As we wait for the Champions League final, it’s a good time to look at the leagues around Europe and see who will be part of next season’s competition. In this first report, we look at what I would call the “bigger” leagues in Europe — England, Italy, Spain and Germany. In part two, we’ll look at the other leagues such as France, Holland, Portugal, Austria, etc.
We start in Spain where Real Madrid claimed their 31st La Liga title with a 2-1 win over Osasuna. Fabio Cannavaro did his best to make it tough for his team to clinch as he was sent-off early in the second half after he was booked for a second poor tackle. Punal put Osasuna up a goal after converting from the penalty spot on 83 minutes but Real pulled out some late magic with goals from Arjen Robben and Higuain.
It was a case of too little, too late for Barcelona as they responded to their defeat at Old Trafford by hammering Valencia 6-0. Barca took a three-goal lead in the first fifteen minutes thanks to goals from Messi, Xavi and Thierry Henry. In the second-half Henry scored his second of the game while Bojan added the fifth and sixth. They are still behind Villareal after the Yellow Submarines defeated Getafe 2-0. Turkish striker Nihat grabbed both goals in the first half. Barca are four points adrift of second-placed Villarreal with three games left to play and still have work to do to avoid playing a qualifier to make Europe’s elite club competition.
To add to their woes, Barcelona will have to ignore the taunts and celebrations going on around them when they visit newly crowned champions Real Madrid on Wednesday, seeking to secure automatic Champions League qualification in the latest version of El Classico. Frank Rijkaard’s side will be required to applaud their arch-rivals on to the pitch at the Bernabeu to acknowledge Real’s title win.
Atletico Madrid continue to lead the race for fourth spot and the last Champions League qualification place but are closely trailed by Racing Santander and Sevilla.
In Germany, Bayern ensured their 21st Bundesliga title with a dull scoreless draw with Wolfsburg. There seemed to be a little bit of a letdown in the side after their shock drubbing at the hands of Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Cup earlier in the week. However, not all is doom and gloom for FC Hollywood, this is the third time in four years that Bayern have won the German domestic double and once again will have Champions League football next season.
Werder Bremen, who saw their faint title hopes finally snuffed out on the weekend, must now focus on not letting second place slip from their grasp when they travel to face rivals Hamburger SV on Wednesday. Schalke face a derby match away to Bochum today and can temporarily vault past Werder with a win. VfB Stuttgart, the deposed champions, are in fifth place behind Hamburg on goal difference. Stuttgart are away at Borussia Dortmund today in a match they must win if they are to cling on to their hopes of getting back into the Champions League.
In Italy, Internazionale must wait another week to try to wrap up the title after AC Milan deservedly won one of the most important Milan derbies for years and moved themselves ahead of Fiorentina and into the final Champions League qualifying spot.
Perhaps in response to the rumours that Ronaldinho was being courted by the club, Kaka had one of his finest games of the season, setting up the first goal with cross to Filippo Inzaghi early in the second half and then scoring a nice goal of his own to extend Milan’s lead. Kaka’s goal was the result of some dreadful Inter defending and they simply did not deserve to win on the day. It will take a stronger perfomance to clinch the title. AS Roma are now only 3 point back after they beat Sampdoria 3-0 on goals from Christian Panucci, David Pizarro and Cicinho.
Juventus will have to settle for the Champions League qualifiers after a 1-0 defeat to Siena ended their hopes of catching Roma. Cagliari defeated Fiorentina 2-1, which took them another big step towards safety and knocked Fiorentina out of the Champions League places. Jeda put the Sardinians ahead with a header from a corner after 20 minutes and Daniele Conti tapped in to make it two early in the second period. Fiorentina, beaten on penalties by Rangers in the UEFA Cup semi-final, had Adrian Mutu sent off late on after he received two quick bookings for a foul and dissent.
In England, the title race is still on as both Manchester United and Chelsea won their weekend matches but the Champions League spots are all decided. The status quo is in place again this season as the “Big Four” of English football — Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal will once again be part of next season’s Champions League. Liverpool and Arsenal will go through qualifiers while Manchester United and Chelsea will automatically be in the group stage regardless of who wins the title this weekend.