Champions League final, Premier League race: May viewing guide

And finally, it’s May. The European club season, which unofficially began with the first round of Champions League qualification in late June of 2023, will unofficially end in about a month with the Champions League final. Even with a lot of major title races already decided (or close to it), the month of May is a legitimate roller coaster: We have the semis and finals of UEFA’s three continental tournaments, major cup finals, fights over Champions League spots for next season, desperate promotion and relegation plot twists, minor league title chases and the glory that is final-matchday whip-around coverage. And then we’ll all take approximately 24 hours off before Euro 2024 and Copa América begin. What a glorious day of an offseason it will be.

Stream on ESPN+: NWSL, LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Here’s everything you need to follow in a loaded month of May. I typically break these monthly previews out in a country-by-country manner, but let’s go category-by-category — title races, cup finals, relegation battles, et cetera — this time.


UEFA competitions

Champions League

The rubber has met the road. The competition that began with Montenegro’s Buducnost Podgorica beating Andorra’s Atletic Club d’Escaldes 3-0 on June 27 began its semifinal round Tuesday with Leg 1 of Real Madrid, 14-time champions, versus Bayern Munich, six-time winners. PSG-BVB kicked off at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday.

Despite featuring three of the five or six richest clubs in the world, these semifinals arrived as a surprise of sorts. Real Madrid dipped into its endless supply of dark magic to take down defending Champions League winner Manchester City in the quarterfinals, PSG parlayed brilliant play from a lot of players not named Kylian Mbappé (and some meltdown moments from Barcelona) to advance to just their second Champions League semifinal in the Qatar Sports Investments era, and Germany’s two biggest clubs both reached the semis despite down years in domestic play. The final is guaranteed to pit one of Europe’s most decorated champs against a team looking for either its first (PSG) or second (BVB) European title.

Europa League

Speaking of dark magic, Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen have found their own seemingly endless supply of it these days. The freshly crowned German champions won the Bundesliga with ease and have used late goals to not only survive in the Europa League (they all but fell to Qarabag in March) but extend a season-long unbeaten streak.

Typically these magical streaks come to a close in harsh fashion — might Roma be on the delivering end? The Giallorossi have lost only three times in 21 matches since club hero Daniele De Rossi succeeded Jose Mourinho in mid-January, and one of those was in a kinda-meaningless Europa League game against Brighton. (They fell 1-0 after winning the first leg of the round of 16 by a 4-0 margin.)

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‘Why not Leverkusen?’ Xhaka wants to match Arsenal’s invincible feat

Granit Xhaka says Bayer Leverkusen’s new target is an unbeaten season, as their run stretched to 45 games without defeat.

Conference League

  • May 2 & 8: Fiorentina vs. Club Brugge

  • May 2 & 9: Aston Villa vs. Olympiacos

  • May 29: Conference League final

Yes, it’s a third-tier competition of sorts. I get it. But once we’ve whittled down the Conference League field to the teams that really want to get there, and once proud, well-supported clubs like Aston Villa and Club Brugge start thinking in terms of “We can make our first European final since ___” (1982 for Villa, 1978 for Brugge) — or, in the case of Olympiacos, a first European final ever — the energy in this competition begins to match that of the others.

ESPN BET lists Unai Emery’s Villa as a heavy favorite at the moment, but Club Brugge are smoking hot (they’ve won their past seven matches by a combined 18-2), Fiorentina have a chance to right the wrongs of last year, when they lost to West Ham in the final, and if Olympiacos can pull an upset of Villa, the final would take place in their home country. We’re guaranteed some pretty fantastic environments regardless.

Women’s Champions League

The semifinals of the Women’s Champions League looked primed to deliver a pair of upsets. Chelsea won at Barcelona in the first leg, and the tie remained even late into the second leg. (Barca was on the kind end of some controversy, too.) Meanwhile, Lyon spotted PSG a pair of road goals in the first leg before hitting the accelerator.

In the end, the plot twists gave us something very familiar. The final is a rematch of the 2019 and 2022 finals (both won by Lyon); it’s Lyon’s 11th finals appearance in 15 years and Barca’s fifth in six. This will be the ninth straight Champions League won by one club or the other. These are women’s soccer’s defining teams.

Title chases in Europe’s big leagues

Premier League

The Bundesliga (Bayer Leverkusen), Serie A (Inter) and Ligue 1 titles (PSG) have already been decided, and Real Madrid leads LaLiga by 11 points with five matches to play. Even the top leagues outside of Europe’s Big Five — Portugal‘s Primeira Liga (Ruben Amorim’s Sporting CP lead Benfica by five with three matches to go), the NetherlandsEredivisie (PSV lead Feyenoord by nine with three to play) — are mostly lacking drama at the top.

We still have Arsenal vs. City, however. City’s three straight Premier League titles and current 31-match unbeaten streak have certainly given them an air of inevitability, but unlike Liverpool, Arsenal haven’t yet gone away. They’ve lost only one league match in 2024, and they top the table by a point (though City has a game in hand). If City drop any points in their final four league matches — Wolves (May 4), at Fulham (May 11), at Spurs (May 14), West Ham (May 19) — Arsenal will control their title destiny. As long as they haven’t dropped points themselves.

Wolves defeated City in Wolverhampton in September, and City’s track record against Spurs — a 2019 Champions League semifinal loss and wins in only four of their last 11 meetings — is strangely poor. Might Spurs help their North London Derby rivals out? Surely not, right?

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Will Arsenal or Man City drop points in their remaining games?

The ESPN FC panel discuss where Arsenal or Manchester City could possibly drop points and who will win the Premier League title.

Elsewhere in Europe

  • May 5: Arsenal (W) at Manchester City (W)

  • May 5: Anderlecht at Union Saint-Gilloise

  • May 11: Rangers at Celtic

  • May 13: Union Saint-Gilloise at Club Brugge

  • May 19: Club Brugge at Anderlecht

  • May 19: LASK at RB Salzburg

The good thing about Europe’s depth is if you keep burrowing in, you’ll find something exciting. Even if Europe’s seven biggest leagues have given us only one real race, we’ve still got England‘s Women’s Super League (Man City leads Chelsea by six and Arsenal by eight, but Chelsea has two games in hand) and potential wildness in Belgium (Club Brugge and Anderlecht are tied at the top, with Union Saint-Gilloise one point behind), Scotland (Celtic lead Rangers by three with a derby ahead) and Austria (Sturm Graz leads Salzburg by three in attempt to end Salzburg’s 10-year title streak).

If you’ve followed these monthly previews this season, you’ve caught on to my fascination with the Union Saint-Gilloise story. After earning promotion in 2021, they suffered late-season heartbreaks in both 2022 and (especially) 2023 and fell just short of a title. This season, they entered Belgium’s late-season championship playoff with a four-point lead … and proceeded to lose four straight matches and forfeit the lead to Anderlecht. They’ve rebounded to win two blowouts, however, and they’ve got shots at both of the teams ahead of them in the table. This might be the best race in Europe for the second straight year.

Major cup finals

  • May 9: Bayern Munich (W) vs. Wolfsburg (W) (Women’s DFB-Pokal)

  • May 12: Manchester United (W) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (W) (Women’s FA Cup)

  • May 15: Juventus vs. Atalanta (Coppa Italia)

  • May 25: Manchester City vs. Manchester United (FA Cup final) (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

  • May 25: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Kaiserslautern (DFB Pokal final) (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

As I wrote recently, cups rule. They guarantee a certain level of uncertainty that title races often fail to deliver, they offer shots at major trophies that clubs outside of the sport’s ruling class usually don’t get, and sometimes they result in boat parties.

This year’s batch of remaining cup finals features plenty of dominant teams — Manchester City, PSG, the Bayern and Wolfsburg women and an evidently unbeatable Bayer Leverkusen — but there are Cinderellas in the pack, too. The FA Cup will be the first major trophy for either the Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur women, Lyon could cap a massive season rebound with an upset of PSG, and of course we’ve got the ultimate Cinderella in Germany’s second-division Kaiserslautern, which is desperately trying to fend off relegation to the third division while also planning for its first major cup final since 2003. Totally normal stuff there.

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Ten Hag: You can’t make mistakes and win trophies

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag says that his team need to cut out mistakes if they want to compete for trophies.

Champions League hunt

It doesn’t feel like there are quite as many storylines as usual when it comes to the battle for Champions League spots. Including the two bonus bids given to this year’s best performing leagues, Europe’s Big Five leagues are guaranteed 21 spots in next year’s Champions League field, a number that could increase if a nonqualifier wins the Europa or Conference League. According to Opta’s power ratings, 15 teams have a 99% chance or better at securing one of those bids, and four more are at 87% or higher. That’s not much drama. But things aren’t completely settled yet.

Aston Villa (87% chance) has taken the lead over Spurs (15%) in the race for fourth in England, and a Spurs turnaround will probably require a couple of big road wins. In Spain, Atletico Madrid (92%) all but finished off Athletic Club (8%) with a recent head-to-head win, but the battle’s not completely over yet. (And I guess we don’t know for sure whether UEFA will allow both Girona and Manchester City to play in the Champions League next year.)

In Italy, only two teams from the batch of Bologna (92%), Atalanta (66%) and Roma (41%) will make the field — unless Roma wins the Europa League. And in France, where three teams get in automatically and a fourth enters the qualification playoff, Monaco (93% chance at top three), Brest (58%) and Lille (48%) are still in a scrap.

That Atalanta-Roma match on May 12 is the biggest of the batch above, but they all matter for now, at least.

Relegation scraps

Serie A

Elsewhere

  • May 3: Everton at Luton Town, Premier League

  • May 4: Bochum at Union Berlin, Bundesliga

  • May 11: Union Berlin at Koln, Bundesliga

  • May 18: Mainz at Wolfsburg, Bundesliga

  • May 19: Nottingham Forest at Burnley, Premier League

  • May 23 & 27: Bundesliga relegation playoff

  • TBD: Ligue 1 relegation playoff

It’s not the greatest set of relegation fights outside of Italy, but in England, Sheffield United is confirmed as going down, and only one of Burnley (13% chance of survival), Luton Town (22%) and Nottingham Forest (65%) will survive. Forest still have the best odds, but are only one point from safety. In Germany, Darmstadt are down and Koln will likely join them, but the relegation playoff spot could go to either Mainz, Bochum or Union Berlin. And in France, Clermont and Lorient are likely to drop, but the relegation playoff spot is very much up for grabs.

Promotion chases

  • May 4: Southampton at Leeds United, Huddersfield at Ipswich (Stream LIVE on ESPN+), English Championship

  • May 11: Fortuna Dusseldorf at Holstein Kiel, German 2. Bundesliga

  • May 12 & 16: No. 3 vs. No. 6 in English Championship

  • May 13 & 17: No. 4 vs. No. 5 in English Championship

  • May 26: Promotion final in English Championship

  • TBD: Serie B promotion rounds

Maybe the single most fascinating battle in all of Europe right now is Leeds vs. Ipswich in England’s second division. The two of them, plus Leicester City, spent much of April saying “No, you take the promotion spot,” “No, you take the promotion spot,” with Leicester losing four of six at one point, Ipswich going winless in four and Leeds winning one of five. Leicester rebounded first and took one of the promotion slots, but either Ipswich or Leeds will take the other automatic spot — it looks like it will be Ipswich after they won their game-in-hand, 2-1 at Coventry City, on Tuesday — while the other falls into the promotion playoff.

That’s the most intriguing promotion race on the docket, but the promotion playoffs assure us of plenty of drama.

Fun bonus matches

Most of the season’s stakes have already been decided for these teams, but hey, fun matches between good teams are still fun.

Final matchdays

  • May 4: English Championship

  • May 10: Serie B

  • May 18: Bundesliga

  • May 18: Ligue 1

  • May 18: Women’s Super League

  • May 19: Premier League

  • May 19: LaLiga

  • May 19: Eredivisie

  • May 19: Primeira Liga

  • May 19: 2. Bundesliga

  • May 19: Austrian Bundesliga

  • May 20: Frauen Bundesliga

  • May 26: Serie A

  • May 26: Jupiler Pro League

  • May 26: Segunda Division

The most reliably thrilling 10 minutes in soccer are the last 10 minutes of a league’s season, when about 17 different things are happening at once, and there are real stakes — title, Champions League, relegation, etc. — at play. Not all of these leagues will provide all the requisite drama, but some of them definitely will.

May schedule

Throw all the above matches into one slate, and you get … well … a pretty overwhelming slate.

May 1-5

  • May 1: PSG at Borussia Dortmund (Champions League semis)

  • May 2: Bayer Leverkusen at Roma (Europa League semis)

  • May 2: Atalanta at Marseille (Europa League semis)

  • May 2: Olympiacos at Aston Villa (Conference League semis)

  • May 2: Club Brugge at Fiorentina (Conference League semis)

  • May 2: Tottenham Hotspur at Chelsea

  • May 3: Everton at Luton Town

  • May 4: Aston Villa at Brighton

  • May 4: Bochum at Union Berlin

  • May 4: Southampton at Leeds United

  • May 4: Huddersfield at Ipswich

  • May 4: Bayern Munich at VfB Stuttgart

  • May 4: Barcelona at Girona

  • May 5: Arsenal (W) at Manchester City (W)

  • May 5: Anderlecht at Union Saint-Gilloise

  • May 5: Tottenham Hotspur at Liverpool

  • May 5: Juventus at Roma

  • May 5: Bayer Leverkusen at Eintracht Frankfurt

May 6-12

  • May 7: Borussia Dortmund at PSG (Champions League semis)

  • May 8: Bayern Munich at Real Madrid (Champions League semis)

  • May 9: Roma at Bayer Leverkusen (Europa League semis)

  • May 9: Marseille at Atalanta (Europa League semis)

  • May 9: Aston Villa at Olympiacos (Conference League semis)

  • May 9: Fiorentina at Club Brugge (Conference League semis)

  • May 9: Bayern Munich (W) vs. Wolfsburg (W) (Women’s DFB-Pokal final)

  • May 11: Rangers at Celtic

  • May 11: Union Berlin at Koln

  • May 11: Fortuna Dusseldorf at Holstein Kiel

  • May 12: Arsenal at Manchester United

  • May 12: Manchester United (W) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (W) (Women’s FA Cup final)

  • May 12: Roma at Atalanta

  • May 12: English Championship promotion playoff

May 13-19

  • May 13: Union Saint-Gilloise at Club Brugge

  • May 13: Liverpool at Aston Villa

  • May 13: English Championship promotion playoff M

  • May 14: Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur

  • May 15: Juventus vs. Atalanta (Coppa Italia final)

  • May 16: English Championship promotion playoff

  • May 17: English Championship promotion playoff

  • May 18: Nice at Lille

  • May 18: Mainz at Wolfsburg

  • May 19: Club Brugge at Anderlecht

  • May 19: LASK at RB Salzburg

  • May 19: Juventus at Bologna

  • May 19: Nottingham Forest at Burnley

May 20-26

  • May 22: Europa League final

  • May 23: Bundesliga relegation playoff

  • May 25: Barcelona vs. Lyon (Women’s Champions League final)

  • May 25: Manchester City vs. Manchester United (FA Cup final)

  • May 25: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Kaiserslautern (DFB Pokal final)

  • May 25: PSG vs. Lyon (Coupe de France final)

  • May 26: English Championship promotion final

May 27-June 3

  • May 27: Bundesliga relegation playoff

  • May 29: Conference League final

  • June 1: Champions League final

Buckle up!