AP Photo/Alberto Saiz

La Liga & Serie A: Villarreal close in on UCL; Napoli keep title race going

Leave a comment

A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Villarreal 2-0 Getafe

Villarreal are eight points clear with six games to go in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification after knocking off Getafe at home on Sunday. Denis Suarez (15th minute) and Cedric Bakambu (84th) provided the goals for Marcelino García Toral’s side as they inched three points closer to locking up fourth place. Villarreal could also qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning this season’s UEFA Europa League (they hold a 2-1 lead over Sparta Prague after the first league of their quarterfinal tie).

Valencia 2-1 Sevilla

With Villarreal all but locking up fourth place, Sevilla’s only chance of getting into UCL next season is to win this season’s Europa League. Good news for them: they’re UEL ringers, having won the competition each of the last two seasons and currently holding a 2-1 lead over Athletic Bilbao in this year’s quarters. However, Sunday’s loss to Valencia puts them in danger of failing to even qualify for UEL next season, should they fail to win it this year. For 85 minutes, they looked like 1-0 losers (Daniel Parejo opened the scoring in the 41st minute), then from minutes 86-90 they looked certain for a 1-1 draw (Kevin Gameiro equalized on 86 minutes), then it was all undone by Alvaro Negredo’s 91st-minute winner.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sporting Gijon 0-1 Celta Vigo
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 32 24 4 4 87 27 60 14-1-1 10-3-3 76
Atlético Madrid 32 23 4 5 54 16 38 11-3-1 12-1-4 73
Real Madrid 32 22 6 4 93 29 64 14-1-2 8-5-2 72
Villarreal 32 17 9 6 41 26 15 12-3-2 5-6-4 60
Celta Vigo 32 15 7 10 45 52 -7 7-5-4 8-2-6 52
Athletic 32 15 6 11 50 40 10 9-4-3 6-2-8 51
Sevilla 32 13 9 10 45 39 6 13-0-3 0-9-7 48

Napoli 3-0 Hellas Verona

No Gonzalo Higuain — he of 30 goals scored in 31 league games this season — no problem for Napoli against bottom-of-the-league Hellas Verona. Manolo Gabbiadini, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon each chipped in with a goal apiece (below videos). That’s four wins in five for Napoli, but nowhere near enough to keep pace with league leaders and champions-elect Juventus (21 wins in their last 22 league games) in the race for the title. With six games to go, Juve lead Napoil by six points. The gap between Napoli and third-place Roma, who play on Monday, is currently seven points.

Empoli 2-0 Fiorentina

At one point this season, Fiorentina looked legitimate contenders for the title. Now, with six games to go, they’re holding onto UEL qualification for dear life. Sunday’s loss away to Empoli makes it six games without a win for Paulo Sousa’s side. Manuel Pucciarelli and Piotr Zielinski bagged the goals that sentenced the Viola to yet another disappointing result, dropping them from fourth, where they began the weekend, to fifth, where they’re one spot away from falling all the way out of European competition next season.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-1 Atalanta
Sampdoria 2-0 Udinese
Palermo 0-3 Lazio

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 32 24 4 4 58 17 41 12-2-1 12-2-3 76
Napoli 32 21 7 4 66 27 39 13-3-0 8-4-4 70
Roma 31 18 9 4 66 32 34 10-4-1 8-5-3 63
Inter Milan 32 17 7 8 42 30 12 10-2-4 7-5-4 58
Fiorentina 32 16 8 8 51 35 16 10-4-2 6-4-6 56
AC Milan 32 13 10 9 42 35 7 9-4-3 4-6-6 49

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.