Assessing Man City’s four-peat, Liverpool’s goodbye to Klopp, more

This weekend saw the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 seasons come to an end, with Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen and Paris Saint-Germain all crowned champions. Only the first one was a bit dramatic, though Arsenal‘s win over Everton couldn’t deny Pep Guardiola’s side from a historic fourth straight league title. At the same time, Liverpool said farewell to Jurgen Klopp, whose nine-year tenure came to an end with a party atmosphere at Anfield and a 2-0 win over Wolves.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund tuned up for the UEFA Champions League final with very different performances, Juventus fired embattled manager Max Allegri despite a week in which they won the Coppa Italia, and the future is uncertain for Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea and Erik Ten Hag at Man United.

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It’s Monday. Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the world of football.


History will provide perspective to Manchester City’s Premier League four-peat

Ultimately, Sunday was somewhat anticlimactic.

Two early Phil Foden goals appeared to send Manchester City on their way to another title. We got some drama when, in the space of a minute, Takehiro Tomiyasu equalised for Arsenal against Everton and Mohamed Kudus’ ridiculous overhead kick pulled one back for West Ham at the Etihad. But even then, it was going to take a two-goal swing — the visitors equalising at Manchester City and Arsenal finding a winner — to shift the title away from Pep Guardiola’s crew. Rodri‘s goal, just before the hour mark, ensured that would not happen.

It was fitting, then, that those two — Foden and Rodri — should score. Foden has been on a vertical rise over the past few seasons, and in 2023-24 he cemented his spot as one of the best in the world. He finishes with 19 league goals, all but two from open play. Only Erling Haaland (20) and Ollie Watkins (19) have more, the difference being that the other two are center-forwards while Foden spent much of the season out wide. That may soon change: He started centrally on Sunday, and with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva not getting any younger, it’s pretty obvious his future is likely to be in the No. 10 role.

As for Rodri, he’s the most — possibly the only — irreplaceable chess piece on Guardiola’s board. His work off the ball has earned him comparisons with Sergio Busquets, which for a certain type of football connoisseur is the highest praise you can get. But Rodri is also a force in possession. He has 19 goals over the past three seasons, which is more than Busquets scored in 15 seasons at Barca. He also had nine assists in the league this season, a ridiculous amount for a guy who spends much of the game shielding the back four.

It speaks volumes about the strength in depth of this side that you can pick out arguably their two best players and neither is named Kevin or Erling, but that’s the nature of what Guardiola and City have built. Four consecutive English titles (a record) and six in the past seven years is hegemony, pure and simple, even in these hyper-polarised times, where the gap between haves and have-nots grows greater every year.

Critics will point to the 115 charges facing the club for a whole range of financial irregularities as somehow taking the gloss off these achievements. Make no mistake about it: If they are found guilty, they should be punished severely because many of those charges amount to cheating. And it wouldn’t just be an ethical and sporting infraction; in what is now a business, it would be a major case of fraud, with investors in rival clubs having a strong case that City’s actions cost them money.

But more than one thing can be true. As I’ve pointed out in the past, even if all the charges are proved and they cheated their way to their financial might, that might is not significantly greater than that of their competition. Whether your chosen metric is wage bill or transfer spending or both, City’s spending is comparable to that of Europe’s biggest clubs. It alone cannot and does not explain their success. That’s where the credit has to go to Guardiola, to his staff (both backroom and front office) and to the players.

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Shaka Hislop: ‘There simply is no one better’ than Man City

Shaka Hislop and the “ESPN FC” crew discuss what it takes to beat Manchester City in the Premier League title race, and how just one loss in 18 games spelled failure for Arsenal.

The scary thing is that City can get better. Sure, De Bruyne and Kyle Walker will get older, but players like Foden, Jérémy Doku, Julián Álvarez and Josko Gvardiol can all improve. So too can Haaland, who can be so much less one-dimensional than he has been, if and when Guardiola unlocks his full potential.

We may only come to fully appreciate this City era in years to come.

Allegri sacked by Juventus … this could get really ugly

Wednesday, Max Allegri led Juventus to win the Coppa Italia, beating Atalanta 1-0 in the final. Less than 48 hours later, the club announced that it had parted ways with Allegri following “behaviour during and after the final” that was “incompatible” with the “values” of Juventus and those who represent it.

What behaviour? Let’s see.

With his team leading 1-0 in injury time, Allegri got himself sent off for a routine straight out of 1990s WWE. He whipped off his jacket and ranted on the sideline, jaw clenched, and after he got his marching orders, he called out Gianluca Rocchi, the head of the Italian referees. But he wasn’t done there. He also insulted and shoved the editor of Tuttosport, the Turin daily paper, whom he accused of “siding with the club.” And he shooed away Cristiano Giuntoli, the club’s director of football, as well as other executives when they tried to join the postgame celebrations.

He later made up with the Tuttosport editor, was all smiley and jokey with Rocchi after the match and many made light of his fiery Tuscan personality, but clearly a line had been crossed. Not necessarily in the sense that the club were so offended by his bad behaviour that they had no choice but to let him go — we’ve seen clubs stick by managers who have behaved far worse — but rather in the sense that it gave Juventus “just cause” to fire him. And that may mean they will save on the roughly $20 million it would cost to keep him around next season, the final year of his contract. (We kinda have to say “may” because now it’s over to the lawyers; clearly, Juve feel they have a strong hand here.)

Allegri’s achievements — mostly during his first stint in charge — ensure his place in club history is secure. That won’t change. But that was a different Juve, with a different president and, most importantly, a vastly different financial situation. And he was simply out of step with Juventus’ current reality, not just on the pitch, but in the way he carried himself off it, too.

Paolo Montero will take charge of Juve’s final games (starting with the Monday night match at Bologna) and next season, they’ll start over with a new boss, possibly Thiago Motta. It’s an ugly way for it all to end — and it will probably get uglier if it goes to court — but to be fair to the club, this is the opportunity to turn the page it badly needed.

Jurgen Klopp: Sometimes the hype is real

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Julien Laurens: Klopp’s departure a ‘massive loss for football’

Julien Laurens speaks on how rare it is for a manager to share a bond with the fans the way Jurgen Klopp did at Liverpool.

It genuinely irks some folks that many Liverpool fans see themselves as different, and the job of manager at Anfield unlike any other. I’m not sure why: Most fan bases see themselves as different and their club as special; most successful coaches become icons, regardless of where they are. But predictably, some might have been turned off by Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield farewell, a 2-0 win over Wolves.

I have no issue with it, because the thing about this whole folk hero thing is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, as Klopp put it: “We decide if we are worried or excited … we decide if we believe … we decide if we trust or don’t trust.”

In other words, if part of the experience of being a Liverpool fan is a sort of populist hero-worship — before Klopp it was Rafa Benitez for a spell, and of course, King Kenny Dalglish, and before that, Bill Shankly — then the very act of believing makes it a thing, part of the identity. It’s not the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am.” It’s more like, “I believe, so it is.”

This understanding of the mindset and the relationship between manager and fans (and city) is what elevated Klopp beyond his achievements on the pitch. He fuelled it not to take advantage of it (though it didn’t hurt), but because it elevated the experience for him, for his players and for the supporters. A cynic might say it’s Management 101: sell folks on the idea that they’re part of a bigger purpose and you will get more loyalty and buy-in. Maybe, but not everyone can do it, and certainly not in the way he did it. Because it takes more than the club crest and the colours and some trophies to generate what he generated among the Liverpool faithful.

What’s next for Klopp? I have no idea, largely because I suspect he has no idea, and he was being honest when he said that stepping away was mostly because the tank was going to run dry. Will we see him back in management? Possibly, but I can’t help but wonder — if he decides to stay in football — if it won’t be in a different role, maybe as a club director or with a governing body.

Or maybe he’ll just enjoy retirement and, of course, being a Liverpool fan. As he said to the Anfield crowd: “I am one of you now.”

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Why Leverkusen’s unbeaten Bundesliga season is a lesson for clubs across Europe

Alejandro Moreno reacts to Bayer Leverkusen’s “one of a kind” season in the Bundesliga.


Quick hits

TEN: A word about that tall Norwegian striker who has scored more goals from open play than anyone in the Premier League, Ligue 1, Serie A or LaLiga: Yeah, it’s not Erling Haaland, it’s Alexander Sorloth, as his four goals in Villarreal’s 4-4 comeback draw against Real Madrid on Sunday helped him secure that slot. It’s pretty unreal when you think Sorloth was considered little more than a big lug for much of his career. It’s even more remarkable when you think that he plays for a midtable side who have had three managers this season. Yes, Real Madrid rested a bunch of regulars and their focus is obviously on bigger things, but man, that’s some scoring return. You wonder just how Norway, with a Sorloth-Haaland partnership (and Martin Odegaard pulling the strings behind) somehow didn’t qualify for the Euros.

NINE: No final day miracle, but 2-1 win over Everton means best season since Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles … and yet Mikel Arteta can’t rest on his laurels and automatically assume that his young Arsenal side will automatically improve as they mature. Indeed, one thing that marked this Premier League campaign was the incredible rash of injuries that hit so many clubs: from Manchester United to Chelsea, from Liverpool to Newcastle to Tottenham. In fact, it’s probably not a coincidence that two of the sides less affected (Manchester City and Arsenal) finished first and second. Arsenal were largely injury-free last year, too, but it’s not something you can take for granted. The next step is assessing the depth in the side, because they may not be so fortunate next year.

EIGHT: Still Bayer Never-losing as they end Bundesliga campaign undefeated: Xabi Alonso’s crew are definitely in the zone. With two finals coming up — vs. Atalanta on Wednesday in the Europa League and Kaiserslautern next Saturday in the German Cup — Bayer Leverkusen rested plenty of guys (including Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka) for the visit of Augsburg. No matter. They were 2-0 up inside of half an hour and cruised to the three points. It’s not just the win (Augsburg aren’t particularly good) but the effortlessness and confidence they display. When you see a guy like Robert Andrich — who looks (and often plays) like a bouncer — score a cheeky back heel, you know that something special is going on. It’s now 51 games (and counting) without a defeat in all competitions.

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How Chelsea can return to its former glory next season

Gab Marcotti breaks down Chelsea’s Premier League season and assesses what Mauricio Pochettino needs to do to reach the Champions League.

SEVEN: Sixth place and five straight wins, but Mauricio Pochettino’s future is uncertain … and that’s OK: After Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Sunday, local media were running with stories about how it was by no means certain that Pochettino would return next season, with suggestions that he’d meet with the owners for a “review.” My hunch is they’re going to keep him, but guess what? A season-ending review is by no means unusual. It doesn’t mean he’s on the “naughty step,” nor does it mean he’s going to stick around. It just means that after a difficult — and with all the injuries, difficult to interpret — campaign, the club want to assess where they are and the best way to move forward. These owners haven’t always behaved like grownups, but this is a very grownup thing to do.

SIX: Borussia Dortmund warm up for Champions League final with a 4-0 thumping of Darmstadt: Unlike Real Madrid, who have another LaLiga game to go, Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing of Darmstadt was Borussia Dortmund’s last competitive outing before the Champions League final. Two weeks without a game means you’re not going to rest players, and Edin Terzic played what you imagine will be the starting lineup at Wembley. The one exception is Marco Reus, who scored and got a rousing send-off in front of his supporters. Julian Brandt will likely get the nod ahead of him at Wembley. Donyell Malen might also hope to supplant Karim Adeyemi. Dortmund looked good, though Real Madrid will obviously offer a sterner test.

FIVE: Milan fall at Torino, but it’s all about the Rossoneri‘s new boss: We don’t know who it’s going to be, but the smart money right now is on Paulo Fonseca. Given the job he has done in difficult circumstances at his last two stops (Lille and Roma), you wonder what he can do at a stable, well-run club, which Milan hope to show they are. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Torino had plenty of “school’s out for summer” vibes, which is understandable, so it’s time to focus on the next steps and, also, to say “Grazie” to Stefano Pioli. Two second-place finishes and Milan’s first title in 11 years are significant, no matter what his (many) detractors say. The fact that he did it while balancing the books, pushing youngsters and playing a style that did not come natural to him makes it all the more impressive. He leaves with his head held high.

FOUR: Don’t mock Erik Ten Hag for saying Manchester United’s worst season in 43 years is ‘not good enough’: Yes, it’s a total “Captain Obvious” thing to say. But what do you expect him to do? At least he’s not spinning yarns of how entertaining they’ve been. Or how their two-nil win away to Brighton (another game in which they were pretty poor) is a sign of progress. He’s got one game — Saturday’s FA Cup final (Stream LIVE, 9:45 a.m. ET, ESPN+) against Man City — to bring some lustre to a wretched season. It was a campaign in which injuries and circumstances beyond his control screwed things up royally, but he didn’t exactly inspire confidence with the things he could control, either. And then we’ll find out whether he’s back next season.

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Assessing Man United’s worst-ever Premier League finish

The ESPN FC Live team grade a Premier League season to forget for Manchester United, who finish way outside a Champions League spot in eighth.

THREE: Paris Saint-Germain win at Metz, but Kylian Mbappé‘s absence fuels rumor mill: His final Ligue 1 game, where his career at PSG started, would have provided some poetic closure for Mbappe. Instead, he and Ousmane Dembélé weren’t there, opting instead to attend the Cannes Film Festival. Luis Enrique said it was simply a case of the pair being rested ahead of next Saturday’s French Cup final against Lyon. Maybe so, but it’s not a good look, particularly after reports of a row between Mbappe and club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi before PSG’s last home game on May 12.

TWO: Inter Milan celebrate Serie A title after draw with Lazio, but things could quickly get bumpy again: Remember the roughly $400 million that Inter’s majority owner, Steven Zhang, borrowed from Oaktree Capital? Well, they’re supposed to be repaid on Tuesday, which is why Zhang spent the past few months looking for other lenders to come in — or better yet, other investors to acquire a chunk of the the club. Zhang issued a statement in which he complained that Oaktree wasn’t helping secure the future of the club. If he defaults, Zhang’s 68% would in theory go to Oaktree (after, no doubt, a legal battle). What would it mean for Inter? In the medium term, probably not much. Oaktree likely would want to be good stewards and continue to turn the club around — a process that has been going well, with losses falling sharply and two Serie A titles — possibly with an eye towards a future sale. In the short term, it could be a serious problem since a number of high-profile stars (Lautaro Martínez, Nicolò Barella and Alessandro Bastoni) are entering the final two years of their contracts and are due new deals. Failure to secure them to the club would greatly impact their transfer value.

ONE: Bayern lose in final game, making third place their worst league showing since 2010-11: Thomas Tuchel’s final game in charge saw him play with three central defenders and no wingers, with Bayern squandering a 2-0 lead inside of six minutes to lose 4-2 at Hoffenheim. Against a motivated opponent, Bayern were messy and possibly thinking about the summer, which is more than understandable. After 11 straight seasons of winning the league, they finished third. The last time that happened, the manager (Louis Van Gaal) was fired despite having come within 90 minutes of the treble the previous year. This time, we had Tuchel’s weird “fired but staying until June” situation. And now the search is on for a new boss, which — despite a new director of sport in Max Eberl — has seen the club thus far get hit with a bunch of “nein dankes.” The best you can say is that the only (realistic) way is up.