Arsenal pendulum swings, farewell Totti, Messi magic, Tuchel future, more
Arsene Wenger guided Arsenal past Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup final. It finished 2-1, although in truth Arsenal could probably have scored more. The Gunners finished the season with six straight victories in all competitions, winning nine of their last 10 overall.
What to read into this?
Probably not that much other than the basic fact that for all the bile and invective thrown at some Arsenal players, on the day they can turn up and play and be pretty darn good. And when it comes to fight and unity and personality, there is no shortage of those qualities in the squad, at least when their backs are up against the wall.
It's not something to be taken for granted. Other than pride and a trophy, there wasn't much at stake on Saturday, and it would have been easy for Arsenal to let the season peter out. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez could have got on with their contract negotiations, whether with Arsenal or somebody else. Per Mertesacker could have limited himself to another cameo. Granit Xhaka could have clobbered a couple of opponents and then thrown his hands in the air in frustration.
But that's not what happened. Ozil and Sanchez -- playing in their 44th and 52nd games of the season, respectively -- showed intensity, aggression and precision. Mertesacker marshalled a makeshift back three with the experience you'd expect from a guy with 104 Germany caps. And Xhaka patrolled the middle with intelligence and nous, staying on the right side of the disciplinary line.
Factor in emotion and drive -- areas in which Chelsea were summarily outclassed -- and there is little question that Arsenal fully deserved this.
True, the opening goal should never have stood. Sanchez's obvious handball was not spotted by referee Anthony Taylor, and that's before we get into Aaron Ramsey's even more obvious offside. The midfielder did not touch the ball, so the question is whether he carried out an action that impacts an opponent's ability to play it. By moving toward and squaring to shoot it, it's pretty obvious that he did.
But even beyond that break, Arsenal dominated much of the first half, creating at least two other clear-cut chances. Chelsea only came to life after the break, eventually getting their short-lived equaliser through Diego Costa, before Ramsey's header provided the winner.
It was a sloppy, disjointed performance from Antonio Conte's men, probably their worst since Arsenal beat them 3-0 at the Emirates in September. But that can't take anything away from Arsene Wenger's crew. The theory that some players no longer wanted to play for him? You got your answer on Sunday.
It doesn't mean that Wenger will stick around or, indeed, should stick around. For the umpteenth time, he refused to be drawn on his future, but we ought to know more soon, given that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke is in town and a board meeting is scheduled for this week.
The smart money seems to be on Wenger to stay, albeit perhaps with some sort of internal reorganization. Frankly, though, it's anyone's guess.
You get the sense he wants to continue on his terms and in the way he's always done business. Equally, if he leaves now he can do so with a trophy and that might facilitate his exit, especially if staying means doing so with a new structure and new people involved. (Not to mention, potentially, without Ozil and, especially, Sanchez).
Totti says farewell to Roma
After Xabi Alonso, Philipp Lahm and John Terry last week, it was Francesco Totti's turn to say goodbye on Sunday. The difference here is the sheer passage of time: Having joined Roma as a 12-year-old in 1989, he leaves the club four months shy of his 41st birthday.
It's not just the 28 years, it's the fact that Totti was born in Rome and raised a Romanista; qualities he called a "privilege" in his farewell speech. Factor in his longevity and attachment to a city, which lives the game in a way very few others do, and it's not hard to see how that if he's not unique, he's pretty darn close to it.
He retires with 786 appearances under his belt, while scoring 307 goals (of which 250 came in Serie A, placing him in the top 15 of all-time post-war goalscorers in Europe's top five leagues -- no mean feat for a guy who was never a natural center-forward).
There are two main points worth making about Totti. The first is regarding the argument made by some --- like these guys four years ago -- which is that he wasn't a truly great player because he spent his entire career at Roma. And, if he had been truly great, "someone would have come along and taken him."
It's the "show us your medals" brigade and it shows how out of touch some people truly are. If medals were all that mattered, then Phil Neal would be a greater player than Kenny Dalglish. Besides, Totti chose to stay at Roma, turning down opportunities to move to Real Madrid, Milan and elsewhere.
If a room packed with silverware was what he truly valued, he could have filled it elsewhere. Just as Steven Gerrard might have retired with a few Premier League medals if he left the club he supported as a boy and the city where he was raised. Or just as Ryan Giggs, when Manchester United were coming up short in the late 1990s, might have been tempted by Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Totti said the title he won with Roma in 2001 was worth more to him than 10 in Milan or Madrid, but some people simply don't get it. The same folks would never understand why Alan Shearer said no to Manchester United when he left Blackburn in 1996, instead opting to play for Newcastle in front of the very same stand he frequented as a boy.
You can criticize Totti for many things -- by his own admission, he made some poor decisions earlier in his career -- but not leaving the club and city that defines it is not one of them.
The other point is that there was something truly beautiful in what he said after Sunday's game vs. Genoa ended, when he admitted to being "terrified' at the thought of growing up. For his whole life he had worn shorts and played a game. Now, at 40, he has to leave it behind and become an adult.
Messi magic as Luis Enrique exits
Given the circumstances, it felt anticlimactic. And, though it turned out to be much tougher than anticipated, particularly after an early injury to Javier Mascherano, Barcelona eventually overcame Alaves 3-1 in the Copa del Rey final, even if their unfancied opponents stayed in the match until late.
Lionel Messi was forced to carry the team -- not for the first time -- and so he did. With Paco Alcacer showing that his finishing isn't equal to that of the suspended Luis Suarez, Messi scored one and had a hand in the other two. He ends the season with 54 goals in 52 games, which is the fourth-highest total of his career and the fourth time he has managed more than one goal per game.
Come up with your own superlatives.
The game also marked Luis Enrique's final match as Barcelona boss. He leaves having won nine of a possible 13 trophies -- limit that to "major" prizes and he has six of nine -- and having been dissected and judged from every possible vantage point.
To some, the mere fact of having Messi and Co. in his team invalidates Luis Enrique's achievement, since a cardboard box would win about as regularly. But, to others, managing such talent means there's still a ton of work to be done in terms of squad management, in terms of handling egos, in terms of striking balance and in terms of being the public face of the club.
I'm in the latter camp and think Luis Enrique did a very good job at the Camp Nou and is a very good manager. It's indicative that he cited exhaustion as one of his reasons for moving on, for this a hugely draining job, particularly for those who, like him or Pep Guardiola before, have a special bond with the club.
Luis Enrique is very much his own man. And that man isn't necessarily somebody cut out to manage Barca. Someone who knows him very well told me that, to make it work, he gave up a lot of who he is and who he wants to be. You can only be somebody you're not for so long. Eventually it takes a toll.
What now for Tuchel and Dortmund?
I have no idea if Thomas Tuchel will stick around at Borussia Dortmund, and apparently, he doesn't either, although he says he would like to remain in charge. What I do know is that he remains one of the more interesting and creative managers out there. Plus, if he has learned lessons from his two seasons in charge, he'll be a better manager.
At this stage, whether he goes or stays doesn't seem to depend on results -- Dortmund finished third in the Bundesliga and won the German Cup, defeating Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday -- as much as it does on personal relationships (which have been frosty with his bosses and the fans) and whether he's the right steward for the club's many gifted youngsters.
Whether Hans-Joachim Watzke and the rest of the Dortmund front office feel they can continue to work with Tuchel is something only those involved can answer. But on the youth development front, the likes of Julian Weigl, Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor need the right kind of leadership.
Judge where they were a year ago and decide what progress would have been made with someone else in charge. That's where you'll find the answer regarding Tuchel's future.
PSG remain a work in progress
Paris Saint-Germain won the French Cup on Sunday, beating Angers 1-0 thanks to an injury-time own goal. In some ways, it was a metaphor for their season: more smoke than fire, with everything requiring more effort than ought to have been needed and a lingering fear of failure.
There's a parallel universe in which Barcelona's twilight-world comeback never happens and PSG advance to the Champions League quarterfinals and then the whole season takes an entirely different turn.
But the problem with such thinking is that, at the time, PSG were already three points back in Ligue 1, so the notion that the defeat somehow also cost them a domestic title is a myth. Could eliminating Barcelona have keyed a glorious run to Saturday's final in Cardiff? Maybe. But only if you believe Unai Emery's side could have dispatched Juventus and Monaco.
The harsh reality is that this PSG team has a lot of issues and a faces very steep learning curve.
Crotone's great escape
At the midpoint of the 2016-17 Serie A season, promoted Crotone had nine points from 19 games and were eight points from safety. On April 1, with nine games to go, they had improved to second-bottom but still needed to make up eight points to avoid the drop.
There were some shades of Leicester 2015-16, except Crotone were a tiny side playing in a tiny stadium that was mostly closed for the opening month of the season (which is why they averaged a home attendance of 600 for their first three matches).
They kept faith with manager Davide Nicola and he engineered the prodigious turnaround that saw them win 20 points in their last nine games, capping it off with a 3-1 win over Lazio on Sunday. (And, no, Lazio didn't lie down either: The defeat ended up costing them fourth place.)
None of this would have mattered if Empoli, who were relegated, had won away to Palermo, who went down a few weeks ago. But Palermo won 2-1, and here too it's worth mentioning the circumstances. They had nothing to play for, and in the real world -- not just Italy -- we often know what that means.
Palermo had another reason not to be bothered with trying to win: Under the convoluted rules of Italy's parachute payment system for relegated clubs, Empoli going down could end up costing Palermo as much as €15 million ($17m) if they don't immediately bounce back into the top flight. Yet Palermo gave everything.
Crotone's escape truly was a remarkable relegation scrap. And one of the better stories of the season.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.