The main attractions of this week’s football action were the European semi-finals across the three men’s UEFA competitions.
However, we also had some quite unexpected developments in domestic proceedings elsewhere. As ever, we will go through it all in this week’s edition of our column.
🏆 UEFA Champions League: AC Milan 0-2 Inter Milan
The first legs of the Champions League semi-finals headlined the midweek action. We were treated to two absolutely cracking matches, with both taking place in incredible atmospheres at two real football cathedrals
The San Siro was absolutely electric, with excitement and passion bubbling over as the two big Milan clubs squared off on the continental stage for the first time in 18 years.
Their last meeting was for a spot in the semi-final, which Milan won in unique circumstances as play had to be suspended after flares and fireworks rained onto the pitch.
Inter fans had no need to repeat anything like it in this match, as their side raced to a two-goal lead within 11 minutes. Edin Džeko opened the scoring by turning in a corner and a couple of minutes later, Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled his side’s advantage at the end of a fast break.
The Nerazzuri were happy to calm things down and coast home with a two-goal lead, which they will surely feel confident about heading into the second leg.
By contrast, Milan will hope to gain more of an attacking edge with the return of star forward Rafael Leão.
🇬🇷 Greece: Olympiacos 1-0 Panathinaikos
The Greek Super League title race has been dramatic and entertaining throughout the season, but no one could have this ending coming.
Defending champions Olympiacos battled with eternal rivals Panathinaikos and AEK Athens for the title for the majority of the season, but fell out of contention in the latter half of the championship round.
The other two were left level on points and continued to match each other step for step going into the penultimate matchday, setting up a thrilling final week.
The second last round of fixtures included the derby of the eternal enemies and was supposed to be played on Sunday, but then came the most unexpected of developments on Saturday.
Leaders Panathinaikos submitted a request to postpone the match as 14 of their players and 10 members of the backroom staff tested positive for COVID-19.
The whole round of fixtures was postponed as a result to maintain the simultaneous kick-offs, with the expectation being that it would be played in midweek. Ultimately, the games only ended up being moved by a day and took place on Monday night.
What exactly went on behind the scenes is unclear, but some people have accused Greek Super League president Evangelos Marinakis of making this decision in the interest of the club he owns, Olympiacos.
The derby ultimately kicked off in front of an empty stadium, while AEK visited Aris Thessaloniki. Matías Almeyda’s side came away with a crucial comeback victory and would have been delighted to hear the result in Piraeus.
Panathinaikos took a full-strength squad there but their performance looked weak – one explanation for that being that nine of their starting XI were reportedly among those infected.
Given the dearth of information available, it is impossible to piece together what exactly went on so everyone will be left making their own conclusions, but the reality is the title is all but AEK’s after all this.
They only need a point on the final day against NFC Volos, who have lost all but one of their matches in the championship group.
🏆 UEFA Europa League: Juventus 1-1 Sevilla
Of course, Sevilla were there in the Europa League semi-finals. Their first leg took them to the Allianz Stadium in Turin, which was hosting Juventus’ first European semi-final in six years.
For both sides, winning this competition probably was the best way to qualify for the Champions League next season.
Sevilla have endured a tough season in La Liga which involved a relegation battle for a good while, and even though they are well above that now, they obviously have next to no chance of getting near the top four and will likely miss out on the European spots altogether.
Juventus, on the other hand, are currently in the top four in Serie A, but they should be expected to drop out of it. Although their initial 15-point penalty for the capital gains scandal was overturned, reports suggest that the new verdict will punish them with a nine-point penalty, which should also be enough to drop them down the table.
Either way, the chance of winning a continental trophy should have been reason enough for both sides to be more than up for this game, which they certainly were.
Sevilla got off to a much better start even though they saw less of the ball, as they kept Juventus pinned in their own half for long periods and posed a real threat after turnovers. They went on to take the lead after such a situation in the 24th minute, with Youssef En-Nesyri dealing the blow.
Even after going down, the hosts struggled to impose themselves on the match and continued to find it difficult to break down Sevilla’s block.
It was only very late on that they began to seriously threaten an equaliser, which they did score after the last designated minute of stoppage time when Federico Gatti turned in a corner at the back post after a couple of other headers inside a box.
That dented Sevilla’s ambitions of reaching their fifth Europa League final as Juventus seek to qualify for their first, but it will be all to play for in the second leg at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium next week.
🏆 UEFA Europa Conference League: Fiorentina 1-2 FC Basel
The Europa Conference League has been a fantastic competition for some less-fancied teams to make deep knockout runs and even get a serious shot at lifting a continental trophy, so it has been terrific to follow for all neutrals.
Both semi-finals featured some great teams who were all really glad to be there, but all of them knew that they still had a job to do.
Fiorentina were looking to reach their first European final since 1990 when they lost to Juventus at the end of the second-tier competition then known as the UEFA Cup. Given their overall quality and decent recent form, they were the more fancied side in this tie.
They certainly played like favourites, dominating most of the match and taking the lead 25 minutes in through Arthur Cabral, who they signed from Basel last January.
The only thing their performance lacked was clinicality in front of goal to extend their advantage, and they would go on to regret that.
Basel have had a pretty disappointing season overall in terms of performances. They are only fifth in the Swiss Super League but have produced good results in Europe.
They did it again here, equalising through Andy Diouf’s long-range effort in the 71st minute and winning the first leg in stoppage time thanks to Zeki Amdouni.
With that, the Swiss side are in a great position to become the first club ever from their country to reach a European final.
They still have a fair way to go in the second leg at St Jakob-Park, but their recent Europa Conference League record suggests they have a pretty good chance of getting the job done.
🏴 Scotland: Celtic 3-1 Glasgow City
We do not have much of a title race in the Scottish Premiership, but the Scottish Women’s Premier League is more than making up for it with a dramatic three-way battle that is still going on even with just two games remaining.
It was livened up in the capital this week, as 15-time champions and league leaders Glasgow City suffered a 3-1 away defeat against Celtic even though they were the ones who scored first.
All three of the home side’s goals came after the hour-mark thanks to Natasha Flint, Claire O’Riordan and Katherine Loferski, much to the delight of the record-setting crowd at Celtic Park.
This result brings the gap between the top three down to just two points, with Glasgow City still leading the way above Celtic, who are second thanks to their superior goal difference compared to defending champions Rangers.
To spice things up even further, Glasgow City will visit Rangers on the final day, when even a draw would open up the chance for Celtic to sneak into first place.
👀 What To Watch Next:
We’ve got another busy weekend of football coming up, so here are a few big matches:
🏆 CAF Champions League: Espérance vs Al Ahly (Friday, 19:00 UTC)
The semi-finals of the CAF Champions League will kick off with Espérance hosting Al Ahly. Unfortunately, they will do so in front of an empty stadium as a result of a punishment decided by CAF following the events in Radès at half-time in the second leg of Espérance’s quarter-final.
🇩🇪 Germany: Union Berlin vs SC Freiburg (Saturday, 13:30 UTC)
The race for the top four in the Bundesliga has been very close throughout the season, but things might be close to done and dusted on Saturday. Fourth-placed Union Berlin host SC Freiburg who are fifth but level on points with them, as both sides look to book a Champions League debut for next season.
🏴 England: Chelsea vs Manchester United (Sunday, 13:30 UTC)
Exactly 24 hours later, the FA Cup final will kick off in England. It features the two remaining protagonists of the WSL title race, as Manchester United look to win their first major trophy in either competition and Chelsea set out to deny them.
🇳🇱 Netherlands: Feyenoord vs Go Ahead Eagles (Sunday, 14:45 UTC)
The Eredivisie title race produced some thrilling matches, especially in the first half of the season, but it has cooled down by the end. Feyenoord have run away with it on the back of a run of 11 straight victories, which gives them the chance to mathematically seal their first league title in six years on Sunday.
🇪🇸 Spain: Espanyol vs Barcelona (Sunday, 19:00 UTC)
La Liga’s title race was never really close, and it could have a definitive conclusion this weekend when Barcelona visit local rivals Espanyol with a chance to be crowned champions for the first time since 2019.
Stats and images courtesy FotMob, The Analyst, Transfermarkt and BBC.