Dramatic final weekend across Europe’s “big five” top flight domestic leagues

Europe’s biggest five domestic top flight leagues finished their 2020/21 regular season over the weekend and there was high drama across England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Going into Saturday’s final day the title, the final Europa League place and all the relegation places were still to be confirmed in Spain’s top flight, La Liga Santander.

Real Madrid needed to better city rivals Atletico Madrid’s result to retain the La Liga crown. It was Atletico though who were crowned league champions though for the first time since 2014 by coming from behind to beat Real Valladolid 2-1. Victory for the visitors relegated Valladolid.

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Real had to win against Villarreal, albeit their come-from-behind win ultimately proved futile.

Victory for Los Blancos seemed unlikely for the majority of the match, with Yeremi Pino giving the visitors the lead after 20 minutes, coolly flicking beyond Thibaut Courtois with the outside of his right boot. Zinedine Zidane’s men did end their campaign with a flourish as Karim Benzema and Luka Modric struck late on for a 2-1 win which ultimately saw them finish second regardless.

Villarreal play in the Europa League final on Wednesday and, had they held on against Real Madrid, would have been assured of a return to that competition next season. Their seventh-place league finish means as things stand they will play in the Europa Conference League play-off round.

At the bottom of the table, Elche beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0. This meant that Fran Escribá’s charges leapfrogged Huesca (who could only draw 0-0 at home against Valencia on the final day) to avoid the final relegation place from La Liga Santander. Eibar knew they needed to beat Barcelona on the final day to have any chance of avoiding relegation. Instead, they lost 0-1 and are relegated to the second tier along with Real Valladolid and Huesca.

In Germany’s Bundesliga, all major issues (title, European places etc) had all been decided going into the final matchday of the season, aside from the relegation places. Former Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen were relegated for the first time since 1980 following their 4-2 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach, along with long since relegated Schalke 04.

Cologne will go into the relegation play-offs after scoring an 86th-minute winner over Schalke.

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Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old Bundesliga goal-scoring record for a season when he scored in the last minute of their last match of the season, a 5-2 win over Augsburg, taking his tally to 41 goals, one more than Muller’s long standing record.

The Pole is now second on the all-time Bundesliga scoring charts, with 277 goals, only behind Muller who netted 365 times in the German top flight.

With coach Hansi Flick and a number of long-serving players – Javi Martinez, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng – bidding farewell to Germany’s biggest club, and 250 invited fans in the 75,000-seat Allianz Arena, it was an emotional afternoon for Bayern with the Bundesliga title long since won.

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland scored twice as his team beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 to finish the season in third place.

Elsewhere, second-place RB Leipzig ended the season with a meaningless 2-1 loss away to Union Berlin. Eintracht Frankfurt won 3-1 at home to Freiburg while Hoffenheim beat Hertha Berlin 2-1.

Armenia Bielefeld confirmed their Bundesliga status with a 2-0 win at Stuttgart while Mainz were 3-2 winners at Wolfsburg.

In the English Premier League, all major issues were decided, aside from the final Champions League place and the lower European places. Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City were fighting it out for two slots in European football’s premier club competition. The Europa League and Europa Conference League places hadn’t been confirmed either going into the final day.

The two Manchester clubs had long since been assured of the top two places. Liverpool and Chelsea seized the final two Champions League places in a denouement of high drama, leaving Leicester heartbroken for the second consecutive campaign. Going into the final game of the season, one point separated Chelsea in third from Leicester in fifth.

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Two goals at a very loud Anfield (which seemed much fuller than the 9,901 attendance) gave Liverpool a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. A total of 26 points from the Reds’ last 10 games of the season sealed a third place finish which seemed impossible six weeks ago.

Leicester had fourth place in their grasp midway through the second half of their final game against Tottenham Hotspur, but it slipped away, and in a cruel twist, it was Kasper Schmeichel, so brilliant in the FA Cup final, who made the fateful error, glancing a corner into his own net, with Spurs eventually winning 2-4 and they will play in the Europa Conference League next season.

Tantalisingly, the result they required, a defeat for Chelsea (2-1 at Aston Villa), materialised, but they could not take advantage. For the second consecutive season, Brendan Rodgers’ team have punched above their weight, and amplified the thrill of the Champions League chase, but slip into the Europa League at the last.

West Ham United ended a record-breaking season with a 3-0 win over Southampton, earning sixth place and a place in the Europa League. David Moyes’ side earned the club’s best Premier League points tally of 65.

At the Emirates, Nicolas Pepe continued his fine end to the season by scoring twice as Arsenal beat Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0, but the Gunners finish eighth in the final table and miss out on European qualification for the first time in 25 years.

Elsewhere, Manchester United completed their season unbeaten away from home with a 1-2 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who finish 13th as manager Nuno Espiroto Santo departs. Sheffield United signed off their time in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Burnley with former Ireland international David McGoldrick scoring the only goal. Leeds United beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1, who were relegated a few weeks ago while Newcastle United won 0-2 at Fulham, who also lost their Premier League status a few games ago.

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In Italy, having started the final day in fifth place and outside the Champions League places, Juventus won comfortably 1-4 at Bologna thanks to goals from Chiesa, Rabiot and a brace from Morata, which was enough to scrape into the last Champions League slot.

Juve needed Napoli to slip up and that they did thanks to a 1-1 draw against a Verona side who had nothing to play for aside from professional pride. Napoli will now play in the Europa League next season.

Franck Kessie scored a penalty at the end of both halves to seal a 0-2 win for AC Milan over Atalanta (who had already qualified for the Champions League before the final night’s play). The Rossoneri have not competed in the Champions League since 2013-’14. They finish in second place, 12 points behind champions Inter Milan, who celebrated their Serie A title with a 5-1 win over Udinese.

At the other end of the table, Benevento, Crotone and Parma had all been relegated before the final game day of the Serie A season.

In France’s Ligue 1, Lille earned a narrow 1-2 win at Angers to finish one point ahead of Paris Saint-Germain (with Lille having a considerably inferior goal difference to the Parisiens) and clinch a fourth Ligue 1 title in their 77-year history.

Jonathan David netted an early goal and Burak Yılmaz doubled Lille’s lead from the spot on the stroke of half-time with Angelo Fulgini late strike providing a nervy finish. Lille were good value for the win on the night and over the course of the season though.

Paris Saint-Germain beat Brest 2-0 but it wasn’t quite enough to win their eighth league title in the last nine years.

Monaco, who drew 0-0 with Lens in their final game and they took the third and final Champions League spot after Lyon lost 3-2 at home to Nice.

Lyon will be in next season’s Europa League while Marseille and Rennes qualified for the Europa Conference League.

Nantes are set for a relegation play-off with Toulouse on Thursday after losing 2-1 at home to Montpellier.

Nimes had already been relegated before the final game day while Dijon had been relegated several games ago.

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