Every time the clocks go forward it feels as though the volume of football increases to an almost overwhelming amount. It doesn’t, of course, but the stakes at this time of year are higher. In lieu of a Rabona podcast this week, Ryan Hunn rounds up some of the key moments from a busy Easter weekend.
It feels right to begin with the Premier League where, in case you hadn’t heard, a truly memorable title race is taking place. Wins for both Manchester City and Liverpool mean it’s ‘as you were’ at the top of the table, with the top two sides now failing to drop a single Premier League point since Liverpool drew away to Everton on March 3. City haven’t dropped a single league point since their 2-1 defeat away at Newcastle on January 29th and the title remains in their hands, heading into the derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford this week.
Whilst the blue half of Manchester will go into the derby following ten straight league wins, the red half aren’t quite as buoyant as they were in the early days of Ole Gunnar Soljskær’s tenure. United were unbeaten in their first eleven games under Soljskæer but, following the 4-0 defeat to Everton, have now lost six of their last eight games, three straight away league games for the first time since 1996 and five successive away games in all competitions for the first time since 1981. Musa and I discussed United’s issues on last week’s podcast:
The one positive United will take out of the weekend was that neither Spurs nor Arsenal capitalised. After Spurs lost 1-0 to Manchester City on Saturday, Arsenal lost at home to Crystal Palace for the first time since 1995. The win for Palace sees them safe from relegation and yet another example of Roy Hodgson’s good work. Arsenal have three of their remaining four league games away from home, leaving hopes of a top four finish in the balance.
There were no such problems for Arsenal Women, who beat Everton 2-1, meaning one win from their remaining two fixtures will secure a first league title since 2012. Vivianne Miedema scored her 30th of the season – her 21st in the league - and an Arsenal win next week to Brighton will see them champions before a final home game against second place Manchester City. In a year where the Premier League title race could have record points tallies for its top two finishers, City may finish second in the Super League despite going unbeaten. Rounding up a brilliant weekend for Arsenal Women, their U21s beat Manchester United 5-0 to win the FAWSL Academy Cup.
It was a better weekend for United’s senior side, as they beat Crystal Palace 7-0 to become champions of the Women’s Championship, having already gained promotion midweek. In their first season in operation, Casey Stoney’s side have dominated, conceding just seven goals and losing once. Second place Spurs need just one win to also secure promotion to the Super League.
This weekend also saw the first legs of the Women’s Champions League semi-finals, with Chelsea losing 2-1 away to holders Lyon and Barcelona beating Bayern 1-0 in Munich. It capped off a difficult week for Bayern, having seen two draws in their last two league games hand the advantage to Wolfsburg in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Wolfsburg are now four points clear, with two games to go.
In France, PSG secured the league title before they kicked off against Monaco, thanks to Lille’s 0-0 draw in Toulouse. Thomas Tuchel’s side did beat Monaco 3-1, thanks to a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick, as PSG celebrated a sixth title in seven years. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Lionel Messi has more goals than Mbappe, and the pair are the only players to reach 30 goals in Europe’s top five so far this season.
In Italy, Juventus celebrated a double title winning weekend, as the men and women wrapped up their leagues. For the men, an eighth straight Scudetto was greeted in slightly muted fashion, following the Champions League exit to Ajax last week. For the women, it was a second straight title since their formation. However, having been pushed all the way by Fiorentina and Milan - who finished one and five points behind respectively – winning the Women’s Serie A is by no means as much of a formality.
Elsewhere, PAOK won their first Greek Super League title in 34 years and, as you can imagine, the celebrations in Thessaloniki were wild. Bayern scraped through 1-0 at home to Werder Bremen - who failed to score in any game for the first time this season – to remain top of the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund beat Freiburg 4-0 away, thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Raphaël Guerreiro and a Paco Alacer penalty. It means Dortmund to head into next weekend’s Ruhr Derby still just a point behind Bayern, who make the short trip to face Nürnberg the following day. And finally, to Spain, where wins for Villarreal and Celta saw the incredible La Liga relegation battle take another turn. Both clubs are now at least three points clear of the drop zone, with five games left.