EUROPE IN A NUTSHELL. France was a three-team race for much of the season but Marseille’s 5-3 loss at home to Lorient on Friday was its fourth-straight defeat, and Marcelo Bielsa’s club is now fifth, five points behind AS Monaco, which is third, and poised to qualify for the Champions League once more.
Lyon regained the top spot on Sunday with a 4-2 win at Stade Reims; 23-year-old French international Alexandre Lacazette scored his 26th goal, eight more than any other player in Ligue 1. Paris Saint-Germain is level with Lyon, but second on goal differential, even after Saturday’s 6-1 home win over Lille, where a suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic watched a hat trick from Ezequiel Lavezzi and two goals from Edinson Cavani. French clubs have four league games remaining, unfortunately for Lyon -- PSG owns a game in hand, coming Tuesday, against 19th-place Metz in Paris.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique said Saturday’s first half --- which included goals from Neymar and Leo Messi in a 2-0 win at Espanyol during the Catalan derby -- was Barca’s best in recent memory. Jordi Alba did get successive yellows in the 54th minute, while Xavi came on in the 88th to make his 500th Liga appearance for the club where he started at just 11 years old, and made his league debut in 1998. Neymar’s opening goal shows Barca’s chemistry in 2015, the club is at its best when players are passing up good shots or positions for better ones, and a dummy inside the box from your latest star, Luis Suarez, certainly qualifies.
There are a few ways to look at Madrid’s 4-2 come from behind win at Celta Vigo: injuries are taking their toll; Madrid has shown a lot of character this week; getting two more goals from Javier Hernandez bodes well as a starter or substitute; seeing Cristiano Ronaldo attempt his fewest shots, three, in a game since March 7 must make Carlo Ancelotti wish he could rest his superstar -- or perhaps, all of the above?
Stat of the week: Luca Toni tied for second in Serie A last season with 20 goals, at age 36. Toni scored twice after halftime on Sunday for Verona, which beat Sassuolo 3-2 at home with 10 men, giving him 11 goals in his last 11 games, and the 37-year-old World Cup winner now has 17 goals on the season, tied with Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan, and just one behind Carlos Tevez’s 18, for Serie A’s top scorer.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TIDBITS. Defending champion Real Madrid plays Juventus; the first semifinal leg will be in Italy on Tuesday, May 5. Barcelona faces Bayern Munich the next day at the Camp Nou. We’ll take a deeper look into these sumptuous UCL semifinals full of stars and storylines next week. For now, a few tidbits.
1. The first leg of the semifinals will be the 10th game played in approximately one month for all four teams (since returning from the international break on April 4), and none of these clubs has had, or will have, a weekend off or midweek break during that time, with both Spanish clubs still battling on two fronts at once.
2. Talk about your goalkeeping credentials. Beginning in 2003, Juve’s Gianluggi Buffon was named the World’s Best Goalkeeper by IFHHS four times in five years, Iker Casillas, now 33, earned that same title at Real Madrid the five-years straight after that, while 29-year-old Manuel Neuer has won the two awards since then at Bayern Munich. Buffon was still rated fourth in the world last year, at 37 years old, but Casillas was no longer ranked. (Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, Madrid’s backup keeper, was ranked third last year).
3. Barca is the only club without significant injury concerns, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said he hopes to have Paul Pogba back for the second leg, he should, as Juve’s roster boasts few other dynamic athletes. Juve lost the Turin derby for the first time since 1995 on Sunday, 2-1. There was violence in the stands at Torino, on both sides, and Juve’s bus was attacked before the game -- but why would you want to see any of that when you can watch Andrea Pirlo do this?
BAYERN CLINCHES WHILE WORLD WATCHES EPL. I’m the worst kind of soccer hypocrite, the one who bashes the Premier League at every opportunity, while watching every minute of it. I’ve spent countless hours collecting convenient statistics in efforts to disprove EPL claims of superiority or competitiveness, perhaps its penance, for watching so much of this league I loathe loving, and love loathing.
In an era when things happen instantly, ESPNFC’s website made no mention of Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title on Sunday for over 45 minutes. Actually, that’s not true, there was a video way down at at the bottom almost immediately, one filmed on Saturday, where Craig Burley skipped right past congratulations and accused the Bundesliga of being a “one-team league,” which is true, especially now that Bayern finally caught Manchester United -- as both clubs now have 13 titles in the Premier League Era (while no other EPL team is within 10 titles of United).
Premier League titles since 1992-93: United 13, Chelsea 3, Arsenal 3, Manchester City 2, Blackburn 1.
Bundesliga titles in the EPL era: Bayern Munich 13, Borussia Dortmund 5, Werder Bremen 2, VFB Stuttgart 1, FC Kaiserslautern 1, Wolfsburg 1.
La Liga titles in the EPL era: Barcelona 10, Real Madrid 7, Valencia 2, Atletico Madrid 2, Deportivo 1.
Serie A titles in the EPL era: Juventus 8, AC Milan 6, Inter Milan 5, Lazio 1, AS Roma 1, (2004-05 title not awarded).
The EPL has subtly shifted its claim from "best" to "most competitive" league (which may imply away games at Sunderland are rough sledding), but since Blackburn won the 1995 EPL title, every single Premier League trophy has been claimed by one of just four teams in only two cities, Manchester or London, making "the world's most competitive league" the one with the fewest cities and fewest clubs to get their hands on its title since 1995.
Number of different clubs that have won titles in since 1995: France 10 different teams, Germany 6 teams, Spain 5 teams, Italy 5 teams -- but only four different teams have won the EPL since 1995.
What about recent history or fresh blood?
This will be the 12th-straight season that Chelsea, Manchester City or United wins the EPL.
Most recent first-time champion: Ligue 1 2011-12 (Montpellier), Bundesliga 2008-09 (Wolfsburg), La Liga 1999-2000 (Deportivo), Serie A 1990-91 (Sampdoria) and the EPL 1977-78 (Nottingham Forest).
This season? The EPL had no Champions League quarterfinalists in for the second time in three years, every other top league was represented, and the Bundesliga put a record four teams in the round of 16.
What does it all mean? Isn’t it obvious?
That I, like you, was up early on Sunday and hoping to hear people who invented the English language invoke 13 different pronunciations of the word "brilliant" while giving the smirk-by-smirk on Jose Mourinho’s Machiavellian need to prove Arsene Wenger is a specialist in failure, all prior to watching his captain, John Terry, celebrate a scoreless draw in London between Chelsea and Arsenal, a result of almost no consequence, as if he were a fraternity brother in the deep south enjoying free beer after a crucial college football victory.
Oh, and by the way, Bayern Munich won its 25th Bundesliga title on Sunday with a little help from rival Borussia Monchengladbach, which beat Wolfsburg last, 1-0.
Bayern actually has a huge game on Tuesday, hosting Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup semifinals, which also represents Juergen Klopp’s last chance to claim another major scalp while still at BVB, and you wouldn’t expect him to go quietly.
Now, back to the EPL, which was nice enough to name its PFA team and PFA Player of Year Eden Hazard on Sunday, a worthy winner, he joins five other Chelsea teammates in the final 11, and Harry Kane, who won Young Player of the Year.
PROMOTION IN THE 21ST CENTURY. Mexican defender Miguel Layun made the unusual move from Liga MX to the English Championship earlier this year, joining Watford from Club America, and helping his new team to the brink of EPL promotion. Watford won Saturday’s early game, which is how the Mexican international came to post a video of him surrounded by all of his teammates on Watford’s bus in England, after hearing results which could, and did, see Watford gain promotion to next season’s EPL -- as pandemonium ensues.
Layun, who has over a million twitter followers, posted these moments of madness, with the message, ‘Thank God, once more I can say that it’s not just soccer!"