Another weekend of European football is in the books with plenty of action, goals and last-minute drama. The Bundesliga title race is back in Bayern Munich‘s hands, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur played out a thriller in the English Premier League, and Napoli has to wait to lift the league title.
In LaLiga, Barcelona‘s latest debutante broke a club record while Real Madrid bounced back from their shock loss last week as Karim Benzema scored a hat trick.
ESPN correspondents Mark Ogden, Julien Laurens, Sam Marsden, James Olley and James Tyler break down the most interesting and important stuff you need to know about the weekend.
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Crystal Palace‘s remarkable turnaround
Roy Hodgson’s return to Crystal Palace as caretaker manager at the end of March appeared to be an act of desperation by the club’s owners, with nostalgia rather than logic seemingly the only justification for asking a 75-year-old to emerge from retirement to save them from relegation.
Former England manager Hodgson had left Selhurst Park in Jun 2021 after almost four years in charge with the club hiring Patrick Vieira to overhaul the squad and turn Palace into a team capable of securing a top 10 Premier League finish.
But by the time Vieira was fired in mid-March, Palace had dropped to within three points of the relegation zone having failed to win a single Premier League game in 2023. The Eagles looked doomed and Hodgson’s return was a surprise considering he had left his last job following relegation at Watford in May 2022 by saying that he would not be “putting my name forward for any more sorties in the world of Premier League football.”
Twelve months on and Hodgson has been Palace’s saviour, guiding the team to four wins and a draw from six games in charge. Saturday’s 4-3 win against West Ham took Palace to 40 points and all but guaranteed survival in the top flight. It has become something of a cliche to suggest that a manager deserves a job because he “knows the club,” but Hodgson is certainly showing that he has some kind of magic touch at Palace.
The only question now is whether he will decide to abandon retirement on a more permanent basis and stick around for another season. If he wants to do so, it will be a big call by the Palace owners to say no. — Ogden
Kimmich puts on a show as Bayern Munich take charge of the title race (again)
Will this stick? Will their lead hold? Will this weekend be regarded as the day the title race ended? Given how this season’s gone so far for Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, this race for the Bundesliga crown will surely run a little longer, but Sunday saw the Bavarians take charge and it was all down to their midfield maestro. Completing 92% of his 120 passes and creating 11 chances, Joshua Kimmich picked up both assists in a nervy 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin that put Bayern back at the top, by a point, with four games remaining.
Coach Thomas Tuchel sorely needed a win after an April skid of two draws and two defeats in their last four games, and Kimmich provided the spark to get it done against a Hertha side hustling to avoid relegation. You’d think Bayern would win comfortably given the disparity between the two, but Dortmund were given a rude awakening by 16th place Bochum on Friday, conceding inside three minutes and settling for a 1-1 draw. It gave proof to the fact that the sport is still unpredictable despite obvious clues, though Bayern labored for over an hour before finally breaking Hertha’s resolve, with Kimmich’s delicate cross finding Serge Gnabry for a stooping header.
Barely 10 minutes later, Kimmich’s clever lofted pass set up Kingsley Coman for a slick finish and a much-needed halt to a dismal run of form, in-fighting and frustration among the reigning league champions. Their path to an 11th straight title is far from smooth — RB Leipzig and Koln could easily spoil the parade in the final two weeks — but Dortmund’s stumble again ceded the advantage to the team that’s been here and done it before. — Tyler
Lamine Yamal makes record-breaking cameo
History was made at Spotify Camp Nou on Saturday as Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to ever play for Barcelona in LaLiga. The 15-year-old made his first-team debut in the 4-0 win against Real Betis, replacing Gavi for the final 10 minutes of the game. Wearing the No. 41 shirt, the forward was given a rousing reception by the 88,000 crowd and almost treated them to a goal. Finding space in the box, only a smart save from Betis goalkeeper Rui Silva denied the home fans what they so desperately craved.
Lamine Yamal becomes Barcelona’s youngest player ever
15-year-old Lamine Yamal comes on in the 83rd minute vs. Real Betis to become the youngest ever player for Barcelona.
Former Mallorca forward Luka Romero remains the youngest to ever feature in LaLiga. The now Lazio player was aged 15 years and 219 days when he debuted in 2020. Yamal becomes the fifth youngest and one of just five players to debut before turning 16 — which he will do in July. Born in 2007, the fact he appeared in the same game as Joaquin really emphasised the scale of his youth. The Betis winger, who at 41 will retire in the summer, was making his last-ever appearance at Camp Nou. He turned 26 the week after Yamal was born.
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez didn’t hold back on the superlatives. He labelled him a “special talent with an innate ability in the final third” and tipped him to mark an era at the club. Cynics may point out that all this attention comes as the Blaugrana negotiate a new contract with his agent, Jorge Mendes, with his current terms expiring and a first professional deal due in the summer. Yamal, though, will just be enjoying playing a small part as Barca coast towards a first LaLiga title since 2019. The win over Betis leaves them 11 points clear at the top with just six games to play. — Marsden
Dia spoils Napoli’s party
If Boulaye Dia planned to spend some of his holidays in Naples this summer, he will probably have to find a new destination. The Paris-born striker scored a late equaliser for Salernitana at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium on Sunday to spoil Napoli’s title party.
After Lazio’s defeat in Milan against Inter earlier in the day, Napoli just needed a win against their neighbours to be crowned Italian champions for the first time in 33 years. They had plenty of chances for Victor Osimhen or Khvicha Kvaratskhelia but Salernitana goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stopped everything except Mathias Olivera‘s header just after the hour.
Guillermo Ochoa’s Salernitana just walked into Naples and prevented Napoli from winning their first Serie A title in 33 years 😮
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 30, 2023
Olivera was set to become the hero of the day and to enter Napoli’s history books. The incredible atmosphere in the stadium was going up another notch and the third Serie A title in the club’s history was getting so close. But Dia ruined it all and postponed it for another week at least. His superb goal, nutmegging on Osimhen on the right-hand side, coming inside and shooting a left-footed curler to finish prevented Napoli from fully celebrating.
It is just a matter of time — probably on Thursday away against Udinese — before the trophy makes it way to the south of Italy but, for now, the bottles of champagne and the confetti have been put back in the boxes. — Laurens
Julian Alvarez‘ winning strike
Julian Alvarez fired Manchester City to the top of the Premier League with a stunning 25-yard match-winning strike against Fulham on Sunday. If the 23-year-old was a little lucky in how the ball broke after trying to ride a challenge from Joao Palhinha, there was nothing fortuitous about what came next. Alvarez took a touch to get the ball out of his feet and hit a superb curling drive which gave Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno no chance.
Just STUNNING by Julian Alvarez. 😍
📺: @USANetwork | #FULMCI pic.twitter.com/2S3zSroN3Z
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 30, 2023
He continues to operate in the shadow created by Erling Haaland‘s devastating prowess but Alvarez has been a key contributor to City this season. Among players with 10 or more starts in the Premier League this season, only Haaland (67%) has scored in a higher percentage of his starts than Alvarez — 11 from 18, which equates to 61%. — Olley
Stuttgart’s great escape is on thanks to Serhou Guirassy’s classy finish
It’s not looking good still for Stuttgart, but this weekend’s 2-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach — making it 8 points from their last 12 — continues to keep them trending upwards when it comes to securing a spot in the German top flight for next season. It was a hard-fought win thanks to Tanguy Coulibaly‘s late penalty, but Guirassy’s excellent first-half goal set the tone for what followed.
Playing a slick one-two with Waldemar Anton, who repaid a quick pass-to-feet with a one-time scoop over the last defender, Guirassy calmly swept it home on the volley with little resistance. They’ll need more heroics like this over the remaining four matchdays, but Stuttgart are certainly full of confidence regardless of who they’re playing. — Tyler
Kylian Mbappe‘s cheeky goal
Mbappe has scored many goals in his career already but probably never one easier than against Lorient on Sunday. Indeed, his 23rd Ligue 1 goal for PSG this season came about as much thanks to his awareness and smartness than to his incredible talent.
Yvon Mvogo, the Lorient goalkeeper had the ball in his hands after a PSG attack where Mbappe was close to scoring. Mvogo thought the referee had given a free kick for his team so he put the ball down on the floor to take it. Except that the referee, Jerome Brisard, had not given anything. The ball was free to be played then and Mbappe, who was standing next to Mvogo, took the ball and scored in an empty net.
BIZARRE MBAPPE GOAL 🇫🇷🎁 Lorient goalkeeper incorrectly thinks play whistled dead after non-foul ruling, gifts goal to French forward. Visitors’ largesse not enough, as PSG still fell 3-1. pic.twitter.com/qltwNVn2B5
— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) April 30, 2023
The Lorient players protested and said they heard the referee blowing his whistle but he denied it and there was nothing he could do apart from allowing this strange goal to stand. It brought 10-man Paris level after an early Lorient goal and an Achraf Hakimi red card. It would not be enough anyway as PSG lost 3-1, their sixth defeat this season in the league, all of them in 2023. — Laurens
Teams in trouble
Southampton stare down relegation
Southampton’s Premier League plight is increasingly desperate. How different things could look if they were able to hold onto recent leads, blowing a two-goal advantage in the dying minutes to draw 3-3 against Arsenal and on Sunday, going 1-0 up at Newcastle only to lose 3-1. They have lost 22 of their 34 Premier League matches this season and so the chances of a dramatic escape appear remote: sitting six points from safety, they will realistically have to win at least three of their final four matches to have any shot of avoiding relegation. First up is a trip to Nottingham Forest on Monday week.
Perhaps the only crumb of comfort they could take from this weekend is that Forest were unable to hang on themselves at Brentford, leading 1-0 until the final eight minutes before conceding a 94th-minute goal to lose 2-1. Fulham, Brighton and Liverpool await after Forest and only a miracle can save Southampton now.– Olley
Cadiz picks up a big 3 points with win over Valencia
Cadiz gets two first-half goals and holds on for the 2-1 win over Valencia.
Can Valencia stay clear of the drop zone?
Just as they looked to be pulling themselves out of it, Valencia have been dragged back into the relegation battle in LaLiga. Back-to-back wins over Elche and Real Valladolid had fueled false hope of a rise up the table in the final weeks of the season, but Sunday’s reverse away at Cadiz has them firmly looking over their shoulders once again.
Samuel Lino replied for Valencia after goals in each half from Gonzalo Escalante and Sergio Guardiola for Cadiz, but the home side held on to win 2-1 and leapfrog their visitors in the table. Valencia were left to lament wayward finishing and, later in the day, second bottom Espanyol‘s narrow 1-0 win over Getafe, which means just four points now separate six teams between 14th and 19th, with just one place and two points keeping Valencia out of the bottom three. Two of those six teams will join Elche — who could be officially relegated as soon as Tuesday — in the second division next season.
Valencia’s run-in, starting with Champions League-chasing Villarreal on Wednesday, will give them cause for concern. They also still have to play Real Madrid, Real Betis and, perhaps most importantly, relegation rivals Espanyol. A first — and almost unthinkable — top flight relegation since 1986 remains a possibility for six-time LaLiga winners. — Marsden
Diogo Jota rescues Liverpool
Let’s not over-complicate this one. No player scored a bigger goal this weekend than Diogo Jota, so he earns the MVP tag simply for keeping the race for Champions League qualification alive in the Premier League.
Having led 3-0 against Spurs at Anfield, Liverpool looked on course to keep the heat on Manchester United in the race for fourth spot, but an incredible Spurs fightback — capped by Richarlison‘s 90th minute equaliser — seemed to have denied the home side the win they needed to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top four.
But Jota, a 63rd minute substitute for Luis Diaz, showed just what a cool finisher he is by taking his chance to win the game in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Jota has now scored five goals in four games and his run of form has coincided with Liverpool’s four-game winning run that has revived hopes of a top four finish.
Without his winner against Spurs, they would be all but out of the race for fourth. But the Portugal forward has kept them in with a shout and cranked up the anxiety at Old Trafford too. — Ogden