From Amsterdam to Australia, domestic leagues are coming towards the business end. Perth Glory and Ajax both took giant steps towards victory this weekend; in the Premier League, meanwhile, Manchester City were crowned champions on the final day.
The permutations going into the final day in the Premier League were simple.
If City dropped points, Liverpool would take the title with a win over Wolves. A victory for Guardiola’s men, however, would confirm retention of their crown.
A winning run stretching back thirteen games gave little reason to doubt City – for one short minute, however, it looked as though they could throw it all away.
After a lacklustre start, some lax marking on a corner saw Glenn Murray get free at the near post and head home; the cheer at Anfield was almost as big as the one at the Amex, but the excitement did not last long.
Sergio Aguero restored parity almost immediately, before Aymeric Laporte gave them the all-important lead before the break. Two excellent goals from Mahrez and Gundogan sealed the deal in style in the second half – Liverpool’s 2-0 victory ultimately proved meaningless.
It left them with a tally of 97 points; it remains to be seen whether this is merely an outlier or whether this campaign represents a new normal for the league, but it is frankly staggering for the third-highest points tally in the Premier League era did not prove enough for the title.
Both sides have been a credit to themselves and to the competition: there is no reason to think that they will not continue to provide enthralling football in the next campaign.
Before they can think about this, Liverpool have the small matter of a Champions League final to consider. City, meanwhile, will look to complete a domestic treble next weekend when they face off against Watford in the FA Cup.
City’s football project has not yet established such dominance on the other side of the world; Melbourne City, part of the same umbrella group, failed to make the top four in the A-League regular season.
They thus played no part in this weekend’s semi-finals – it was ultimately first and second from the regular season who advanced.
Table-toppers Perth Glory had to fight hard to book their spot in a home final; they were tied 3-3 with Adelaide United after extra time, but triumphed 5-4 in an intense shootout. Goalkeeper Liam Reddy was the hero, not only making four saves but converting his own spot kick.
Sydney FC’s qualification was rather more routine, earned via a 6-1 win over Melbourne FC. Former Reading striker Adam le Fondre helped them on their way with a brace. He and the team have hit top form at just the right time, and despite being the visitors may well fancy themselves for the final.
Ajax faced semi-final heartbreak of their own when they were eliminated from the Champions League in the dying moments by Tottenham Hotspur – they bounced back strongly this weekend, however, beating Utrecht 4-1 to all-but-clinch the Eredivisie title.
They responded well after going behind to the visitors within a minute; they were ahead by half-time, and a Dusan Tadic brace wrapped things up in the second half.
This was made all the more significant by PSV’s 1-0 defeat to AZ Alkmaar: the two giants of Dutch football have been matching each other all season, but the loss means Ajax now lead by three points going into the final day.
Barring a remarkable turn of events in which a 14-goal swing in goal difference occurs, the trophy will be heading to the Johann Cruyff Arena.
This is in addition to the Dutch Cup already secured – the domestic double represents a great achievement for this exciting young Ajax side, who have ensured they will go down in club folklore even despite the ultimate disappointment in Europe.
Red Bull Don’t Give You Wins
The Bundesliga would also have been a foregone conclusion going into the final day had Bayern Munich managed to get a result at RB Leipzig this weekend.
Borussia Dortmund earned a scrappy 3-2 triumph against Fortuna Dusseldorf to keep their chances mathematically alive, but victory for the Bavarians would have established an unassailable 4-point lead.
It looked as though they had managed it when Leon Goretzka put the ball in the back of the net, but VAR controversially ruled the goal out for an offside against Lewandowski.
Despite their best efforts they could not break the deadlock, and the match ended scoreless.
This means the lead stands at two going into the final weekend in Germany: Bayern are still heavy favourites, particularly given that Dortmund have a very tough game at Borussia Monchengladbach, but stranger things have happened. Eintracht Frankfurt very nearly beat Chelsea in midweek, and will certainly provide Kovac’s side with stiff opposition – they have strong motivation in the form of a potential Champions League spot, although Dortmund’s opponents are fighting for the same prize.
The various permutations should make for a fascinating last day.