Rodrigo de Paul and Angel Correa struck as Atletico Madrid secured third in LaLiga with a 2-1 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Diego Simeone's side qualified for the Champions League before the final matchday, but were fortunate to not fall behind in the first half at Reale Arena as Rafinha spurned multiple chances.

Atletico punished La Real for not making their dominance pay when De Paul thumped a wonderful strike home after 50 minutes, before Correa sealed victory.

The hosts pulled a goal back in the 93rd minute through substitute Jon Guridi, but it proved too late to mount a comeback; defeat leaving La Real sixth, having already sealed Europa League qualification.

Mikel Merino headed narrowly wide in the opening exchanges, before Rafinha inexplicably hit the post from point-blank range after Jan Oblak's parry from a low Alexander Sorloth drive.

Rafinha wasted another great opportunity as he curled wide when one-on-one with Oblak following Sortloth's offload, before the midfielder arrowed just off target on the stroke of half-time.

Alex Remiro thwarted a swerving De Paul effort from the edge of the area after the interval, while Matheus Cunha cannoned a deflected strike against the crossbar.

But De Paul broke the deadlock soon after when he drilled a fizzing right-footed attempt into the top-left corner.

Remiro rushed out to ensure Antoine Griezmann's goal drought continued, before Correa doubled Atletico's advantage with a curling finish in the 68th minute.

Guridi headed home from close range after Oblak parried Adnan Januzaj's free-kick, but Atleti held on for victory.

What does it mean? Atleti's sizeable task to compete at the top

Atletico's chances of defending their title ended months ago as runaways leaders Real Madrid coasted towards their 35th LaLiga crown, finishing 15 points clear of their neighbours.

While Simeone's side made it six games unbeaten in LaLiga against La Real, their timid first-half outing only served to display the difference in quality between Atleti and the champions. With Barcelona somewhat reviving under Xavi as well, Simeone will need to address these issues in the close season to compete next campaign.

 

Griezmann selfless but cannot get a goal

Griezmann may not have scored for 15 LaLiga games, his longest run without a goal in the competition, but the forward's unselfish link-up play should be credited.

The France international opted to play back to De Paul for the opener, registering his fourth top-flight assist this term, but will hope to rediscover his scoring prowess for the next campaign.

Rubbish Rafinha finishing

Rafinha could have had La Real three goals to the good before half-time, but failed to find the target with any of the presentable openings.

The Paris Saint-Germain loanee accounted for 0.72 of La Real's 1.01 expected goals total in the opening 45 minutes, highlighting the quality of the chances he spurned with his profligacy.

Bayern Munich are "history" to Robert Lewandowski as the talisman looks for a "dream" move to Barcelona, according to the striker's agent Pini Zahavi.

Questions remain over Lewandowski's future after he said he wants to leave Bayern and is refusing to sign a new contract.

Lewandowski suggested no new terms had been proposed on his contract, which is due to expire at the end of the season with the Bundesliga champions.

However, Bayern chief executive Oliver Kahn insisted on Saturday that a "concrete offer" was on the table, while sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic accused Zahavi of attempting to turn his client's head.

Zahavi hit back at Salihamidzic as he warned Bayern it would not be sensible to risk losing Lewandowski on a free transfer, nor to deny him the opportunity to join Xavi's Barca.

"For Lewandowski, Bayern is history," Zahavi told BILD. "Robert has the chance to move to the club he has always dreamt of. Why is Bayern denying him this opportunity?

"Actually, I didn't want to speak in public because I have great respect for this historic club. However, I cannot fail to react to Hasan Salihamidzic's statements.

"Of course you can keep Robert for another year, to be fair he has a contract until 2023, but I wouldn't recommend that to you."

 

Lewandowski scored 50 goals in 46 matches for Bayern this season in all competitions, making him the top scorer in Europe's top five leagues.

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland has recorded 29 goals in 30 games in all competitions this term, and has agreed to join Manchester City for the next season after the Premier League champions activated his £51million (€60m) release clause.

However, Zahavi suggested Bayern made their intentions to sign Haaland before City's announcement, with Lewandowski aware of the plans to replace him with the Norway international.

"[He is a] very intelligent person, not just the best striker in the world. He knows exactly what is happening around him and what FC Bayern had planned," he added.

"So Robert knew all along that Bayern wanted to replace him with Haaland. Erling's father even confirmed it, telling him in a personal conversation some time ago: 'My son comes to FC Bayern for 50 percent.' 

"The football world is big, but there are no secrets..."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic smoked a cigar and toasted Milan's Serie A title triumph with champagne as he collected yet another medal on Sunday.

The Rossoneri secured their first Scudetto for 11 years with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo on the final day of the season, finishing two points clear of city rivals Inter.

All three goals came in the first half at the Mapei Stadium on Sunday, Olivier Giroud scoring twice before Franck Kessie got in the act for rampant Milan.

The outstanding Rafael Leao laid on all three goals as a huge contingent of Milan fans partied in Reggio Emilia, where they moved level with Inter's tally of being crowned champions of Italy 19 times.

It was Ibrahimovic who took centre stage during the trophy presentation ceremony, coming out of the tunnel smoking a cigar and swigging champagne.

The 40-year-old had a goal disallowed for offside against Leao after he came on to replace Giroud in the second half of what could be his final appearance for the club.

Ibrahimovic's contract expires at the end of the month and he could be on the move once again. 

While he has not lit up San Siro this season due to injury problems, if the legendary Swede's Milan career is over, it seems only right that he departs on a such a high note resembling a rock star.

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

Milan have been crowned as Serie A champions for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign after beating Sassuolo.

Stefano Pioli's men went into the final day of the season knowing they simply needed to avoid defeat to clinch their first Scudetto in over a decade.

The Rossoneri had established a two-point lead over rivals Inter – against whom they also held a head-to-head advantage – at the Serie A summit. 

And they made sure of their success with a 3-0 defeat of Sassuolo, thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud and Franck Kessie.

Milan travelled to Sassuolo having made light of a challenging run-in, winning five consecutive games to tee up their historic triumph, as they matched the Nerazzurri's tally of 19 Italian top-flight titles. Only Juventus (36) have more than the two Milanese giants. 

While Inter avoided handing the title to the Rossoneri following a hard-fought 3-1 win over Cagliari last weekend, their result against Sampdoria on the final day was ultimately immaterial as Milan made their advantage count at the end of an absorbing title race.

The Rossoneri's last title triumph came under the tutelage of Massimiliano Allegri some 11 seasons ago, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato, and Robinho each scoring 14 Serie A goals apiece as Milan finished six points clear of Inter.

Pioli's men have been able to rely on a fantastic defensive record to get them over the line, conceding just eight league goals since the turn of the year.

Indeed, 11 of Milan's 17 Serie A clean sheets this season have come in 2022, and last week's crucial 2-0 win over Atalanta marked the first time they had kept five consecutive home clean sheets in Serie A since a run of six under Carlo Ancelotti in 2002.

The Rossoneri's title win also marks the first major trophy of Pioli's coaching career, and the club's first trophy win since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Milan are top dogs in Italy for the first time in 11 years after holding off fierce rivals Inter to finish top of Serie A.

The Rossoneri finished the season with six wins in a row, and no defeat in 16, culminating in a 3-0 victory over Sassuolo on Sunday.

After falling just short in Stefano Pioli's first campaign at the helm when finishing second, Milan can finally celebrate a first Scudetto since 2010-11.

While it may only have been a little over a decade since Milan last reigned, a lot has changed both in a sporting and non-sporting sense.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how the world looked around the time of the club's most recent triumph in 2011.

 

First of many for Djokovic, McIlroy makes his mark

Novak Djokovic is favourite to win Wimbledon for a seventh time next month, though he was yet to claim his first crown at SW19 when Milan last lifted the Scudetto.

The Serbian went on to add the US Open to the Australian Open he also won that year, overtaking Rafael Nadal to become world number one in the process.

Tiger Woods was the highest-earning sportsman that year – some things never change – yet it was Rory McIlroy's name on everyone's lips after taking the world of golf by storm.

McIlroy carded a 69 in the final round to break the US Open scoring record with a 268 as he became the youngest winner of the tournament since Bobby Jones in 1923.

A number of major sporting events took place that year, with New Zealand beating France in the Rugby World Cup final and Japan triumphing in the women's football equivalent.

India saw off Sri Lanka to celebrate Cricket World Cup success on home soil, meanwhile, and Netherlands beat Cuba in the Baseball World Cup.

Deposed leaders fall

In the world of politics, hundreds were killed and thousands more injured during violent clashes in Egypt to protest against government corruption and poverty.

Fidel Castro resigned as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba after serving in the party for 45 years. He died in 2016 at the age of 90.

A 10-year search for Osama bin Laden came to an end when the al-Qaeda founder was killed by special forces in Pakistan.

Deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed during the civil war, leading to widespread ramifications.

A year of world-shifting events culminated in the United States withdrawing its last troops from Iraq, eight years after the war had begun.


Winter is (almost) coming

Television has come a long way over the past decade, not least in terms of the countless streaming services and wide array of boxsets to appease anyone and everyone.

Back when Massimo Ambrosini lifted the Scudetto in 2011, arguably the most popular series of all time, Game of Thrones, was still midway through airing its first season.

Suits, Homeland and The Killing also premiered that year, while over in Italy, 48-year-old painter Fabrizio Vendramin (us neither) won the second season of Italia's Got Talent.

Beyond painters, erm, painting to an audience of millions, the big TV talking point that year was Charlie Sheen being fired from Two and a Half Men for "self-destructive conduct".

Relight My Fire

The importance of certain technology, not least smartphones, has only grown in the past 11 years.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, played a huge part in that up until his untimely death at the age of 56 in October 2011 after battling pancreatic cancer.

One of the standout product launches of the year was Amazon's Kindle Fire, which undoubtedly helped chairman Jeff Bezos on his way to becoming the world's richest man.

Whether Milan's current crop can stand the test of time, unlike the Kindle, remains to be seen.

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

Inter's reign as Serie A champions came to an end on Sunday despite rounding off their campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory over Sampdoria at San Siro.

The Nerazzurri needed to beat Sampdoria on the final day and hope Milan lost against Sassuolo if they were to pip their fierce rivals to top spot.

Inter completed their half of the bargain thanks to a couple of goals for Joaquin Correa after Ivan Perisic had opened the scoring early in the second half.

But it did not matter as Milan were three goals up at half-time against Sassuolo and protected that advantage for a 3-0 win, meaning they – and not Inter – were crowned champions of Italy.

 

At least three goals had been scored in the previous six league meetings between Inter and Sampdoria, but neither side could find a way through in a relatively low-key first half.

Lautaro Martinez grazed the outside of the post with a header and was thwarted by Emil Audero from the best of Inter's opportunities.

The Inter striker was denied again by Audero after the restart, although Simone Inzaghi's side soon found their groove.

In what could be his final game for the club ahead of his contract expiring next month, Perisic picked out the far corner four minutes into the second half to give his side lift-off.

Correa swept in a first-time finish to double Inter's lead, and the Argentina international added another on the turn two minutes later to completely kill off the contest.

Perisic was carried off on a stretcher after sustaining an injury in the build-up to that third goal, which proved to be the last of the meaningful action on the day Inter's spell as top dogs in Italy officially came to an end.

Manchester City have been crowned Premier League champions for the fourth time in five seasons, seeing off a spirited challenge from Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola's men may not have won as many trophies as they would have liked this season, but they have been exceptional in defence of their league title in the face of stiff competition.

If City were not already intimidating enough, they will be adding one of the best strikers in world football to their ranks next season in the shape of Erling Haaland.

The lethal Norwegian will surely come in and plunder plenty of goals, just as he has in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund before his £51million (€60m) move to the Etihad Stadium.

However, will his arrival realistically improve them all that much, or more to the point, can it?

That may sound like a ridiculous question, but looking at City's output this season, they have left themselves with very little room for improvement such are the levels they have consistently reached.

Stats Perform has broken down the numbers to try to predict just what kind of impact the impressive 21-year-old is likely to make in Manchester next season.

What Man City need

It has been a popular opinion that City have achieved what they have in the league in spite of not having a traditional striker.

Since Sergio Aguero left at the end of last season, Guardiola has mostly gone with any three of Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus in attack.

They did spend a lot of time ahead of this season trying to lure Harry Kane from Tottenham, but failing to do so has arguably allowed them to find another way to break down opposition teams. 

Playing without a striker, City have still clinched the league title while collecting 93 points, the third-biggest total they have ever achieved, and scored 99 goals.

By not having an obvious focal point, it has been tricky for the opposition to know who is supposed to be on the end of attacks, and given none of those mentioned has scored more than 11 non-penalty goals in the league, that seems to have been the plan all along.

The perception might be that Guardiola's team have become less direct without a striker, and while that was true last season when Aguero played just 12 league games (seven starts) and they averaged a shot every 42.82 passes, and a goal every 309.05 passes, that came down to a shot every 36.63 passes this season, and a goal every 263.85.

Given Aguero's injury issues in his final campaign at City, you could argue the last time they regularly played with a striker was the 2019-20 season, which was the last time they did not win the league and collected only 81 points.

Since Guardiola arrived at the Etihad until the end of that season, his team averaged a shot every 38.10 passes, and a goal every 271.16, so they have possibly become more direct this term than they were with Aguero in the team.

By comparison, you may assume Haaland has been playing for a more direct team in Marco Rose's Dortmund, and this season in the Bundesliga, BVB scored once every 230.95 passes.

However, they actually only took a shot at goal once every 43.34 passes, so if anything it seems City are more direct than Dortmund, or maybe German teams are simply better organised defensively to stop shots.

 

What Haaland can bring

When you think of Haaland, you think of those direct and explosive runs into the penalty area, usually followed by emphatic finishes. When you think of City, you, erm, don't.

His addition could mean a change in style for the English champions, and the thought of Haaland getting on the end of the ridiculous range of passing from Kevin De Bruyne does indeed make the mouth water.

Do City as a team generally produce more with an orthodox striker, though?

Their record with and without Aguero makes for interesting reading. In the Premier League, the Argentine made 125 appearances under Guardiola, while City played 65 games without him.

In that time, they actually had a win percentage of 72.0 with him and 76.9 without, and even had a slightly better goal average (2.4 goals per game with, 2.5 without).

It is almost just as interesting to see Dortmund's record with and without Haaland. Since signing for the German club in January 2020, he has played 67 games, with Dortmund winning 65.7 per cent and averaging 2.4 goals for. Without him, they won just 61.1 per cent, though averaging only a slightly fewer 2.2 goals for.

It is questionable therefore whether the addition of Haaland will actually generate many if any more wins than they currently enjoy, but will he suit the way City play and can he add to their already impressive haul of goals?

Despite scoring more than any other team in the Premier League this season, no side missed more big chances (a chance from which a goal would normally be expected) than City's 65, though only Liverpool (97) created more than their 87.

City finished fifth in the league for big chance conversion (46.72), and so they will be hoping that part of what Haaland will bring them is putting more of those opportunities away.

In terms of finishing off big chances in the Bundesliga, nobody who scored at least five goals could match Haaland's incredible rate of 78.26 per cent, with even Bayern Munich great Robert Lewandowski only managing 46.67 per cent.

It must be noted though that Haaland's big chance conversion went down to 42.86 per cent in the Champions League, which is probably where City will hope he can make the biggest difference.

 

The league has not been their issue this season, though, rather the big games in cup competitions.

Their defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley was relatively convincing, despite the 3-2 scoreline. With an xG (expected goals) of 1.75, it was more their leakiness at the other end that was their undoing, going in 3-0 down at half-time.

However, it is the Champions League where their biggest letdown occurred, despite what City fans will tell you about their apparent disdain for the competition.

Heading into injury time at the Santiago Bernabeu, City were 5-3 up on aggregate, only to somehow concede twice in two minutes, before a Karim Benzema penalty put them out at the semi-final stage.

Perhaps Haaland could have made a difference, particularly in that second leg where City slightly underperformed their xG of 1.37, though they did score four in the first leg off an xG of 2.70.

Again, you could argue it was more the defence that let them down, somehow conceding six goals despite largely dominating both legs, but in those key moments where City missed golden opportunities, you would think Haaland would have had more ice in his veins.

Match made in heaven?

How could one of the deadliest strikers in Europe not be a good signing? Haaland will almost certainly be a fan favourite and score plenty of goals in the sky blue of his father's former team.

In the league, it seems likelier he will more or less replace the goals of others rather than add to what they are already producing. It would be surprising to see the likes of Sterling, Mahrez, Foden and even De Bruyne score as many as they have this season if Haaland is already banging them in.

However, those fine margins in the cups could well be where he comes into his own, with Haaland either scoring important goals himself, or distracting defenders so that others can do the honours.

It will be interesting to see how City play with a striker, as it of course will mean they line up with one fewer attacking midfielder and will they therefore be able to dominate quite as much as they currently do?

Either way, it is difficult to see how they can do anything other than continue to be dominant with the big Norwegian around as Premier League defenders await what promises to be a busy season from August onwards.

Manchester City had to do it the hard way on the final day of the season, but they won the Premier League title by defeating Aston Villa 3-2.

The title race went down to the wire, with City needing to match Liverpool's result against Wolves in order to win their fourth league crown under Pep Guardiola.

However, Matty Cash's goal midway through the first half at the Etihad Stadium put Villa, managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard, ahead going into half-time.

Ex-Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho then put Villa 2-0 up but – as they did against QPR to win their first Premier League title 10 years ago – City lodged an incredible comeback.

Ilkay Gundogan was the hero. The substitute dragged City back into it and then, after Rodri had restored parity, scored from close range to complete a sensational fightback.

It was needed, with Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, but City have now won their sixth Premier League title, and their fourth in the space of five seasons.

Lionel Messi believes "good things are coming" after ending his first season at Paris Saint-Germain with a 5-0 win over Metz, as the Parisians celebrate Kylian Mbappe's decision to stay with the club.

But while highlighting his delight at helping the club to their 10th Ligue 1 title, Messi also recalled the "bitter taste" of March's Champions League elimination against Real Madrid, a tie in which he still believes PSG were the better team.

Messi recorded an assist as PSG rounded off their season by thrashing Metz, with the Argentine ending his first campaign at the club with 25 goal contributions in 34 appearances across all competitions (11 goals, 14 assists).

The 34-year-old's first season in France has not gone entirely to plan, however, with the Parisians squandering a two-goal lead in their 3-2 aggregate Champions League defeat to Los Blancos in March.

That collapse led to both Messi and Neymar being jeered by their own supporters in subsequent matches, while head coach Mauricio Pochettino has come under increasing pressure after his failure to deliver PSG their first European crown.

Nevertheless, a celebratory mood surrounded PSG after Saturday's announcement that Messi's strike partner Mbappe had agreed a three-year contract extension with the club.

The 23-year-old, who was heavily linked with a blockbuster move to Madrid, celebrated his new deal with a hat-trick that take him to 45 Ligue 1 goal contributions for the season (28 goals, 17 assists) – the highest tally across Europe's top five leagues this term.

Reflecting on a mixed first season in Paris, Messi expressed his belief that the club was on course for better things next term.

"The season is over, and I wanted to thank my teammates for how they treated me since I arrived and my family for always accompanying me and supporting me," Messi wrote on Instagram, alongside an image of him celebrating with team-mates Mbappe, Neymar, and Marco Verratti. 

"It was a different year because of everything that happened, but at the end of it all we achieved a league that I was very excited to achieve, because of what it means to be the first trophy here in Paris.

"We are left with the bitter taste of losing in the Champions League in a tie that we were being better [in], and at the same time, I want to be left with the joy of having added another title that was also one of the objectives.

"Surely good things are coming in 2022; it will be an important year, and we are going to fight to be competing with ambition for everything."

Wantaway Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has had his head turned by his agent, according to the Bundesliga champions' sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.

Lewandowski last week confirmed that he has informed Bayern he will not be extending his contract beyond the end of next season when it is due to expire.

The Poland international stated after the final game of the season against Wolfsburg that he had not received a proposal for new terms.

However, Bayern chief executive Oliver Kahn insisted on Saturday that was not the case, with a "concrete offer" being tabled to his agent.

Salihamidzic has now accused Lewandowski's representative of talking his client into a move away from the Allianz Arena, where he has spent the past eight seasons.

"He got an offer. I don't know what the agent said to his player, but we definitely made an offer," Salihamidzic told Sport1 on Sunday.

"We had a conversation with the consultant and said very clearly how we imagined the future, with a very clear sum and terms.

"He has an advisor who has turned his head and has turned it all year round. It's not clean."

Reiterating earlier comments made by Kahn, Salihamidzic vowed Bayern will not look to sell Barcelona-linked Lewandowski in the upcoming transfer window.

"Robert has a contract until 2023 and he will fulfil it," he said. "We have the greatest respect for Lewy. FC Bayern have always behaved correctly."

 

Lewandowski has scored 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern in all competitions this season, making him the top scorer among players from Europe's top five leagues.

That is the second-most the 33-year-old has managed across his eight years in Bavaria, behind the 55 he netted in 2019-10.

While questions will inevitably continue to be asked about Lewandowski's future, Manuel Neuer looks set to extend his stay with Bayern.

Like Lewandowski, the Germany international's contract has just over 12 months left to run, but he is reported to have been offered a one-year extension on top of that.

"I'm very optimistic. Manuel is one of the keys to success," Salihamidzic said. "Please be patient, but we're on the right track. We're on the home stretch."

Kylian Mbappe can become the best player in the world after renewing his contract at Paris Saint-German, said team-mate Ander Herrera.

A long-running saga lasting over a year was ended on Saturday when Mbappe rejected the overtures of Real Madrid to pen an extension at Parc des Princes until 2025.

It was a decision that took the football world by surprise with Mbappe having reportedly given his world to the Los Blancos hierarchy he would move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

The renewal is said to have included a €150million signing-on fee as well as having a say on areas such as the appointments of the sporting director and head coach, as well as player signings and sales.

For midfielder Herrera, though, the focus was just on the joy of retaining a superstar team-mate.

"We were happy today; it wasn't the time to discuss it. We are happy for him, for the club and for the group," he said in the aftermath of PSG's 5-0 rout of Metz in their final game of the Ligue 1 campaign.

"He can become the best player in the world in a few years. So, we are happy for us, for him. We celebrated the title; we didn't talk about it."

Angel Di Maria's time at the Parc des Prince has come to an end following the Metz triumph but the Argentine winger was similarly enthused by Mbappe's decision to stay put.

"I am very happy for Kylian, he made the right decision to stay here," said Di Maria, a former Madrid star.

"Paris is a great club, which continues to grow and can do great things. Kylian is close to reaching the 200-goal mark here, to make history. He made a perfect decision."

Mauricio Pochettino is readying himself to work with Paris Saint-Germain on plans for next season despite fresh speculation over his future following the renewal of Kylian Mbappe's contract.

The blockbuster saga involving Mbappe finally reached a conclusion on Saturday when it was confirmed the superstar forward had agreed to stay at the Parc des Princes until 2025, snubbing the chance to join Real Madrid despite having been heavily expected to do so.

Inevitably, the fallout and furore has been extensive, with LaLiga and its president Javier Tebas heavily critical – the former threatening legal challenges over the renewal, which reportedly has seen Mbappe given a whopping €150million signing-on fee.

Additionally, it has been said Mbappe will have a say in decisions in the appointments of the sporting director and head coach, as well signings and player sales.

Indeed, Leonardo is already expected to depart as sporting director and Pochettino – whose future was shrouded in doubt after PSG were eliminated in the Champions League last 16 by Madrid – could also face the chop.

Speaking after PSG rounded out their title-winning Ligue 1 campaign with a 5-0 battering of Metz, a match in which Mbappe celebrated his bumper new deal with a hat-trick, Pochettino was asked what his own future plans are.

"Rest for a few days then get back in touch with the club to work on next season," Pochettino said.

The former Spurs boss also hailed the news Mbappe had opted to remain at PSG.

"We are proud that a year and a half later this player has decided to extend his contract with Paris Saint-Germain and that today he has also celebrated being the top scorer in the league and that he has become perhaps one of the best, if not the best player in the world today," he said.

"So this is a great source of pride and we are happy for the club, for the people who run it, from the president to the sporting department and, of course, for the fans, because he is a player who has the DNA of Paris, from here, and we are very happy that Kylian has made this decision to stay at Paris Saint-Germain."

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