Barcelona all but clinch La Liga vs. Atletico. PLUS: Bayern rout Dortmund, Man City's Quadruple odds increase
After another action-packed weekend in soccer, Gab Marcotti reflects on the big talking points in his latest edition of Monday Musings.
Barcelona bring Atletico's season to an end
It was the last roll of the dice in terms of La Liga's title race and there were no surprises. Or, rather, the surprise was how, playing with 10 men for more than an hour, Atletico Madrid showed that their "Cholismo" style of play is alive and well, at least well enough to rattle Barcelona on auto-pilot. But then they succumbed to the inevitable -- a fine Luis Suarez finish and the usual Lionel Messi clock-in -- and, for the eighth time in the past 11 seasons, the title is all but headed to the Camp Nou.
Atletico would need to make up 12 points (Barca have the head-to-head tiebreaker) in the remaining seven matches, and that simply won't happen. You wonder what might have been had Diego Costa not shared his views about the referee's mother, earning himself that early red card, but you're left with the sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't have mattered.
Barca would have found a way through just as, broadly speaking, they've found their way through this season, navigating the various hurdles and hiccups Ernesto Valverde has had to deal with. From Ousmane Dembele's absences (some forced, some less so) to the shakiness at the back, from slow starts for Suarez and Ivan Rakitic to the non-start that has been Philippe Coutinho's Camp Nou career thus far, Barca have maintained their forward momentum.
It would be wrong to say Messi has carried them through the tough times. But with 43 goals in 40 matches this season, and 10 in his last six, he's peaking when it counts. And with Jordi Alba regaining his form, Arthur emerging in midfield and Marc-Andre ter Stegen hitting new heights, he's not the only one to have been solid throughout this peculiar campaign.
The Treble remains a possibility -- Barca are in the Spanish Cup final (vs. Valencia, May 25) and take on Manchester United this week in the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg -- and it's safe to say few would have expected it early in the season. That's a credit to Valverde: not everyone's cup of tea and not a managerial genius, but a guy who evidently gets things done and, crucially, manages to keep a lid on controversy.
This job wore down Tata Martino and Luis Enrique and spat them out at the end; Valverde seems unfazed.
Bayern thump Dortmund with title on the line
Just when you thought the tide had turned, Bayern sent Borussia Dortmund an emphatic reminder of why they've won six straight Bundesliga titles. This was an epic beatdown -- Bayern were 4-0 up at half-time and 5-0 at the final whistle, possibly because they were bored of scoring -- and it had as much to do with the Bavarians' merits as it did with Dortmund's errors.
Let's start with the former. Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara may have blown hot and cold this season, but they dominated the middle of the park on Saturday with a combination of quality and steel. The oft-criticized Mats Hummels notched the opener and showed the sort of leadership and intelligence that made him one of the most coveted center-backs around, at least back in the day. The wingers stretched and harried and forward Thomas Muller, back in a central position, did what he does behind the ever-clinical Robert Lewandowski.
Equally though, some of this must be on Lucien Favre. Already without key players Paco Alcacer, Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi, his Dortmund set-up was undone by a string of individual errors. Many blamed him for his decision to keep Mario Gotze on the bench and play Marco Reus as a false nine: to me, that's less of an issue than his other big guns wilting under pressure and making silly mistakes.
Don't crown Bayern just yet, mind you: they only lead Dortmund by one point with six games remaining. Not to mention that after Dortmund's superb first half of the season, it would be unacceptable for them to raise the white flag just yet.
Man City's Quadruple chase is on
An early Gabriel Jesus goal sent Manchester City past Brighton, 1-0, and on their way to the FA Cup final, where they can complete another leg of the potential Quadruple. It was one of those games you often get when a smaller side concedes early.
It felt as if Brighton boss Chris Hughton was so concerned with giving up a second goal that they left much of the attacking until the second half, which suited City just fine.
Guardiola called the Quadruple "almost impossible" but, in fact, he's being a little disingenuous. A Quadruple is just the Treble plus the League Cup, which City have already won. And while Trebles used to be a staggeringly difficult and infrequent achievement, in the past 11 years we've seen it done four times (including by Guardiola himself, while at Barcelona in 2008-09).
City are among the favourites in each of the three competitions they're contesting. It would be a huge achievement, but at this stage it's not quite "almost impossible."
Milan furious after Juve defeat
Milan were furious at referee Michael Fabbri following their 2-1 defeat at Juventus, and you can see why. It was a horrendous officiating display and the Rossoneri recriminated for a couple of missed bookings (Leonardo Bonucci and Rodrigo Bentancur), Mario Mandzukic kicking out at Alessio Romagnoli (though, to be fair, VAR failed to flag it) and a penalty not given when Hakan Calhanoglou's cross hit Alex Sandro's outstretched arm (Fabbri didn't give it even after the VAR review, judging it to be "natural").
Milan were frustrated because this was one of their better displays in recent weeks, but the old "Juve helped by the referee" narrative doesn't quite hold here. Moise Kean had a perfectly good goal disallowed for a phantom Bonucci foul and Mandzukic was wrongly stopped in a good position (he was offside, but it was Calhanoglou's backpass). This was a referee having a nightmare and nothing more.
As for Juventus, Kean has now scored in five consecutive games, including internationals, but it has to be frustrating how Max Allegri's squad players (Daniele Rugani and Bentancur, to name just two) do little to stand out when given a shot. Roll on Ajax in midweek.
Arsenal fail at Everton
Arsenal's 1-0 defeat away to Everton was a throwback to the past, and not in a good way: in fact, they seemed to display all the traits that ruined Arsene Wenger's teams in his later years. They defended poorly, lacked steel in midfield and took too many touches in attack. Everton could easily have scored a couple more, as Unai Emery admitted afterward. Incredibly, Arsenal remain one of only two teams in England's top four divisions to have conceded in every single league game away from home.
Emery has been hard to decipher this season but you're tempted to give him a pass for Arsenal's inconsistency, if only because so much of the personnel -- which he inherited -- seems so flaky or ill-assorted. The fact that they are still competing for a top-four spot and are in the Europa League quarterfinals is largely down to how he has figured out to jury-rig this side.
Benzema shows he's the answer up front for Madrid
We must be nearing the point where Real Madrid look at their squad and figure that maybe they don't need a top-drawer center-forward. For all the grief Karim Benzema has received over the years, he's had a steadfast ally in Florentino Perez. And this season, with Cristiano Ronaldo gone, Gareth Bale flickering, Vinicius Junior injured and three different managers on the bench, the veteran France striker is pulling his weight and is on pace for his second-most prolific season at the Bernabeu.
Benzema was again one of the few bright spots and bagged both goals in the 2-1 win over Eibar. Real Madrid looked laboured in a first half that saw them go a goal down and Benzema get little help from Marco Asensio and Bale. Business picked up after the break, which is what you expect against an opponent with little to play for but pride, but the lack of urgency (Benzema and a few others excepted) remains a concern.
Rabiot drama overshadows PSG
A home win against Strasbourg meant Paris Saint-Germain could have wrapped up yet another Ligue 1 crown on Sunday night, but PSG found themselves a goal down until the final minutes before grabbing a 2-2 draw. Thomas Tuchel once again only named five substitutes -- it's now almost a weekly statement about the limits to his squad and the rash of injuries -- and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's bizarre miss went viral, but otherwise there's not much to report: when the league is in hand (a draw next week will suffice), it's hard to keep your edge week in and week out.
Meanwhile, the Adrien Rabiot saga rumbles on. He's now been fined and suspended in part for "liking" a video in which Patrice Evra threatens former PSG winger Jerome Rothen in the aftermath of the club's defeat to Manchester United. Rabiot is a talent and will have no shortage of suitors in the summer, even with all this baggage. It's a shame it's going to end like this.
Watford and Wolves wow at Wembley
Sunday's FA Cup semifinal between Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers offered edge-of-the-seat excitement and moments of real skill, from Diogo Jota's runs to Gerard Deloufeu's absurdly exquisite golf chip. We had a two-goal comeback, an injury time penalty, a guy putting on a luchador mask (and then being trolled for it afterward) and a lovely redemption story from Troy Deeney in their 3-2 win after extra time.
Let it be evidence for what most already know: You don't need big brand super clubs to have an entertaining, high-quality match with plenty of drama. If you have two raucous sets of fans, a high-stakes game and the right setting, the spectacle can be as good as anything you can imagine.