Open Mike Monday: FA Cup Final, Guardiola Says Goodbye, Manchester City on Brink
Even for a showpiece final, this year's FA Cup climax was telling.
Even for the most cynical of football fans, Pep Guardiola's goodbye was touching.
And even for the most grizzled among our number, the English Premier League title race has been nothing short of stunning.
The season is quickly coming to a close, and as we count down the days, the stories just keep getting better.
Here are five that caught my eye this week.
Most Revealing Cup Final
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In the red corner, we had Liverpool, the traditional club trying to position itself as this year's “cup team” following the minor glory of February's Carling Cup crown.
In the blue corner, we had Chelsea, the club with no history, not trying but actually becoming this year's "cup team" in spite of themselves.
But how's this for history? With Saturday's 2-1 victory at Wembley, Chelsea have now won four FA Cups in the last six years
Now Liverpool have only the Carling Cup to show for their £100 million summer shopping spree.
That, and some vague, fuzzy notion that they were maybe, possibly, conceivably robbed of a goal from Andy Carroll's head. But, well, never mind.
Oh well. The FA Cup final was a thrilling affair this year, and this year it also served as a microcosm for the varying fortunes of both teams.
It's been a rough year for Chelsea, from AVB (remember him?) to El Niño's goal drought (remember that?) to John Terry's latest scandal (how could we forget?).
But when the moment has mattered, the Blues have been clutch, often with the old guard of Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba leading the vanguard.
Cue the post-game press conference, then:
"I thought it went in but if it hasn't then give the officials the credit they deserve," Dalglish said. "We've just got to learn our lessons from it and understand we can't start the game like that."
Well put, Kenny. Really, that was forcefully and convincingly said. This is definitely going to work out.
Most Emotional Farewell
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Here's a tip of the sombrero to Pep Guardiola, a football mastermind of legendary repute in the modern game.
Guardiola will leave Barcelona at the end of the season, and after four seasons at the helm, he leaves Barca better than when he found it—with three league titles, one Copa del Rey, two Champions League crowns and a pair of FIFA Club World Cup triumphs.
Still only 41, Guardiola cited fatigue as his primary reason for quitting. That's understandable after winning 13 trophies in just four years.
Before his sabbatical, though, Pep coached his final home game with Barcelona this weekend, and the proceedings became predictably emotional.
Even though we knew it was coming, most of us probably felt a twinge of heartache when Lionel Messi jogged over to the touchline and embraced his mentor.
The touching touchline scene happened after—you guessed it—Messi's fourth goal of the game (that gives him 50 in the league now), a penalty in the second half. Messi's teammates quickly joined in the impromptu tribute, and soon there wasn't a dry eye in Catalonia.
I know, I know. I get it: You're a Real Madrid supporter and you were smirking at the screen the whole time.
Fine, but the rest of us thought it was pretty cool.
Best Zombie Football Team
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This goes to Manchester City, the team that walks among the living after being left for dead only weeks ago.
It's not hard to remember because it really wasn't that long ago. On April 8, after losing at Arsenal, Manchester City trailed Manchester United by eight points in the English Premier League table.
Admit it. You thought they were done.
I'll admit it. I knew they were done.
In fact, they probably even thought they were done.
Sure, they said the right things. But how often had Manchester United blown a lead of any size in an English Premier League title run-in?
Now, though, thanks to Manchester City's big-game superhero Yaya Toure, we're one game away from seeing the most unlikely meltdown in perhaps the history of the league.
Now, with a win next weekend at home over relegation strugglers Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City will claim the league title.
Other teams have erased bigger deficits (well, that is, Manchester United have), but this would be different. If you’ve watched Premier League football at all over the last two decades, this is probably the last thing you thought would (or could) happen.
Unreal. Completely unreal.
Most Wicked Knuckleball
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Brazilian fullback Maicon scored Inter Milan's fourth goal Sunday against AC Milan. It was the goal that sealed Inter's surprising win 4-2 and the one that handed the Scudetto to Juve.
It was also completely ridiculous.
If you haven't seen the goal yet, check it out here. It was a real beauty, with power and placement and audacity and almost no spin at all.
I'm really not sure any keeper in the world could have done anything about it, unless he'd been standing at the far post the whole time.
And just look at Maicon's face. That goal meant the world to him.
No, his team didn't win the Scudetto because of his goal, and in truth the goal didn't clinch anything for Inter at all.
But it served a perfect capstone to a great day for a team that really needed a great day to come along.
So does this mean Inter are back? Does this make Andrea Stramaccioni the new (read: better) AVB?
The dude looks younger than me, really, but he might just know what the heck he's doing.
I'll be interested to see what happens next in Milan. Whatever it is, it won't be dull.
Best Title Run-in
With apologies to Borussia Dortmund, who ended the Bundesliga on a club-record 28-game unbeaten streak, this one goes to Ajax.
The legendary Amsterdam club plowed through their run-in, winning their last 14 Eredivisie games by a combined score of 44-6.
Think about that. That's more than three goals per game—and just over 0.4 goals allowed per contest.
With numbers like that, it was no surprise Ajax won the Dutch title going away. What had been a chaotic title race—heading into the final month, six teams were bunched together within just a few points of each other—became a joke once Ajax went into Super Beast Mode.
Now for the bad news.
Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen is almost surely gone this summer. Others could follow.
The grass might in fact be greener elsewhere, but manager Frank De Boer has put together an exciting young squad full of potential.
I, for one, would be sad to see this project end prematurely.