleague, Julien Laurens, does — that his feat is more impressive than Erling Haaland‘s 36 goals.
Why? Well, Haaland has a much better supporting cast, much better service and a much better coach. It’s easier to score goals in a good team and Manchester City are very good. I’m not going quite that far, but Kane’s year in, year out brilliance is sometimes taken for granted. You shudder to think how much lower than seventh they would have finished without him.
Brentford end a bright season with a double over Manchester City
It may end up as some sort of trivia question if Manchester City end up doing the treble (or even if they don’t). Brentford’s 1-0 victory over Pep Guardiola’s crew means they have beaten the champions home and away this season (they won 2-1 at the Etihad in the last game before the World Cup).
With an FA Cup final and a Champions League final in the next two weeks, Guardiola ended up resting a bunch of his regulars. Brentford, with nothing to play for but pride, went head to head with them and Ethan Pinnock‘s late goal made all the difference.
The win does nothing to change Brentford’s season and it does even less for City’s. But, hey, that’s what you get on the final day of the campaign: games and results that sometimes don’t matter at all.
Final day follies for Liverpool in wild draw at Southampton
Continuing on the meaningless final day theme, you often either get dull, low-key affairs or you get swashbuckling free-for-alls. Liverpool’s trip to Southampton was the latter. Liverpool went 2-0 up against their already relegated opponents, before conceding four unanswered goals to go 4-2 down. Then, two goals in a little over a minute from Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota set the final scoreline at 4-4.
Entertaining? Some of it, especially Kamaldeen Sulemana‘s backflips. Meaningful? Nope. Enjoyable? Well, I’m with Jurgen Klopp on this one. “No.”
Roll on 2023-24.
Lukaku hitting stride at the right time as Inter down Atalanta
He opened the scoring inside a minute and then delivered a gorgeous assist for Lautaro Martinez late in the game as Inter ran out 3-2 winners. Romelu Lukaku is fit and he’s sharp and he’s playing about as well as he has in the past few years.
Through injuries and poor form, Lukaku has endured a nightmarish season (and a nightmarish World Cup), but that’s the thing about football. He can write his own script in Istanbul, in the Champions League final. What many of us took for granted — that Edin Dzeko would start for Inter against Manchester City — doesn’t look so certain anymore.
Pochettino signs for Chelsea as they draw with Newcastle… but why was it so drawn out?
What would success look like for Pochettino at Chelsea?
James Olley expects massive changes in Chelsea next season and lays out what a successful season would look like.
Somebody is going to have to explain this to me one day.
We’ve heard for weeks now that Mauricio Pochettino had committed to be Chelsea’s next manager. And then, over the weekend, we finally heard that he had actually signed… except the official announcement only came on Monday.
Why? Pochettino was unemployed, meaning there was no reason to hold off. No, it wouldn’t have hurt Frank Lampard’s feelings or undermined him as a coach: he was always in an interim role, Chelsea had nothing to play for and, in any case, he’s a big boy. And it might have given Chelsea a lift if they had announced it at Stamford Bridge for the visit of Newcastle, who ended up sharing the spoils, 1-1, while confirming that they’re an actual team, not a Panini sticker jumble of players.
Osimhen gets two more goals, but Napoli confirm Spalletti is gone
Why is Luciano Spalletti stepping down as Napoli manager?
Gab Marcotti explains why the Serie A-title-winning-manager is taking a sabbatical at the end of the season from coaching Napoli.
Yup, the previously unthinkable (and still, frankly, weird) has transpired. Barring an improbable change of heart from two of the most stubborn men in football, Napoli’s home game against Sampdoria next weekend will be Luciano Spalletti’s last as coach of the Serie A champions. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis confirmed that Spalletti asked for “a sabbatical” and won’t return next season.
Some say a “cycle” of success is over, though I hope not. Partly because it didn’t last very long and partly because it would be a shame to dismantle Spalletti’s masterpiece so quickly. Sure: defender Min-Jae Kim is on his way out and forward Victor Osimhen (who scored twice against Bologna taking his league total to 25) may follow at some point. But if there’s a club that has proved that stars can be replaced, it’s Napoli. The question is whether they can effectively replace Spalletti too.