The ‘official’ close to the 2015/16 European campaign comes this weekend when Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid play in the UEFA Champions League final but a historic and record breaking season are in the books.
The biggest story of the season came from England with Leicester City beating the 5,000 to 1 to run away with the Premier League title. The Foxes incredible run is still hard to fathom even after the final whistle has been blown. They become only the 6th team in the Premier League era to win the title.
Success means more battles for Claudio Ranieri’s side next season after qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. They are joined by Arsenal, Tottenham in the competitions group stage with Manchester City entering at the UCL playoff round with the first leg on Sept 16/17 and the second leg on Sept 23/24.
Manchester United made no mistake on qualifying for the UEFA Europa League (UEL). The Red Devils secured a 5th place finish and a berth in UEL on the on the final day of the Premier League season but added some intrigue after winning the FA Cup, and another automatic UEL berth, with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace last weekend.
United’s win means that the Premier League’s 6th place finisher, Southampton, will enter directly into the group stage rather than the qualifying round while West Ham are the big winners claiming the additional UEL qualifying round place after a 7th place finish in the Premier League. The UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds are on July 28 and August 4.
Harry Kane took home the Premier League Golden Boot away with his 25 goals, 1 better than both Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy. The individual honor is no doubt a huge accomplishment (a team goal record in the Premier League) but Kane and his teammates will rue letting a 2nd place finish slip away to their dreaded rivals, Arsenal.
Gunner fans celebrate St. Totteringham Day on the day it becomes impossible for Spurs to finish above Arsenal on the table. That day came on the final day of the season when Tottenham lost to relegated Newcastle. It is the 21st consecutive season Tottenham have finished behind Arsenal.
Newcastle’s hope of a final matchday great escape vanished when Sunderland sealed their 17th place finish on the penultimate matchday. The Magpies are joined by Norwich City and Aston Villa in next season’s Football Championship.
Champagne was flowing for Burnley, the Football Championship champions, and Middlesbrough, the 2nd place finisher, after securing their automatic promotion to the Premier League. Sheffield Wednesday face Hull City in the final playoff game at Wembley on Saturday with the Premier League on the line.
The difficulty of earning a promotion to the Premier League was especially evident this season. Brighton and Hove Albion finished level on points (89) with Middlesbrough but missed out on 2nd place and the automatic promotion due to their -2 goal differential to Boro. Their season came to an end when they lost to Sheffield Wednesday (74) in the semifinal round of the Championship playoff.
The season was just as interesting around the continent.
Champions, Relegation and Promotion:
La Liga – Champions: Barcelona. Relegated: Levante, Getafe and Rayo Vallecano. Promoted: To be determined.
Ligue 1 – Champions: Paris Saint Germain. Relegated: Troyes, GFC Ajaccio and Reims. Promoted: Nancy, Dijon and Metz
Bundesliga – Champions: Bayern Munich. Relegated: Hannover, VfB Stuttgart. Promoted: Freiburg, RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt
Serie A – Champions; Juventus. Relegated: Hellas Verona, Frosinone and Carpi. Promoted: Crotone, Cagliari, and winner Serie A playoffs.
The final discussion for which team is the best in Europe will most likely once again come down to club’s from these leagues and these are the teams qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal*
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach*
Serie A: Juventus, Napoli and AS Roma*
Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and AS Monaco*.
*Enter into UCL playoffs
Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski set record while scoring 36 and 30 goals, respectively. The Argentine scored a hat-trick on the final day of the season to take his total to 36 goals. The tally broke a 66-year old Serie A scoring record set by Gunnar Nordhal in 1950. Higuain’s goals were an impressive 45% of the club’s total (36 of 80) on the season.
Lewandowski become the first player to reach the 30-goal mark in Germany’s 34-game season since Dieter Mueller achieved the feat when he scored 34 goals in 1977. And like Higuain, the Polish international had work to do in the final match to reach the record scoring 1 goal in the match.The Polish international also became foreigner with the most goals in Bundesliga with his season tally. It is the 2nd time that Lewandowski has won the German Torjagerkanone, the trophy as the league’s top scorer. He won it with 20 goals when he was still playing for Borussia Dortmund in 2013/14.
Luis Suarez scored 40 goals for Barcelona on the way to becoming the first player other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win Spain’s Pichichi since Diego Forlan won the individual honor in 2009.
Zlatan Ibrhimovic set a club record with 38 goals for PSG on the way to top scorer in France.
Assist Leaders by League:
Premier League: Mesut Ozil 19 assists (Arsenal)
La Liga: Lionel Messi & Luis Suarez 16 (Barcelona)
Bundesliga: Henrikh Mkhitaryan 15 (Borussia Dortmund)
Serie A: Paul Pogba (Juventus)/Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma) 12
Ligue 1: Angel Di Maria 18 (PSG)
And in what is becoming an annual event, Sevilla won their 3rd consecutive UEFA Europa League title with a 3-1 win over Liverpool. The La Liga club are the first to win 3 consecutive UEL titles and hold the record for most titles with 5.
What will next year hold in the battle for Europe?