European soccer news: Real Madrid clinch LaLiga, Stuttgart thump Bayern

What a Saturday across European soccer! Real Madrid took down Cádiz and were able to celebrate clinching LaLiga when Girona rallied to beat Barcelona later in the day. That’s one title race done and dusted! Meanwhile, in England, Arsenal and Man City both won to keep the pressure on at the top of the Premier League. Stuttgart thumped Bayern Munich to get a chance at overtaking them in the German Bundesliga, and Ipswich Town secured automatic promotion to the English top flight after 22 years on the outside looking in.

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

Let’s take a look back at what happened all across the continent this weekend.

SATURDAY REVIEW

The lead: Madrid crowned champions with Cádiz win… eventually

In the 84th minute, with Real Madrid leading Cádiz 2-0, the first chorus of “campeones” (“champions”) rang out around the Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid weren’t actually champions, not yet –but this win made their LaLiga title all but a certainty, and the crowd were enjoying the moment.

In the end, it finished 3-0, with Joselu scoring in added time after Brahim Díaz and Jude Bellingham had put Madrid in front. The result left Madrid on 87 points from 34 games and from there, attention turned elsewhere to watch Barcelona play Girona. They knew that if Barca dropped points, the league title was Madrid’s. If they didn’t, that confirmation would have to wait another week.

Hours before kickoff, earlier than usual and in greater numbers, Madrid fans had started to gather in the streets around the Bernabeu. Later, some of them would head to Cibeles — the fountain where Madrid celebrate their trophies — in excited anticipation of what might happen at Montilivi. The players wouldn’t be joining them, aware of the need to focus on Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal second leg against Bayern Munich.

With that game in mind, Coach Carlo Ancelotti had made 10 changes to his team, with only defender Nacho Fernandez keeping his place from the first leg. Still, Madrid’s squad contains such quality that their “B-team” was able to overcome Cádiz, who were in desperate need of points in order to avoid relegation.

After an evenly matched first half, Diaz made the difference, curling the opener into the net from the edge of the box. He then provided Bellingham with assist for the second, spotting the substitute’s near-post run. Bellingham and Vinícius Júnior are the stars, but Diaz has been one of the low-key success stories of Madrid’s season.

The third goal came from an unexpected source, with Nacho charging upfield to find Joselu unmarked at the far post. Moments later, after the final whistle, there were some brief celebrations on the pitch before the players headed down the tunnel to watch the Barca game together.

“I don’t mind whether it’s today, Sunday or next Sunday,” Ancelotti said, as journalists kept him up to date on the score during his post-match news conference. “We deserve to win this league. When we win it doesn’t change much.”

As it turned out, they didn’t have long to wait thanks to Girona’s victory. Now, Real Madrid are 2023-24 LaLiga champions with an unbridgeable 13-point gap. It’s an accurate reflection of just how much better they’ve been than all the rest this season. — Alex Kirkland


Saturday talking points around the leagues

Hoeness’ Stuttgart close gap to Bayern in race for second place

Sandwiched between two Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich travelled for a Southern Derby in Stuttgart that pitted the second- and third-placed teams against one another in the Bundesliga.

Interestingly, Stuttgart proved the better side over 90 minutes, creating the majority of chances and recording a higher percentage of possession. After Stuttgart took an early lead via defender Leonidas Stergiou‘s first-ever Bundesliga goal, Bayern managed to equalize before half-time when Harry Kane converted a contentious penalty.

After the break, Bayern were never really able to get going. Manager Thomas Tuchel gestured wildly from the sidelines, urging his team to prevent Stuttgart from progressing down the pitch and while things remained 1-1 until the final stages, the hosts soon took charge as Silas found Jeong Woo-Yeong with a beautiful cross toward the back post. Neuer was well positioned having anticipated the ball movement, but agonizingly for Bayern fans, he couldn’t prevent the ball from crossing the goal line. In added time, Silas put the game to bed when he converted an assist from the lively Serhou Guirassy to make the final score 3-1.

The man of the moment in Stuttgart was once again their manager, Sebastian Hoeness, who prepared his team with aplomb. The 41-year-old has recently been linked with the Bavarians as the super-club continue their search for a new head coach to lead them into next season. Munich-born Hoeness, who coached at Bayern earlier in his career, has earned the attention of his former employer thanks to Stuttgart’s impressive performances throughout the season. Plus he just so happens to be the nephew of Uli Hoeness who, despite only being a member of the supervisory board, continues to be an influential figure behind the scenes.

His nephew, however, has stressed that he is keen to stay on with his current team despite Stuttgart’s financial constraints and thanks to Saturday’s win, they could even overtake Bayern in the Bundesliga standings. VfB currently trail by only two points with a couple of games remaining.

Meanwhile, Bayern cannot afford to pay too much attention to the league table at the moment, as they face Real Madrid on the road this week. This loss might not only have dented their confidence ahead of their trip, but also impacted their squad. Both Raphaël Guerreiro and Eric Dier — key players in the first-leg 2-2 draw — had to be taken off with injuries. — Constantin Eckner

Girona batter Barça to secure Champions League football

As if losing the Spanish title to Madrid in one day was not enough, Barcelona are now in serious danger of ending the season as only the second-best side in Catalonia after a crushing 4-2 defeat to Girona, who confirmed their place in next season’s Champions League for the first time in the club’s 94-year history with the win.

A brace from substitute Portu helped Girona come back from behind at a bouncing Montilivi as they climbed one point clear of Barça in second place. Whoever finishes runners-up will book their place in next season’s Spanish Super Cup, along with champions Madrid and Copa del Rey finalists Athletic Club and Mallorca — and the cash boost that comes with it. It is advantage Girona with four games to play.

Barça would have moved five clear of Girona in second with a win and they looked on track for three points when Andreas Christensen opened the scoring in the third minute with a fine chest and volley combination. Artem Dovbyk, the league’s leading scorer, responded less than a minute later, heading home his 20th goal of the campaign. Robert Lewandowski‘s penalty after Lamine was felled restored Barça’s lead, but they imploded after the break.

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Moreno slams Barcelona’s fragility after gifting Madrid LaLiga title

Alejandro Moreno reacts to Girona’s comeback win against Barcelona in LaLiga.

First, Sergi Roberto‘s misplaced pass played in Dovbyk and the Ukraine striker squared for Portu, just off the bench, to equalize. Left-back Miguel Gutiérrez then put the home side in front before Portu rounded off the win. When Girona were promoted to LaLiga for the first time in 2017, a win against Barça still seemed a long shot, let alone two 4-2 wins in the same campaign. Lightning struck for the second time in the beating Catalan sunshine on Saturday as they repeated the scoreline from December’s game at the Olympic Stadium.

For Girona, Portu’s second goal started a party in the city that will continue long into the night. The supporters chanted for Barça coach Xavi Hernández — who recently announced a U-turn on his decision to part in the summer — to stay. Then, when the whistle blew, they backed in those football classics: the Champions League anthem, “Freed from Desire” and “Sweet Caroline.”

An exciting few months follow as they prepare for their first-ever shot at European football — never mind Champions League football — on the back of a remarkable campaign in just their fourth top-flight season. As for Barça and Xavi, the noise that led to his decision to step down in January may reappear if they are not even the best team in Catalonia after 38 games. — Sam Marsden


Americans Abroad: A mixed bag for U.S. stars on show

Let’s do a quick tour of the big leagues and the U.S. players who play there, shall we? Starting in England, defender Antonee Robinson played the full 90 as Fulham drew 0-0 at Brentford, completing 65% of his passes and making 11 ball recoveries in a typically lively display. (His U.S. and Fulham teammate, Tim Ream, was an unused substitute.)>

Sheffield United vs. Nottingham Forest involved no fewer than three players in the U.S. talent pool, though only one made the field. However, Auston Trusty had a difficult afternoon in the Blades’ defense as Forest ran away 3-1 winners to give themselves a chance of avoiding relegation and remaining to fight another season in the Premier League. Goalkeeper Matt Turner and playmaker Gio Reyna watched the fun from the Forest bench.

Let’s now drop a division to the English Championship, which played its final round of matches for 2023-24 on Saturday with everything from promotion to relegation at stake. Josh Sargent had a poor game up front for Norwich, managing zero shots on goal over 82 minutes as Birmingham won 1-0. However, the Canaries were still assured of a place in the promotion playoffs even with defeat, while Birmingham were relegated to League One despite taking all three points.

Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had a day to forget, conceding five goals in Cardiff City’s heavy defeat at bottom-side Rotherham United, while Reggie Cannon and QPR won 2-1 at Coventry City, for whom Haji Wright notched an assist in defeat. Duane Holmes started for Preston North End at West Bromwich Albion, though was subbed off with 18 minutes left as the Baggies romped to a 3-0 win.

Elsewhere in Europe, defender Kevin Paredes started at left-back in Wolfsburg’s 3-0 win over Darmstadt, and Joe Scally went the full 90 in Borussia Monchengladbach‘s 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen. (Fellow U.S. talent Jordan Pefok came off the ‘Gladbach bench with just under 20 minutes remaining.

Finally, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was a robust presence in defense as Celtic wrapped up a 3-0 home win over Hearts to move closer to a Scottish Premiership title, and forward Folarin Balogun came off the bench in the second half for AS Monaco, who thrashed Clermont Foot thanks to two goals from veteran forward Wissam Ben Yedder.

All in all, a fairly standard day for the Americans in action, though big things will be expected on Sunday when the likes of Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Johnny Cardoso (Real Betis), Catarina Macario (Chelsea Women), Weston McKennie (Juventus) will take the field. — James Tyler


News of the day

  • Declan Rice scored and assisted as Arsenal earned a 3-0 victory over Bournemouth on Saturday, keeping pressure on Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. The victory puts Arsenal one point clear of Manchester City, who beat Wolves later on Saturday and have an additional game in hand.

  • Birmingham City have been relegated from the Championship despite beating Norwich 1-0 on the final day of the 2023-24 season. The result ends a difficult first season for the club’s American ownership group, which includes NFL legend Tom Brady.

  • Stuttgart substitutes Jeong Woo-yeong and Silas scored late goals to snatch a 3-1 win over visitors Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga on Saturday, spoiling the Bavarians’ preparations for their Champions League semifinal return leg against Real Madrid.

  • Girona have qualified for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history after beating Barcelona 4-2 at Montilivi on Saturday. The win over Barça, Girona’s second against their Catalan rivals this season, moves them 13 points clear of fifth-placed Athletic Club with just four games to go and into second place.


And finally, on Saturday…

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Ed Sheeran celebrates Ipswich’s promotion to the Premier League

Ed Sheeran celebrates and speaks to the Ipswich squad after its promotion to the Premier League.

Superstar musician Ed Sheeran has been a lifelong fan of Ipswich Town — he has even been the kit sponsor since 2021 — and ended up watching his side clinch promotion to the Premier League while on tour in Miami, Florida. ESPN’s Nate Saunders caught up with Sheeran ahead of the Miami F1 Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday.

“Living just outside of Ipswich, I’ve seen it go through really difficult times, and I know that being in the Premier League is going to bring, not just real excitement to the football club but also real excitement and joy to the town and lift it up, which is really important,” Sheeran told ESPN.

You may have been thinking out loud about a possible pun involving an Ed Sheeran song, but we’ll just say that his Saturday was probably perfect.

“What’s brilliant about football is it is very unpredictable and you never know what’s going to happen,” Sheeran said. “We’ve seen the top six teams in England fall from grace before, and you’ve seen people like Leicester win the league. You never know, if we avoid relegation next season, that’s the biggest success for me, but you never know what’s going to happen.” — Tyler