Zidane guides Real to La Liga glory, Allegri's Juve win again, Terry's sendoff
There was no last day miracle, no "Tenerifazo" like a quarter-century ago when Real Madrid contrived to blow the title 90 minutes from the finish line. What you got instead was an early lead to settle the nerves, some great goalkeeping from Keylor Navas, and Karim Benzema putting the title out of reach by giving Real Madrid their 2-0 lead in the second half.
The victory away to Malaga sealed the club's 33rd league title, although only the club's second since 2008. Whether this reflects shifting priorities or simply that for most of the past nine years they had to do battle with an outstanding Barcelona and a feisty Atletico Madrid remains to be seen. But for a club so used to dominating domestically, triumphing on the home front is significant.
Zinedine Zidane said it was the "happiest" moment of his sporting life. Considering he won the Champions League last year as a coach and lifted the World Cup as a player (scoring two goals in a final, no less) it was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
"This is better," he reiterated. You can perhaps see how from a coach's perspective, this would bring more satisfaction.
Zidane the player was responsible, above all, for himself and his performance. Zidane the coach has to bring together 20 or so highly paid professionals and place his trust in the right ones, at the right time. And he has to do it in what is perhaps the most "political" job in club football, one that's swallowed up high-profile managers who got stuck between a president (Florentino Perez) with a very specific view of the football world and some enormous egos on the pitch. All in the fishbowl of perhaps the most scrutinised team in all of organised sports.
Zidane handled all this exceptionally well. He showed the guts and personality to make big calls. Whether it was limiting James Rodriguez's playing time -- his minutes fell for the third straight year, not something to be taken lightly when you consider he's the club's third-most expensive player ever, is a personal favorite of Florentino and Gareth Bale missed a chunk of the season through injury -- or persuading Cristiano Ronaldo that he did not need to play every minute of every game down the stretch (a move that ensured he finished the season on a physical high), Zidane was unafraid to make the bold moves.
His critics will simply point to the fact that he has a juggernaut of a side, packed with talent in every position and, indeed, he does. But if anything, the secret to this campaign has been about relying not just on the stars, but on the role players, too.
Alvaro Morata and Isco chipped in with 24 goals, Nacho was rock-solid when called upon at the back, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez did not disappoint when they replaced more highly touted (and highly paid) stars. Keylor Navas, the subject of transfer speculation all season long, may have his ups and downs but provided sterling goalkeeping when it mattered. And Casemiro grew into a viable, and at times indispensable, blue-collar warrior.
One stat stands out for me. Last season, Real Madrid had five players who were on the pitch for 2,450 league minutes. This season, they had none. Ronaldo's minutes in La Liga went down 23 percent while his goals in all competitions after April 1 went up 40 percent.
The next goal, of course, is the Champions League final in Cardiff. If Zidane hits the jackpot there as well, we may suddenly need to add him to the list of coaching phenoms. Because you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who has come so far and so fast since making his debut.
Allegri's magic at Juventus
Juventus were also crowned champions on Sunday, downing Crotone 3-0. It's their sixth consecutive Serie A crown, breaking the mark jointly held by Juve themselves (1930-31 to 1934-35) and the legendary Torino side that was so cruelly extinguished with the 1949 Superga crash.
I've written it before, but in my opinion, Max Allegri looms largest over this team. His decision to redesign the starting XI in midseason was as bold as it was visionary. Equally remarkable is how finely balanced this team is. This group has stars, and they take turns carrying the side, so much so that you'd struggle to pick a team MVP.
Sentiment would suggest handing it to Gigi Buffon, sure. But then what of Leo Bonucci, who has been pretty darn close to flawless? Or Sami Khedira, whom Allegri has described as the tactical cog that makes everything work? Or Paulo Dybala, whose quality and vision was instrumental in breaking down opponents? Or Gonzalo Higuain, the record signing who scored the bulk of the goals?
I honestly don't know what I'd do. Give the prize to Allegri or spread it out among the squad.
Usmanov vs. Kroenke to blame at Arsenal?
And so the streak is broken. Despite beating Everton 3-1, Arsenal missed out on a place in the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
"Overall I believe that we played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons," Arsene Wenger said. "Some obviously that you know about and that [are] very difficult for the group of players to cope with. Some other reasons we will talk about another day, but the psychological environment for the group of players was absolutely horrendous."
His words brought to mind those of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who said of the war on terror that there were "known knowns," "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns."
The stuff we know about -- Wenger's refusal to commit, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez running down their contracts, injuries to some key players at the wrong time -- is well documented. We can only speculate on what stuff Wenger "will talk about another day," but I wouldn't be surprised if it had to do with minority owner Alisher Usmanov and his takeover bid, which Stan Kroenke rejected.
Usmanov reportedly made a formal offer in April, but these things don't come out of the blue. Before the documents go out, key figures are consulted. And you'd expect that wind of an attempted Usmanov takeover might have gotten to Wenger, Ozil's people, Sanchez's people, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and goodness knows who else.
Stuff like that creates uncertainty. Kroenke turned down the bid, but what we don't know is how quickly (and how emphatically) he said no to Usmanov. It would not be surprising if, with the possibility of a new owner taking over in the summer, it had a knock-on effect on Wenger and some of his key men.
It's by no means an excuse, merely an explanation. Just another tidbit to throw into the cauldron of mistakes and mishaps that hit Arsenal this season.
Roma have a platform to contend in 2017-18
Roma's 5-3 win away to Chievo, powered by the Egyptian connection of Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah, left the giallorossi a single point behind Juventus, at least for 24 hours. It didn't last long, but that doesn't change the fact that for the first time since 2011-12, Juve were actually pushed in their run to the Serie A title. Put differently, it means that Juventus were better than the likes of Roma and Napoli, who never really relented at any point, rather than the chasing pack being poor.
Roma may hit the reset button this summer with the arrival of uber-sporting director Monchi, and that may include coach Luciano Spalletti moving on. But this season saw the team put on some real grown-up performances, and they'll actually end the season with a better goal difference than the champions. In other words, there's plenty of quality raw material to work with, whether Spalletti moves on or not.
Why the big fuss over Terry's substitution?
John Terry's final game at Stamford Bridge, after 22 years and 716 appearances for the club, ought to have been a celebration. For Chelsea supporters saluting their captain in the 5-1 win over Sunderland, it was. For others, less so.
The way Terry walked off the pitch amid a guard of honour after being substituted in the 26th minute (26 being his shirt number) irked many. Especially since it later emerged that he had "negotiated" this with Antonio Conte and David Moyes, the Sunderland boss: "We knew it was coming, we agreed to put the ball out [so he could come off in the 26th minute]."
I'm not sure if the whole thing really was Terry's idea as many reported, but he certainly gave the impression that this was the case with his post-match quotes about having to "negotiate" to come off.
It was tacky, sure. And there may be implications in terms of betting since some bookmakers apparently allow you to wager on what minute somebody will be substituted. (Which, by the way, probably ought not to be allowed for this very reason). But I wonder if the "integrity-of-the-game" brigade aren't overreacting a bit. Or, rather, if instead of Terry it had been somebody who everybody likes and who was largely untouched by controversy in his career, we would have had this much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair.
Goodbye to Alonso, Lahm
If you want to talk about a classy send-off, then consider the way Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm made their farewells to Bayern. They walked off eight minutes and three minutes from time, respectively, to standing ovations and later celebrated on the pitch in front of the AllianzArena crowd. It didn't feel staged (though you can be pretty sure Carlo Ancelotti would take them off at a certain point so they could have their moment in the sun), yet it was no less emotional and heartfelt.
I was asked on Extra Time last night: which of those two had the bigger impact on the game? It's one of the questions you never want to answer simply because both were so immense.
We're talking (between them) some 1350-plus games, 12 league titles, 10 domestic cups, three Champions League crowns, two World Cups, two European Championships and 227 international caps. I wouldn't even know where to begin. I guess maybe you'd lean to Xabi Alonso because his influence stretched to four clubs in three different countries but frankly, it's a toss-up.
I just hope they find a way to stay in the game, because football is poorer without them.
Kane's remarkable season
On Sunday I retweeted something that said Tottenham ended the season with the most goals scored, the fewest conceded and the league's top scorer in Harry Kane. I got dozens and dozens of responses along the lines of "yeah, but no trophy."
I can't argue with the facts, of course. But facts also say this was an exceptional season for Mauricio Pochettino and his crew and, crucially, one that suggests there is a very strong base on which to build.
The headlines in the 7-1 away walloping of Hull City belong to Kane. Three days earlier, away to Leicester, he banged in four goals. On Sunday, he grabbed a hat-trick. The late flurry of goals took his Premier League total to 29, which is far more than he got last season despite the fact that he made nine fewer starts this year.
Like many observers, starting with the people who coached him at Spurs, I was skeptical about Kane early in his career. But the past three seasons have been simply out of this world. And the best part, if you happen to be a Spurs fan? A lot of guys talk about loyalty and loving their club. Kane, more than most, seems to live it. It's hard to see him wearing any other club shirt ever -- at least not by choice.
Praise for Monaco
Monaco end their Ligue 1 season with 95 points, the second-highest total in history behind Paris Saint-Germain's mark of 96 two years ago. It's hard to overstate the job Leonardo Jardim has done this year, but plenty of credit has to go to the club itself, particularly departed scouting guru Luis Campos, who is now at Lille. In many ways, it has partly weaned itself off the Jorge Mendes network, learning to pursue other avenues and doing it with plenty of savvy.
It's the nature of the club, and the place they represent, that many will be turned off by them. That's fine. But it's one thing to have plenty of money and blow it indiscriminately. It's quite another to take those resources and multiply them.
How will Liverpool approach this summer?
A top-four finish means "mission accomplished." The first full season of the Jurgen Klopp era ends with a spot in the Champions League, which brings relief to the club coffers and, psychologically, more of a sense that they're moving in the right direction.
Steve Nicol talked on the show about the club needing five or six major signings to compete for the title. The big question this summer is whether you go all in and make that many changes that quickly, or whether you build through youth and, maybe, bring in your half-dozen newcomers over two seasons. My guess is they go for the latter.
Can Leipzig work their magic next year?
Leipzig's 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt means they fall a point short of setting a new Bundesliga points record for newly promoted teams. That mark still belongs to Kaiserslautern, who in 1997-98 actually won the Bundesliga in their first season back in the top flight.
Still, Leipzig's campaign remains remarkable, both in terms of some of the football they played and the way they disrupted German football's established order. There are plenty reasons (at least for me) to dislike what they stand for and the way they got there. But if you can divorce this from what they've done on the pitch, you can only admire the season they've had and wonder to what degree, if any, it can be replicated next season.
Bas Dost scored three goals in Sporting Lisbon's 4-1 home win over Desportivo Chaves. This takes his season total to 37 and, crucially, his league total to 34. That means he'll most likely end up second in the European "Golden Shoe" ranking with a score of 68, because the Portuguese league has a coefficient of 2.0.
That puts him six points behind some guy named Messi, who is on 74. So there.
This concludes the latest instalment of #DostWatch.