It was the weekend when Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter Milan were crowned champions of their respective leagues. And there were some major results at the bottom of the Premier League table as well as in the French and German title races.
In keeping with the rest of the season, United did just enough to secure the Premier League title on Saturday. Without dominating the ball or the game, the home side rarely looked troubled thanks to a secure backline and calm goalkeeper. The Premier League champions even looked a little more likely to score on the attack with Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo all going close throughout the match.
The defensive resilience of this United side was the key to their third successive Premier League title and nowhere is this better illustrated than Wayne Rooney. The England striker worked his socks off on Saturday lunchtime and was more often an auxillary full back, blocking off the runs of Bacary Sagna. (It will be intriguing to see where Rooney plays in the Champions League final with Dani Alves suspended.)
Whilst this is undoubtedly United’s strongest squad, the man who brought it all together and continues to look forward, should take much of the credit. Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 11 titles in 17 seasons is unlikely to ever be surpassed and his ability to switch players and keep them fresh is as important as the squad itself.
Following the match Ferguson said he could have picked two teams for the game on Saturday and at times his options are incredible. Thirty million pound striker Dimitar Berbatov didn’t play a minute on Saturday and it seems likely that Fergie really is willing to let Carlos Tevez leave since he should be able to replace the Argentinean in the summer.
The question now is whether the rest of the Premier League can prevent a fourth successive title in a row. Ferguson doesn’t seem to have lost his appetite and many of the current side have time on their side. With number 19 in sight, next season could be another titanic struggle between United and a more savvy Liverpool.
The Dutchman has done such a good job that Florent Malouda now looks like an international winger and Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba have proven that they can play together. Hiddink is the perfect manager for Chelsea, too bad they can’t keep him.
Chelsea are 5/6 to win the FA Cup, odds here.
The Tigers now have it all in their own hands after putting in a battling display at Bolton. Hull need to take their chances next week against what will likely be a second string Manchester United side. After next week Craig Fagan’s goal could be worth around 60 million pounds.
Hull are 6/4 to be relegated, odds here.
The Merseyside giants put in another energetic display full of defensive resilience and attacking vigour and have still not conceded to West Brom in the Premier League. They have now achieved their highest total points since 1997/1998 and also scored their most ever in a campaign.
In short, it has been the most successful unsuccessful season for Liverpool.
Liverpool are 11/4 to win the Premier League next season, odds here
They passed and they passed and they passed again at Old Trafford on Saturday and at times it was difficult to know who was a point away from the title. But, Arsene Wenger’s side had no cutting edge and when United did go forward they looked more likely to score.
The Frenchman has some serious tweaking to do this summer, but the basis of a great side is there.
Roy Hodgson’s side have been on a great run late on in the season and once again proved their passing quality and defensive resilience at St. James’ Park. Hodgson should receive special praise for continuing with the strike force of Nevland and Kamara, who combined for the goal, even though Zamora and Johnson were fit to start. And, Mark Schwarzer proved on Saturday, yet again, what a great signing he was.
The Cottagers now need just a point at home to Everton next week, unless Spurs score five at Anfield, to secure a well deserved place in Europe.
The fact that Spurs are even fighting for a Europa League place on the final day of the season is testament to the job Harry “two points from eight games” Redknapp has done. Tottenham should have been three or four goals up on Saturday with Tom Huddlestone and Jermain Defoe in fine fettle.
In the end City hit back and Spurs were somewhat fortunate to gain a late penalty through Frazier Campbell’s tumble in the box. (Tottenham fans will point to Howard Webb’s error at Old Trafford being evened up here.)Â Although still possible, Redknapp’s side are unlikely to finish either seventh or ninth and eighth is a fine finish after a disastrous start to the campaign.
The Toffees are now in pole position to finish fifth in the league and are picking up form again with the FA Cup final on the horizon.
With the cut off line to stay up this season at no more than 37 points, Tony Pulis’ side are now eight points clear with a game remaining. If they can bring in some additions in the summer and continue the vociferous supportÂ at the Britannia, there is no doubt Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie can continue scoring goals during the tricky second season in the Prem.
Edin Dzeko, Grafite & Wolfsburg
Thanks to their 5-0 win at Hannover, Wolfsburg need to win at home to Werder Bremen on the final day of the season to ensure they claim their first ever Bundesliga crown. A glance at the top goal scorers list of the Bundesliga explains why Felix Magath’s side are top. Grafite (26 goals) and Dzeko (25 goals) are scoring machines.
Wolfsburg are now 1/10 to win the Bundesliga.
With two games remaining, Laurent Blanc’s side went outright top of Ligue 1 and the title is in sight. They now have to negotiate a home game with Monaco and an away match at Caen to win the league. With ten successive league wins under their belt and Yoann Gourcuff acting as title talisman (four goals in his last three games) it looks like this will be Bordeaux’s vintage year.
They won’t end up as French champions this season, but their win at Marseille probably decided the title.
The former Barcelona schemer has now won two titles in five days and is homing in on an unprecedented Spanish treble as well as the Catalan club’s most successful season ever.
Jose Mourinho secured the minimum at Inter Milan, can “The Special One” take the next step and turn them into a European force?
A fine win for the “Yellow Submarine” against Real Madrid kept Villareal in the hunt for a Champions League place.
After the euphoria of last Monday’s 3-1 win over Middlesbrough, the Toon army came crashing down to earth with a bang. Newcastle looked second rate for much of the first half and were severely hampered by the sending off of Sebastien Bassong in the second period.
Obafemi Martins was unlucky to hit the post and on another day Mark Viduka’s disallowed effort would have been allowed. But, it is questionable how much luck Newcastle deserve after a disastrous season, as much caused by those off the field as the players themselves.
Newcastle will be the main protagonists next week, on a day which will surely be billed Survival Sunday. Alan Shearer takes his side to Aston Villa where they have to better Hull’s result, the Tigers face Manchester United at home.
There is still the outside chance that Newcastle could catch rivals Sunderland but it is difficult to see Newcastle winning at Villa Park. And, what sort of team will United put out at the KC Stadium?
It promises to be a fine day of drama but all signs now point toÂ a day of tears and recriminationsÂ for Newcastle supporters.
Newcastle United are now 1/2 to go down, odds here.
Gareth Southgate’s side got the perfect start to their must-win home game with Aston Villa. Tuncay, one of the only Middlesbrough players to come away with any credit this season, scored a wonder goal and an unlikely escape from relegation was on.
However, such was the turnaround in the performances of both sides that Boro were hanging on at the end and were somewhat lucky to claim a solitary point. They are now relying on others and have to win at Upton Park next Sunday to have any chance of staying up.
Boro are 1/66 to go down, odds here.
Just like Manchester United on Saturday, the Baggies defeat to Liverpool summed up their season. West Brom showed good ability, created chances yet shot themselves in the foot with a horrible defensive error and could never quite find the finishing touch they needed.
Of all the clubs in the bottom five, Tony Mowbray’s side are the one most neutrals would have identified with. They played some fine football and should be commended for putting together a late escape act that would have surpassed anything seen in the Premier League before.
Somehow, it feels like Mowbray and West Brom will have better days in the future, if their fans can stay patient, they could prove how modern supporters should back their club in troubled times by bouncing back and next time, staying up.
When the rumours start up and claim that Mark Hughes is close to being replaced, one of the reasons cited will be his failure to secure a place in European competition.
Real Madrid & AC Milan
Most teams can take losing but a defeat which hands your greatest rivals the title is never pleasant.
Hertha Berlin & Bayern Munich
Draws on the penultimate day of the Bundesliga season have left their title hopes resting on Werder Bremen pulling out a result at Wolfsburg. Munich, who face third placed Stuttgart at home, are by no means certain of Champions League qualification.
After numerous Sunday newspaper articles hailing Shteve McClaren as the best English manager this season, Twente lost on penalties to Heerenveen in the Dutch Cup. It may have been Twente’s best season ever but they came runners-up in both the league and cup.