Weekend review: Mixed fortunes for Champions League finalists

Published on: 12 May 2024

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We are nearing the end of the European season across the major top five leagues in the continent, but we still have matches to decide titles, qualification for European competitions and relegation.

In Germany, recently named UEFA Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund endured a 3-0 loss to Mainz which also boosts the winner's chances of escaping relegation from the Bundesliga. In Spain, the other Champions League finalists Real Madrid continued their fine form in LaLiga and earned a 4-0 win over Granada.

In Italy, we saw Christian Pulisic continuing to shine for Milan this season and in England, we saw Burnley become the second team confirmed to be relegated from the Premier League.

Let's take a look back at what happened all across the continent this weekend.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

SATURDAY REVIEWThe lead: Mainz earn huge win to shock Champions League finalists Dortmund

After another magic Champions League night a few days earlier, Borussia Dortmund showed their ugly faces once again, as they were embarrassed by Mainz in a 3-0 loss at the Mewa Arena.

Leandro Barreiro and Lee Jae-Sung shocked the guests by scoring three goals in the first 23 minutes, with the latter recording a brace. While Mainz are in the midst of a battle against relegation, they did not look like a team that are deemed to play in the 2. Bundesliga next season. Plus, Dortmund are becoming one of their favorite opponents in Germany's top flight. As a reminder, Mainz ended Dortmund's title quest on the final matchday of the 2023-24 campaign.

Mainz manager Bo Henriksen was counting on the good vibes, saying "They are great opponents and there is the feeling that the entire city is behind us." Scoring a win over Dortmund means that Mainz have escaped the relegation zone, while Union Berlin have dropped to 16th place after suffering a defeat at Cologne, despite leading the game 2-0 after 19 minutes.

Mainz earned a huge 3-0 win over Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund which is a huge boost to escape relegation from the Bundesliga. (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Contrary to Union giving away their lead and losing 3-2 against Cologne, Mainz managed to keep a clean sheet against a rather disillusioned Dortmund side. The visitors' manager Edin Terzic brought on his best-attacking performers, Julian Brandt, Ian Maatsen and Jadon Sancho, at halftime, but these substitutions did not make a difference in terms of the result.

Luckily for Dortmund, their fifth place in the Bundesliga table is already secured, meaning that they are qualified for next year's Champions League regardless of the outcome of the final against Real Madrid at Wembley Stadium in three weeks. Still, games like the one at Mainz should be used to gain confidence, not to make them doubt themselves again. -- Constantin Eckner

Saturday talking points around the leaguesDíaz stars in Madrid's Champions League final audition in Granada

Real Madrid's s 4-0 LaLiga win at Granada on Saturday had little riding on it, in truth: Madrid, already confirmed as champions, going up against a Granada side whose relegation had been assured by results earlier in the day.

Still, Madrid's players do have something to play for: a place in the starting lineup for the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund. Coach Carlo Ancelotti has said he'll use Madrid's remaining league fixtures to give minutes to the players who need them and rest those who don't. Against Granada, he made ten changes to the team that beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in midweek. One of those players is Thibaut Courtois, who has missed much of the season with an ACL injury.

Ancelotti has said he plans to give Courtois a chance between now and the end of the campaign to show that he deserves to be considered for a place in the team at Wembley, ahead of Andriy Lunin. In Granada, two sharp first-half saves suggested Courtois isn't far away. But more evidence is required, and up against better forward lines than Granada's.

There's also a potential spot in midfield up for grabs, with Aurélien Tchouaméni a doubt with a foot injury. Eduardo Camavinga made his case here with a dominant display in midfield.

The game's undoubted star was Brahim Diaz, who scored twice -- his first a dazzling solo effort, carrying the ball from the halfway line --- and played a role in the build-up to the team's other two goals, finished off by Fran García and Arda Güler.

Diaz has shown this season that he has a part to play in a stacked Real Madrid attack, whether it's starting games like this, or making an impact off the bench. The latter is the role he's most likely to be given in the Champions League final on June 1. -- Alex Kirkland

Editor's Picks

    Europe's top soccer leagues: Title fights, Europe, relegation battles this weekend54mDale JohnsonThe USMNT center of gravity is moving away from MLS. That's fine -- for now22hNoah DavisMan City show how to deal with title pressure as Gvardiol proves unlikely hero23hRob Dawson

2 RelatedAmericans Abroad: Pulisic gets two goals in Milan win over Caliglari

With the end of the season nearly coming to a close across all of Europe, all eyes will be on the American players abroad to see what form they'll be in heading into the Copa América happening next month on home soil. The USMNT's very own "Captain America" impressed in Milan's 5-1 win over Cagliari as he scored two goals for the Rossoneri as they look to finish in second place behind rivals and Serie A champions Inter.

With this goal, Pulisic now has 24 goal contributions in all competitions (15 goals and nine assists) in his debut season for manager Stefano Pioli, putting him tied for second for the most goal contributions by a male American player in Europe in the last 30 seasons with Folarin Balogun and four goals contributions behind Clint Dempsey.

Meanwhile, in the Premier League, defender Chris Richards continues his fine form for Crystal Palace as he played all 90 minutes in a 3-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. With this win, Richards' last 10 matches for the Eagles go as follows: five wins, four draws, and one loss. While he has shown great form on the pitch, he has also been showing his wit recently by going viral in the last week for his impressive geography skills.

All in all, the form of Pulisic and Richards comes at a great time for USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter who will rely on both of them to be crucial players in the Copa starting next month. -- Roberto Rojas

News of the day

    Manchester City provisionally go top of the Premier League following a 4-0 win over Fulham, thanks in part to a brace from defender Josko Gvardiol. The result moved them two points clear of the other title challengers Arsenal and with one week left in the season, Manchester City can become champions if they win their next two games against Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United respectively.

    Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique said he was proud to have had Kylian Mbappé on his team this season but also understands the player's decision to leave at the end of the season. "I have been proud to have him in this team," Luis Enrique said. "He has helped us and is a leader, and he has done so with a smile on his face."

And finally, on Saturday ...

Vincent Kompany's dream of keeping last season's EFL Championship winners Burnley in the Premier League has come to an end after a 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, despite taking the lead 25 minutes into the match. Burnley return to the Championship after just one season and go to the final day against Nottingham Forest with a record of five wins, nine draws, and 23 losses.

Burnley and already Sheffield United are likely to be joined by Luton Town, whose Premier League status is dependant on other results going there way. If Rob Edwards' side are unable to beat the drop, it will be the first time since the 1997-98 season that all three promoted teams from the Championship go straight back down.

Leicester City and Ipswich Town will replace both Sheffield United and Burnley while we'll find out who will be the third team to make the jump to the Premier League after the end of the Championship play-offs at the end of the month.

Burnley minority owner J.J Watt took to social media to express his disappointment at the Clarets' relegation and issued a rallying call for the following season. -- Rojas

Source: espn.co.uk

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