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We’re down to the final days and weeks of the 2023-24 European season, and this weekend still brought plenty to discuss. Arsenal wrapped up a somewhat boring 1-0 win at Man United to ensure that the Premier League title race goes down to the last games next week, while Bayer Leverkusen continue to rack up impressive numbers as they extended their unbeaten run to 50 games this season. Whether they finish the year without a defeat, this is a campaign that will be talked about for years.

Elsewhere we got plenty to discuss around Mbappe’s weirdly muted Paris Saint-Germain send-off, Chelsea’s three-game winning streak, Max Allegri’s future as Juventus manager and Dortmund’s woeful warmup for the Champions League final.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with becoming risk averse when the situation calls for it, which is what Mikel Arteta and Arsenal did at Old Trafford on Sunday. For all of Manchester United’s foibles and deficiencies, Arteta knows all too well that this club — even this under-strength, semi-neutered version of United — can turn into a big banana skin. They have a big crowd than can turn raucous, several individuals who can score out of nothing (fewer than usual with Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford out, but Alejandro Garnacho was still there) and plenty of pride bubbling beneath the surface.
So after a combination of Casemiro’s absent-mindedness and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s poor defending gifted Leandro Trossard the opener after 20 minutes, Arteta saw no need to hit the gas and Arsenal simply focused on controlling the game. With Thomas Partey bolstering the midfield and the home team’s creativity limited to whatever Garnacho and Amad Diallo (combined age: 40) could conjure up in wide areas, the 1-0 result was a fairly dull outing. United had the bulk of the possession, but mustered just two shots on target — and just one shot with an xG greater than 0.09 — while Arsenal focused on keeping the lead and, by extension, the pressure on Manchester City, who travel to face Spurs on Tuesday.

Arsenal can and do play pretty football, but they can also manage games with four center-backs plus Partey, Declan Rice and Kai Havertz. (The latter may be the center-forward in this XI, but he’s also a pressing machine with plenty of nasty in him.). As for United, there’s only so much you can do given the injuries. He shouldn’t be keeping or losing his job based on this performance, nor should the club be evaluating whether he should return based on what happens between now and the FA Cup final, but you wonder if the club see it that way.

The fact that United haven’t been seriously linked with a potential replacement means one of three things. It could be that they are so clever and so good at moving incognito when approaching potential replacements that word hasn’t leaked out (though, as Bayern shows, that’s extremely hard to do). Or it could be that they’re keeping Ten Hag and maybe even giving him a new deal. Or, they need the last two league games and the FA Cup final to figure out what they want to do, which would be an extremely foolish move — for better or worse, Ten Hag has shown you more than enough over two full seasons.
On Friday, Kylian Mbappé told the world what everybody knew: that he was leaving at the end of the 2023-24 season. On Sunday, he played his final game at the Parc des Princes, where he spent seven years and, probably, established himself as Paris Saint-Germain’s greatest-ever player.

Talk about anti-climactic. Mbappe was booed by a portion of the PSG supporters (for leaving, presumably) and after opening the scoring, he saw his team lose 3-1 to Toulouse. In this, he wasn’t helped by Luis Enrique, whose starting XI included Mbappe plus 10 guys who warmed the bench for much of the season. It’s not unusual to make changes after a midweek game when you have nothing to play for, but this was supposed be Mbappe’s send-off and resting every single starter other than him seemed somewhere between the vindictive and the tone-deaf.

Nor did PSG (as in the club) prepare any kind of special send-off for Mbappe, who leaves with 256 goals in 306 appearances. All we got was the trophy presentation, with the usual light show and fireworks, plus an orchestra wearing PSG shirts offering up classical music. It was nice and very Left Bank, but nothing Mbappe-specific.

Reportedly, the club would have done something, but given his announcement was only made on Friday, they didn’t have enough time to make arrangements. That’s a bit hard to accept since they knew his contract is up on June 30, they were told in February that he wouldn’t be extending it, and they knew this was his final home game. All of this has led some to speculate that it was tit-for-tat stuff from club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after he was left off the long list of people Mbappe thanked on Friday night.

PSG, of course, will go on without Mbappe (and he without PSG). You’d just think that after seven years together, they could have coordinated a less awkward breakup.
On Thursday, Bayer Leverkusen broke Benfica’s postwar record of consecutive undefeated games by drawing 2-2 at home to Roma in the Europa League semifinal. Why is the postwar record relevant? Because pre-World War II, there were no UEFA tournaments and dominating domestically is more straightforward.

Some might quibble and bring up the specific circumstances of that Roma draw. Going into injury time, Leverkusen were losing 2-1 in the game but were ahead 3-2 on aggregate, given they had won 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico. That meant Roma were chasing the game and committing men forward, and that’s part of the reason why Josip Stanisic was able to equalize in the seventh minute of injury time. But heck, that’s football. Sometimes you get the breaks.
Having set the record, I figured they might stumble on Sunday against Bochum away. Bochum aren’t particularly good, but they’re battling to avoid relegation and are therefore highly motivated. And — fun fact — they’re the last team to beat Leverkusen, nearly 12 months ago. Plus, you figured at some point Xabi Alonso’s crew were going to take a breather and rest up for the German Cup final and Europa League final, the other two legs of their prospective treble.

Nope. It helped that Felix Passlack got himself sent off after 15 minutes, but Leverkusen still romped to a 5-0 win, making it 50 games in a row without defeat.

You can only conclude Leverkusen are truly insatiable and looking at what’s ahead, the perfect season looks within reach. They face Augsburg (with nothing to play for) at home, Atalanta in the Europa League final (probably the biggest threat) and then second-division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final.

Whatever happens from here, they’ll be talking about this team and this season (and this manager) for a long, long time to come.

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