For the first time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United are preparing for a final.

The Europa League might not be top of the agenda for Solskjaer's United ambitions but, after four semi-final defeats as manager in three different competitions, he will be delighted to have a shot at what could be the Red Devils' first trophy since they won this competition in 2017.

Of course, this is also a momentous occasion for Villarreal: a first European final of any kind against a team who have been in these matches seven times previously. However, the Spaniards boast experience in coach Unai Emery, who won this trophy on three occasions while in charge of Sevilla.

Ahead of the first major final in European competition this week, Stats Perform examines the key Opta data...

The Coaches

When it comes to experience at this stage, Emery certainly has the edge.

The former Arsenal boss lifted this trophy three years in a row from 2014 to 2016 and could become the first coach to win either the UEFA Cup or Europa League four times.

Solskjaer, however, has contested only one final in his managerial career: he won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde. Indeed, no Norwegian coach has ever won a major European trophy.

Emery and Solskjaer have faced off twice before in the Premier League, when the Spaniard was at Arsenal. The Gunners won 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in March 2019, ending Solskjaer's unbeaten league start at United, before a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in September of that year.

However, it was Solskjaer who came out on top when they met in a knockout fixture, United triumphing 3-1 in north London in an FA Cup tie in January 2019. Their goals in that tie came from Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial - none of whom will be involved in Gdansk.

The Records

While Emery is chasing history of his own, Villarreal are hoping to become the 10th Spanish team in a row to defeat an English side in a European final - a run that includes United losing twice to Barcelona in the Champions League.

United have found it tough going against the Yellow Submarine in the past. In fact, the Red Devils have faced Villarreal more often without scoring than any other side in their history, with each of their previous four meetings ending 0-0.

However, United have won five of the seven major European finals they have contested (only Liverpool, with 14, have been in more among English sides). A win would secure the 67th trophy in their history, extending their lead over Liverpool (65) when it comes to England's most successful clubs.

The Star Names

All eyes will be on Bruno Fernandes in his first final for United.

The Portugal star has played 57 times this season, more than anyone else in Europe's top-five leagues, providing 28 goals and 18 assists. Only four players across those top leagues have been directly involved in more goals. His 137 chances created surpasses anyone else.

Wednesday could also see Mason Greenwood make his first career appearance in a final. Should he score, he would become only the second English teenager to do so in a major European final, the first being Brian Kidd, who netted on his 19th birthday when United beat Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final.

At the other end of the career spectrum sits Edinson Cavani, who has averaged a goal or assist every 35 minutes in this season's Europa League, the best return of anyone to play at least 200 minutes in the competition.

Cavani, who has 10 league goals in just 13 starts in his first season with the club, is bidding to become the third player aged 34 or over to score in a major European final for an English side, after Gary McAllister in the 2001 UEFA Cup final and Didier Drogba in the 2012 Champions League final.

Carlos Bacca has history in this fixture, having scored twice in the final six years ago for Sevilla. The Colombian could become the first player to score in a major European final for two teams from the same nation since Hernan Crespo, who was on target for Parma in 1999 and then Milan in 2005.

Villarreal's main threat will likely come through Gerard Moreno. With 29 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, he has been the most dangerous Spanish forward in Europe this term. Indeed, Lionel Messi (50) is the only player from LaLiga with more direct goal involvements.

Another Premier League season has come to an end and Sergio Aguero added another top-flight record to his collection.

Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorer was already the top-scoring overseas player in Premier League history and his farewell brace from the bench in a celebratory 5-0 win over Everton made him the top one-club scorer in the division with 184.

Impressive, yes, but those are conventionally impressive numbers.

For the final time in 2020-21, Stats Perform takes a look through the more unusual figures to have emerged over the course of an action-packed round of games.

 

The year of the penalty

Anwar Al Ghazi's second-half penalty ultimately proved decisive as Aston Villa beat Chelsea 2-1 and it was also a landmark goal – the 100th spot-kick to be scored in the Premier League this season.

Never before have penalty goals ticked into three figures, with the effects of VAR arguably keenly felt.

However, does the volume of penalties being given mean they are less costly than they once were? Manchester City conceded 10 in a season for the first time and ended up as champions.

The 10th came at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, although Ederson was on hand to keep out Gylfi Sigurdsson's attempt and preserve a 19th clean sheet of the season.

There should be little surprise that a penalty ended up being awarded during the game. When Ruben Dias brought down Richarlison it was the 19th time Michael Oliver had pointed to the spot this season.

That amounts to a new high for an individual referee during a campaign, usurping the inimitable Mike Dean's 17 in 2009-10. Perhaps the Merseyside official will view it as a challenge?

 

Chelsea share the wealth

Thomas Tuchel's side stumbled rather than strode into the top four, going down to a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park and finding themselves in the unusual position of being grateful for a Tottenham victory at Leicester City.

Chelsea might have secured Champions League qualification in more stress-free fashion if any of their players had bothered scoring more goals.

Yes, that might not be the most earth-shaking piece of tactical insight, but the Blues have provided one of the season's statistical curiosities.

They are the first team in a century to have reached the top four despite having no player reach double figures for league goals, with the previous team to manage the feat in such a fashion being Everton in 1910-11.

What's more is their top Premier League scorer Jorginho netted all seven from the penalty spot. Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner and Mason Mount – all of whom have experienced sharply contrasting fortunes since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January – have six apiece.

Jorginho is the Blues' lowest scoring top-scorer in a top division season since Ian Hutchinson also led the way with seven in 1974-75.

Players certainly seem to have no problem scoring once they leave Chelsea. Aston Villa's Bertrand Traore became the 25th old Stamford Bridge employee to score against his former club. No Premier League side has seen ex-players score against them more often.

 

Blades creators not cutting through

If individual goal tallies are a cause for concern at Chelsea, relegated Sheffield United can roll their woes back one more step in the process.

No Blades player will return to the Championship with more than two assists to their name, with John Lundstram, John Fleck and George Baldock all level as their most prolific – in the loosest sense of the word – creators.

In the history of the Premier League, only one other team has gone through a season without a player reaching at least three assists. Mark Kinsella, Steve Jones, Danny Mills, Richard Rufus and Eddie Youds had two apiece for Charlton Athletic in 1998-99.

United at least signed off with a 1-0 victory over Burnley. David McGoldrick's winner was the 1,000th goal scored in the Premier League this season.

 

No, no, no, no on last day for Nuno

Nuno Espirito Santo said farewell to Wolves having restored the club to the Premier League and enjoyed a wonderful four seasons in charge.

But maybe the Portuguese tactician should have headed off on his holidays early, because just about the one thing not to have improved during his Molineux tenure is Wolves' final-day record.

In the four seasons before Nuno arrived in the midlands, the club won four in a row on the last day of the season between 2013-14 and 2016-17.

Promotion from the Championship had already been secured before a 3-0 loss to Sunderland to close out 2017-18. Liverpool beat Wolves 2-0 at Anfield as their final-day title bid fell short in 2019.

Chelsea won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge last July as Nuno's men cast an eye towards their pending Europa League bid and Manchester United's 2-1 weekend triumph made it four concluding losses out of four.

The domestic football season concluded at the weekend in typically dramatic fashion.

The title went down to the wire in France and Spain, while Champions League qualification was up for grabs for some big names in England and Italy.

Much of the focus during the closing rounds in Germany was on Robert Lewandowski's record bid, but there was no shortage of intrigue whichever way you looked.

It was in keeping with the rest of an unpredictable campaign, one that Stats Perform breaks down with the use of Opta data.
 

LILLE, LALIGA AND LUKAKU SHAKE THINGS UP

Lille, Atletico Madrid and Inter all have relatively recent history of league glory, but a pre-season wager would have fetched long odds.

In Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain had won seven of the previous eight titles and would have expected to do so again, having claimed a domestic treble and reached the Champions League final in 2020.

As it was, under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, they had to settle for pushing Lille all the way.

Les Dogues claimed the title but had already set a club points record when they reached 79 with two games to spare. PSG finished on 82, though, meaning Lille desperately needed the final two results to boost their tally.

Despite the presence of Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga, Atletico's triumph was perhaps more likely, even if the impressive nature of it may have come as a surprise.

Although they stuttered on the home stretch and had to come from behind on the last day to edge out Madrid, Atleti spent 30 matchdays at the top of the table – a mark only bettered once in their 10 other title-winning campaigns (36 matchdays in 1995-96).

Indeed, Atleti are used to having to wait to celebrate, with 10 of their 11 championships seeing the destination of the trophy decided on the final day (all except 1976-77).

Inter are another big name but had been waiting even longer than Lille for their most recent title, with one Milan victory and then nine in a row for Juventus since the 2009-10 Nerazzurri treble.

Antonio Conte's men completed the job in style, though, confirmed as champions with four games to play before finishing with 91 points (behind only their 2006-07 haul of 97) and 89 goals (third-most behind the classes of 1949-50 and 1950-51 – 99 and 107 respectively).

Talisman Romelu Lukaku was involved in 35 of them, becoming the first Serie A player to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season since at least 2004-05.


BAYERN BACK ON TOP, CITY SCALING NEW HEIGHTS

In Germany, the title race was a little less exciting. Winners of everything in 2020, Bayern Munich took home the Bundesliga crown for a ninth successive season.

Prior to this run, no team had won more than three on the bounce, yet there appears no end to Bayern's dominance in sight. They have now won 52 per cent of the championships since the formation of the competition in 1963.

Julian Nagelsmann, arriving from RB Leipzig, will be the coach tasked with achieving 10 in a row and Hansi Flick has set the bar high. His 86 games brought seven trophies.

Manchester City could soon be reflecting on a similarly dominant dynasty having now claimed three titles in four seasons.

Pep Guardiola played a big part in Bayern's run and now has nine league wins in 12 top-flight seasons as a coach, although this was an unprecedented achievement, with City eighth on Christmas Day – the lowest position at that stage for an eventual Premier League champion.

A record English league run of 12 away victories played a pivotal role in City's season, while defending champions Liverpool saw a club-record 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League ended as they subsequently lost six consecutive league matches at Anfield for the first time in their history.

City could yet win the Champions League too, where Sergio Aguero is in line for his final appearance before his contract expires. He will hope it is as successful as his last league outing, during which he scored twice against Everton on Sunday to set a new record for the most Premier League goals by a player for one club (184).
 

RECORD-BREAKING LEWY DELAYS NEXT GENERATION

Aguero might have had his say on the final day, once the title was secure, but he largely took a backseat – unlike Lewandowski at Bayern.

His 41 Bundesliga goals broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 in a single season. The next-best tally in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21 saw Lionel Messi trailing well behind on 30.

Lewandowski unsurprisingly also led Europe in expected goals, with his chances worth 32.2 xG, and expected goals on target, producing shots with a value of 35.8 xGOT.

As Lewandowski took the Kicker-Torjagerkanone and Messi went away with the Pichichi, Cristiano Ronaldo (29 goals) won the Capocannoniere, having also previously topped the charts in England and Spain.

Kylian Mbappe (27) was the leading marksman in France, while Harry Kane (23) earned the Premier League Golden Boot for a third time.

Kane is set to be the subject of intense transfer speculation throughout the close-season – replacing Aguero at City might be one option if he gets his wish to leave Spurs – and he will join Mbappe and Erling Haaland in that regard.

Haaland also scored 27 league goals and only just trailed Mbappe's seven assists with his six.

The expectation is both players will establish themselves as the world's best in the coming seasons, but it is now Lewandowski, rather than Messi and Ronaldo, they must surpass.

The NBA playoffs got off to a thoroughly entertaining start over the weekend, with road wins for the lower seed in four of the eight series.

Game 1 followed hot on the heels of the similarly dramatic play-in tournament, in which Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors agonisingly lost twice to miss out on qualifying for the postseason.

Curry is a proven performer in both the regular season and the playoffs, but the same does not apply to every elite player.

Some stars seem to go missing when the season is on the line, while others thrive under pressure, as we discover in our latest NBA Heat Check – now comparing the performances of the past week to the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season.

RUNNING HOT...

Luka Doncic

For the second straight season, the Dallas Mavericks are playing the Los Angeles Clippers in round one. And for the second straight season, the series is providing Doncic with a platform to show off his extraordinary talents.

Dallas are too often a one-man show, but the Clippers struggled to contain Doncic last year as he averaged 31.0 points across a debut series that his Game 4 overtime buzzer-beating three-pointer memorably levelled.

The Mavs were beaten in Game 5 and Game 6 in 2020 to depart the tournament, yet this time they have a lead after Doncic's 31-point, triple-double effort on Saturday. Only Michael Jordan has played seven or more playoff games and averaged greater than his 31.0 points per game (33.4).

And it was again the Slovenian's accuracy from beyond the arc that hurt the Clippers, as he made five threes for the first time in the playoffs – up on his season average of 2.9.

Goran Dragic

The Miami Heat made the NBA Finals last season but were hamstrung by an injury to Dragic in Game 1 of the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

That proved a telling blow, but Dragic is back at the fore in this year's playoffs despite a middling regular season in which he averaged 13.4 points per game.

An opening effort of 25 points helped keep Miami in contention against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. Duncan Robinson chipped in with 24, too, shooting 53.8 per cent from three.

Dragic ranked fourth in the league last week in terms of scoring improvement (up 11.6 points on the regular season), with Robinson fifth (up 10.9). Robinson topped the list when it came to an upturn in three-point shooting, while Dragic was just behind. The pair could not be blamed for the Bucks' win.

GOING COLD...

Bam Adebayo

Adebayo certainly could be held responsible for Miami's early deficit, contributing a measly nine points on four-for-15 shooting.

The fourth-year center contributed 17.8 points per game in last year's playoffs, including 17.2 in the Milwaukee series, but he never got going on Saturday.

The decrease from Adebayo's regular season 18.7 average was the sixth-worst in the NBA and, to make matters worse for the Heat, superstar team-mate Jimmy Butler also turned in a concerning performance.

Butler finished with 17 points, yet he made only four of 22 field goal attempts while using 30.0 per cent of Miami's plays.

Chris Paul

Paul's poor game this weekend was the most understandable but also the most concerning. The veteran point guard took a blow to his shoulder in the Phoenix Suns' win over the Lakers and clearly moved uneasily thereafter.

"I heard like a crack or whatever," said Paul, whose ball handling was uncharacteristically clumsy as he was limited to seven points, down from a season average of 16.4 per outing.

It did not cost the Suns, but they will surely need Paul back fit and firing to beat the defending champions over a seven-game series.

Julius Randle

The New York Knicks would not be back in the playoffs if not for Randle's outstanding season in which he played the most minutes in the entire league (2,667) and recorded 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

But his belated playoff debut at Madison Square Garden saw a significant step back as Randle's six-for-23 shooting from the field – or 26.1 per cent – allowed the Atlanta Hawks to steal a road game.

The Knicks are built on hard graft rather than superstar talent, but they cannot afford for their All-Star to misfire so drastically.

Sergio Ramos has been left out of the Spain squad in perhaps the biggest coaching call heading into Euro 2020.

There have been returns for big names elsewhere – Karim Benzema for France, and Thomas Muller with Germany – but Luis Enrique has not selected his captain.

"Any decision I made about Sergio Ramos would have been controversial," the coach acknowledged. "I know where I am and accept there will be media noise."

But was it the right decision? We break down the Opta data to look at the reasons Ramos did not make the cut.
 

MAIN MAN MISSING FOR MADRID

Luis Enrique explained Ramos "has not been able to compete since January in the right condition, or even train with group", meaning he could not be included.

The Madrid defender has actually played more club minutes in that time (395) than Eric Garcia (360) – who was selected – but the latter was left out of the Manchester City team due to Pep Guardiola preferring alternative options, rather than a patchy fitness record.

Garcia also started all three matches for Spain, playing 266 minutes to Ramos' 50, in March.

Knee, calf and hamstring complaints have limited Ramos' involvement in 2021, but he had also already missed more matches than Madrid would have liked in the first half of the campaign.

By the closing round of LaLiga fixtures on Saturday, which Ramos watched from the bench as Madrid lost their title, the 35-year-old had been absent for significantly more matches (31) for the side this season than he had played (21).

Those 21 games and 1,790 minutes are by far the fewest Ramos has played across a season since joining Madrid in 2005, undercutting the previous low marks of 33 and 2,843 in 2015-16.

Ramos was still able to play his part in seven clean sheets, more than the six Madrid managed with their captain on the field in 2016-17 when he appeared 44 times.

His 2020-21 win rate of 62 per cent was a marginal improvement on the previous campaign, too.
 

BLEND OF BATTLER AND BALL PLAYER

Had Ramos been able to get on the pitch more often, his performances would surely have seen him included by Luis Enrique.

Among Ramos and the five centre-back options named in the squad – Diego Llorente, Pau Torres, Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta and Garcia – the snubbed skipper ranked fourth of the six for tackles (0.9) and tackles won (0.7) per 90 minutes this season.

Ramos was second behind only Llorente (1.5) for interceptions (1.4) and also trailed just the Leeds United man (7.4) in recoveries (5.6).

The World Cup winner was bottom of the pile in blocks (0.3) but third for clearances (2.6), holding his own in the majority of defensive categories.

Llorente (10.4 and 6.0) and Azpilicueta (9.5 and 5.3) led Ramos in duels (7.0) and duels won (4.1), although Laporte (4) joined that duo in contesting more aerial duels than the former Sevilla man (3.8). Ramos (2.4) won more of these battles per 90 than Azpilicueta (2.2), however.

It might come as no surprise that Manchester City pair Garcia (90.1 and 85.5) and Laporte (88.1 and 80.6) top the charts in passes and successful passes, but Ramos (78.5 and 72.1) is third. He is fourth for touches (88.3), too.

Ramos' numbers are competitive in both natural defensive metrics and in ball playing, whereas the others in the squad specialise in one or the other.

Luis Enrique will feel confident he has a wide array of options, but it is clear to see why a conversation with Ramos was "difficult and tough", even if the player later posted on Twitter "the best thing to do is rest, fully recover and come back next year".

The coach and the rest of Spain must hope this is not a costly call.

The 2020-21 Premier League season was the season like no other. Or was it?

Certainly, it differed from the norm in many aspects. The ongoing global effects of the coronavirus pandemic meant that for the majority of the campaign fans were still not allowed to attend inside stadiums.

The delay to last season also had a knock-on effect and meant the fixtures came thick and fast, causing a congested schedule and little chance to pause and reflect.

But just how different were things? Well, using some key metrics from the good folks at Opta, we have taken a look back at the comparative data going back to the 2003-04 season to look at things from a statistical standpoint.


ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK

There were certainly plenty of games with a high volume of goals and some unusual results, too. Remember Aston Villa beating Liverpool 7-2? And the Reds routing Crystal Palace 7-0?.

But in our time period, there have been nine occasions when there have been more goals tallied than the 1,024 this term. Indeed, you only have to go back to 2018-19 for the most celebrated – a whopping 1,072.

However, this term comfortably produced the highest number of penalties taken at 125, an average of 0.33 spot-kicks per game.

Players this season have statistically been more accurate as well. An average shot-conversion rate of 11.14 and shooting accuracy of 48.87 are both the highest since 2003-04.

On the flip side, this campaign produced the fewest number of shots (including blocked shots, 9,194 – an average of 24.2 per game). For context, there were 11,050 in 2010-11 – an average of 29.1 per game.

Last season saw the fewest amount of headed goals at 138. It was up to 170 in 2020-21, but that is 35 fewer than in 2010-11 – the highest on record since 2003-04.


YOU'VE GOT TO HOLD AND GIVE BUT DO IT AT THE RIGHT TIME…

No, that header is not just a popular lyric from the John Barnes rap in 'World In Motion' but a sense of the evolution of possession football and patient approach play in England's top flight, reflected by the increasing number of passes accumulated in Premier League seasons.

Back in 2003-04 there were 284,243 (748.01 per match), while the fewest over an entire term was 272,290 (716.55 per game) in the 2007-08 campaign.

This season produced the most passes ever recorded with a staggering 359,160, equating to 945.16 per game. Moreover, the 81.5 per cent passing accuracy is also the highest in our data.

Continuing a trend of the changing times, this term marked the fewest passes in the final third (98,770) and the lowest percentage of passes into the final third (27.5 – data for these metrics began in 2006-07). The most passes in the final third occurred in 2016-17 when there were 106,993.

The 25.1 crosses per match was down slightly on last term (26.5) but still up on the fewest recorded of 24.2 in 2018-19. The highest average was back at the start of our data in 2003-04, when there were 42 crosses per game.


MAINTAINING DISCIPLINE

In perhaps another sign of how the game has evolved, this season saw comfortably the fewest number of tackles (11,800 – 31.1 per game) recorded. In comparison, the most in a campaign in the same metrics saw 18,050 and 47.5 in 2006-07 (when tackling data was first taken).

That would go some way to explaining why there were only 1,095 yellow cards dished out – the second fewest in our timespan (an average of 2.88 per match). The least amount shown was back in 2004-05 (1,015, 2.67 per game), while the most in a single campaign was the 1,392 in 2016-17 (3.66 per game).

Red cards were up from the 44 dished out last term, with 48 shown. That number is higher than the 39 dismissals of 2017-18 but way down on the 73 of 2005-06.

However, fouls conceded were up for the second consecutive season (8,283) from a low of 7,768 in 2018-19. That number is still much lower than the high of 10,886 in 2005-06, though.


VERDICT:

Overall, there can be no doubt this season was completely different to any other we have known in the Premier League and, fingers crossed, more and more fans will return to stadiums from next season. 

In purely statistical terms, the data seems to suggest a continuation of certain trends (more passes, fewer tackles, fewer crosses, penalties on the rise) than any sort of mind-boggling anamoly. So, from that sense, perhaps it wasn't quite as different as we thought.

Paris Saint-Germain are no longer champions of France after Lille completed their stunning march to Ligue 1 glory on Sunday.

PSG headed into the final matchday with some hope remaining and upheld their end of the bargain, sweeping aside struggling Brest 2-0 – Kylian Mbappe on target after Neymar missed a penalty.

But Lille and their talisman Burak Yilmaz saw off Angers 2-1 to prevail by a point.

Considering the meagre victory margin, it is hard not to conclude that PSG's fate was sealed by a dreadful record against Lille, Monaco and Lyon, their fellow top-four incumbents this season.

In a mini-league made up of all the games played between those clubs, PSG came bottom in 2020-21 due to a mere four points from six matches.

Here, we take a closer look at how the Parisians let their domestic dominance slip.

Monaco 3-2 PSG (November 20)

PSG looked set for a routine win as Kylian Mbappe tore through to open the scoring against his former club before making it 2-0 from the penalty spot.

But Kevin Volland poached a brace and Cesc Fabregas, whose introduction at the interval proved key, converted a penalty six minutes from time. Abdou Diallo was sent off for bringing down the former Arsenal man.

It was the first time PSG had lost a Ligue 1 game after leading by at least two goals since going down 4-2 to Bastia in January 2015.

 

PSG 0-1 Lyon (December 13)

The defending champions had seen Lille replace them at the top of the standings before kick-off and were unable to respond in a lacklustre performance when they only managed one shot on target.

As such, Tino Kadewere's 35th-minute finish after PSG carelessly gave away possession was enough for Lille to leave the capital with three points.

 

Lille 0-0 PSG (December 20)

Pressure was mounting on Thomas Tuchel after that defeat and PSG were similarly listless at Lille a week later.

Again, their all-star attack only hit the target once as Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan bolstered his eventual collection of 21 top-flight clean sheets – the best in Europe's big five leagues this season.

PSG got back on track with a 4-0 win over Strasbourg but, on Christmas Eve, Tuchel was sacked.

PSG 0-2 Monaco (February 21)

PSG were starting to look like a team reborn under Mauricio Pochettino heading into their return fixture with Monaco fixture having thrashed Barcelona 4-1 in the Champions League.

They were brought back down to earth by Niko Kovac's Monaco, as Sofiane Diop headed them into an early lead and Guillermo Maripan slotted home in the 51st minute.

Once more, PSG were shot-shy on the big occasion and Monaco became the first team to complete the Ligue 1 double over them since Nancy in 2011-12.

 

Lyon 2-4 PSG (March 21)

Following another home slip-up against Nantes, PSG belatedly started to show their teeth domestically, dispatching Lille 3-0 in the Coupe de France.

On the back of that triumph, they travelled to Lyon and were in rampant form. Mbappe gave PSG a 15th-minute lead and Danilo Pereira slammed home when the hosts failed to clear a corner.

Angel Di Maria's wicked free-kick delivery from the right went straight in shortly after half-time before Mbappe charged on to Marco Verratti's long ball and become the youngest player to reach 100 Ligue 1 goals. Islam Slimani and Maxwell Cornet restored a touch for pride for Lyon.

 

PSG 0-1 Lille (April 3)

A week on from that victory, PSG erred decisively as Lille claimed their first win at Parc des Princes since 1996.

Jonathan David's deflected 20th-minute effort from Jonathan Ikone's cutback was enough to be decisive on the day and in the final reckoning, considering Les Dogues ended up as champions by such a fine margin.

Neymar was sent off after a late clash with Tiago Djalo as the match and, ultimately, the title slipped away from Paris.

Lille secured their first Ligue 1 title in 10 years on Sunday, ending Paris Saint-Germain's dominance of France's top tier. 

It has been an incredible season for Christophe Galtier's team, who finished fourth in the shortened 2019-20 campaign.

But a talented squad full of vibrant, youthful attackers – albeit spearheaded by veteran campaigner Burak Yilmaz – has clinched Ligue 1 title number four for the club, with their success confirmed when they beat Angers 2-1 on the final day of the campaign.

Eden Hazard was among the stars to propel Lille to their last title, in 2011, with Les Douges also triumphing in 1946 and 1954.

PSG finished top in the previous three seasons, since Monaco's Kylian Mbappe-inspired win in 2016-17. Indeed, it is only the second time since 2012-13 that the capital club has not won the title.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the numbers behind Lille's sensational season.

 

STACKING UP THE POINTS

With 79 points after 36 games, Lille already set their best tally in a Ligue 1 season in their history (based on three points for a win) ahead of the penultimate meeting of 2020-21 with Saint-Etienne.

A win against Claude Puel's team last week eluded Lille, though, with a point keeping PSG – who beat Reims – firmly in the running heading into the last round of fixtures.

Yet they came up with the vital three points against mid-table Angers.

Galtier's side have lost only three league fixtures this term (W24, D11) – those defeats coming in November, January and March against Brest (2-3), Angers (1-2) and Nimes (1-2) respectively. 

It is Galtier's first Ligue 1 crown as a coach. Since his appointment at Lille in December 2017, only George Barry, between 1944 and 1946, has managed a better win rate in the club's history (55.9 per cent).

 

MAGNIFICENT MAIGNAN MARSHALLS MISERLY DEFENCE

According to multiple reports, Mike Maignan may have played his final game for Lille, with Serie A giants Milan rumoured to have lined the goalkeeper up as their replacement for Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is out of contract next month.

Maignan joined Lille in 2015, and the 25-year-old has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.

He has kept 21 clean sheets in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other goalkeeper across the continent's top five leagues, while before Sunday's game, only PSG's Keylor Navas (79.3) and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (80.2) had a better shot-stopping rate than Maignan (79.1) of 'keepers to have played at least 15 games.

Ahead of Maignan, Lille's defence have also performed admirably, with the experienced Jose Fonte partnering Dutch youngster Sven Botman, who has been linked to Liverpool.

Lille have let in just seven goals in the second half of Ligue 1 matches in 2020-21 and conceded only 22 times in total. 

 

TURKISH DELIGHT AS YILMAZ ENJOYS LATE BLOOM

Eyebrows may have been raised when Lille brought in Yilmaz, the former Galatasaray, Trabzonspor and Besiktas striker.

However, the 35-year-old has more than proved any doubters wrong, scoring 16 times in his maiden Ligue 1 season, while also providing five assists.

His 21 direct goal involvements put him six ahead of any other Lille player, and his experience has profited a front line which includes Jonathan Bamba, Jonathan David, Yusuf Yazici and Jonathan Ikone, who have combined for 30 league goals.

Yilmaz is the first player to score at least 15 goals in his first season with Lille in Ligue 1 since Moussa Sow in 2010-11 (25), while his penalty at Angers beat the record for the most goals netted by a Turkish player in a single campaign in the competition, set by Mevlut Erdinc in 2009-10.

The striker has also shown an eye for the spectacular and Lille's 12 goals from outside the box were more than any other team Ligue 1 team. 

The Premier League race is run. A season that has seemingly been a never-ending story finally concluded on Sunday with the focus centred on the top four.

Chelsea lost but still ended up securing Champions League qualification, Liverpool won to astonishingly end an eventful campaign in third and poor Leicester City missed out after a crazy game at home to Tottenham as Harry Kane clinched the Golden Boot.

West Ham finish above Spurs in sixth to make the Europa League, while Manchester United ruined Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Wolves. There was yet another goal for Joe Willock, while David McGoldrick made sure he will no doubt be the subject of a pub quiz question in years to come.

Manchester City had clinched the title long ago, but a home game with Everton offered a chance for their returning fans to say farewell to a club legend.


Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea: Tuchel slips up on the road as Blues lose

Thomas Tuchel's side held on to their top-four spot thanks to the result at the King Power Stadium, with the German coach able to celebrate despite suffering his first away defeat in the league since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Villa, in the process becoming the 25th different player to manage a Premier League goal against Chelsea having previously been at the Blues. Anwar El Ghazi doubled the lead with the 100th penalty scored in the competition this season, the first time a campaign has reached triple figures.

On the subject of penalties, Jorginho finished with the most goals for Chelsea in the league with seven – all from the spot. It is the lowest number for the club’s leading scorer in a top-flight season since 1974-75, when Ian Hutchinson also managed seven.

Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace: Mane helps Reds prosper at Anfield

Jurgen Klopp has now finished in the top four at the end of the five full seasons he has had in charge of the Reds, who handed their former boss Roy Hodgson a 2-0 defeat in his Palace swansong.

Sadio Mane got both goals, the second with the aid of a huge deflection. He has scored 10 or more in all seven of his Premier League campaigns, including his two with Southampton before moving to Anfield in June 2016.

Liverpool won their meetings with Palace by a combined 9-0 score; only against Ipswich in 2001-02 (11-0) have they enjoyed a bigger aggregate margin across two Premier League games in the same season. While he had no need to conjure up another last-gasp goal this time, Alisson Becker did manage to keep a clean sheet on his 100th league outing for Klopp's side.

Leicester City 2-4 Tottenham: Foxes run into trouble against Bale and Kane

Leicester spent 242 days in the Premier League's top four this term, only to end the final one sitting in fifth place. For a second successive year, a late loss of form has cost them a Champions League place.

A sixth defeat in 13 matches did not appear on the cards when they twice led against Spurs thanks to Jamie Vardy, who scored two penalties in a match for a third time this season. However, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal – his second in the top tier – levelled matters, with the visitors then moving clear in a frantic finish.

Gareth Bale scored twice late on in potentially his final game for Tottenham, but will Kane still be there when the transfer window shuts? The striker's 41st-minute effort lifted him to 23 for this term as he became only the third player to win the Golden Boot award as many as three times, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (also three).

Aguero at the double, Willock matches Shearer (yes, really)

In scoring twice after coming on as a substitute, Aguero ended his City career as he had started it – with a brace off the bench (he had done just the same on debut against Swansea City, way back in August 2011). His double takes his final tally to 184 Premier League goals, in the process surpassing Wayne Rooney (183) for the most by a player for a single club.

As for Manchester United, a 2-1 triumph at Wolves sees them become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away across an entire top-tier season, a feat most recently achieved by Arsenal in 2003-04. The current-day Gunners beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0, though still finished eighth for a second year in a row.

At Fulham, Willock was on target once more in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United. It means the on-loan Arsenal midfielder becomes only the second Newcastle player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances, after hall-of-famer Shearer in 1996.

West Ham secured a top-six finish for only the second time in the Premier League era thanks to a 3-0 win over a Southampton team who do not prosper on their travels – they ended up losing 10 of their 11 away fixtures in 2021, during which they leaked 33 goals and scored just seven times.

There was a win for Leeds United at home to West Brom, taking them up to 59 points – the most by a promoted club since Ipswich Town (66) in 2000-01. Sheffield United finished bottom, but at least signed off on a winning note. Striker McGoldrick grabbed the only goal against Burnley to earn his own place in history: it was the 1,000th scored in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

The Ligue 1 title tussle between Paris Saint-Germain and Lille is going to the wire, and it is Les Dogues who hold a slender advantage heading into the final day.

Lille could have won the title – their first since 2010-11 – last week had they beaten Saint-Etienne and PSG dropped points against Reims.

Neither of those outcomes came to fruition, however, and Lille are just one point ahead with one game left to play. It is the smallest gap between a leader and the second-placed team at this stage in a Ligue 1 campaign since 2001-02.

Christophe Galtier's team need only to beat Angers to guarantee their triumph, but the mid-table team are one of the only three sides Lille have lost to this season in Ligue 1, while PSG face Brest.

Just below the title battle, Monaco – who have a slim chance of taking top billing – and Lyon are vying for the final Champions League spot. 

Monaco could yet end up at the summit, but Niko Kovac's team would finish fourth if they fail to beat Lens and Lyon defeat Nice.

At the other end of the table, there is potential for drama, with six teams between 18th-placed Nantes and 13th-placed Reims involved in a relegation scrap.

It has been a tightly fought contest throughout the season at the top of the table, but all will be decided on Sunday.

How does the predictor work?

First of all, here's how we got the data...

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position. The points total is based on an average of the predicted points from the simulations of the league outcome.

Let's see how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Lille likely to pip PSG to the post

Our model suggests that it will be Lille who hold firm to triumph this season, and claim their fourth Ligue 1 crown in the process, giving Les Dogues a 57.9 per cent chance of finishing top.

Lille did lose to Angers earlier this season, but they had won the previous three matches against them.

Angers, though, have only failed to score in two of their 18 Ligue 1 home games against Lille, doing so in their first such meeting in September 1957 (0-0) and in their most recent in February 2020 (0-2).

However, Lille's away form is superb – they have won 11 of their last 12 Ligue 1 games on the road.

Opta's AI predicts a 34 per cent chance of Lille finishing second, and an 8.9 per cent of them finishing third. The latter outcome would require Lille to lose, PSG to avoid defeat, Monaco to win, and there to be at least a six-goal swing in goal difference in the principality club's favour.

For PSG, the model offers them a 45.7 per chance of finishing second. If they drop points at all, then Lille will only need to draw to win the title, while a defeat – combined with a Monaco victory – would see Mauricio Pochettino's team finish third. Opta predict there is a 10.9 per cent chance of this happening.

There is very slim potential (3.1 per cent) for PSG to finish outside of the Champions League places and in fourth, but the goal difference swing required (17) would be bordering on the realms of impossibility.

PSG have a 40.3 per cent chance of finishing top, with Monaco not technically out of the running – they have a 2.6 per cent chance.

Monaco would need both Lille and PSG to slip up for that to occur. However, their main focus is to secure Champions League football.

Opta suggests this may be tough, with Lyon – led by the in-form Memphis Depay – given a 43.2 per cent chance of snatching third place, with Monaco destined for fourth. This is due in part to their poor record away at Lens in Ligue 1, where they have won just one of their last 14 top-flight games.

Bad luck for Brest

In the relegation scrap, Opta predict that Nantes, who currently occupy 18th place or Brest are the most likely teams to have to play-off against Toulouse or Grenoble Foot for a place in next season's Ligue 1.

Brest of course face PSG, and they have lost their last three Ligue 1 home games against the capital club, giving them a 50 per cent chance of finishing 18th.

Nantes are in action against Montpellier, and the model suggests their most likely finishing position is also in the bottom three (35.8 per cent), though only one unwanted place is up for grabs.

Reims, who sit in 13th, are not mathematically safe, with only two points between them and Nantes, but they are predicted to secure their top-flight status for next season.

Lorient, Bordeaux and Strasbourg could also be dragged into the relegation/promotion play-off place.

There is no title race to be run or relegation battle to be won, but the Premier League always seems to deliver on its final day.

Indeed, the Opta data bears it out.

In 23 of the 28 Premier League campaigns prior to 2020-21, the average number of goals per game was higher on the final matchday than across the rest of the season.

Indeed, the highest-scoring date in the history of the competition (May 8, 1993) was part of the final matchweek of the Premier League's debut campaign.

There were 47 goals from just nine matches, with 53 across the 11 total games that weekend – or a staggering 4.8 per game.

Once the prizes are largely secured, the pressure's off, the sun's out (sometimes...) and the holidays – or major tournament flights – are booked, the goals tend to flow.

So, with scope for another final-day epic in 2020-21, as Leicester City host Tottenham and Everton go to Manchester City, we look back on the four highest-scoring last hurrahs – unfortunately discounting 1992-93, when not all top-flight teams played at the same time on the same date.
 

May 21, 2017: Spurs hit seven to complete stunning week (37 goals)

Had Tottenham played out a goalless draw at Hull City, in a match with nothing on the line, the final day of the 2016-17 season would have been only marginally above the campaign's average of 2.8 goals per game.

As it was, a 7-1 Spurs win made this the highest-scoring last day in the competition's history.

That result is unsurprisingly the biggest ever away win on a final day – although City's 5-0 demolition of Watford on the same afternoon ranks second – and Tottenham's most convincing victory on the road in the Premier League.

Remarkably, that club record had stood for only three days, with Mauricio Pochettino's men 6-1 winners at Leicester earlier in the same week.

Harry Kane scored four against the Foxes and three at Hull, becoming the first player since Wayne Rooney in 2011 to bag hat-tricks in consecutive Premier League games as he clinched the Golden Boot.

The England captain has seven final-day goals in the competition, including another two the following year in a 5-4 win... against Leicester – Sunday's opponents.

May 19, 2013: Fergie farewell finishes with five apiece (36 goals)

Tottenham's nine-goal thriller against Leicester in 2018 is merely joint-second among final-day fixtures for the most goals in a game. The top spot belongs to a ludicrous 2013 draw.

West Brom 5-5 Manchester United is the highest-scoring draw in Premier League history, the sole such example of two sides evenly sharing 10 goals.

And it was a fitting end to an Alex Ferguson tenure at United that was rarely dull, with his side – champions for the 13th time in his premiership – leading 3-0 and then 5-2.

Future Red Devil Romelu Lukaku hit a hat-trick, though, and West Brom incredibly claimed a point.

Although Kane's against Hull in 2017 was the most recent example of a final-day treble, Lukaku had company in 2013 as Kevin Nolan also scored three in a 4-2 West Ham win over Reading.

Meanwhile, this was the 11th of 13 occasions on which a player has scored a hat-trick in a draw in the Premier League. The 10th had also come courtesy of a West Brom player on a final day, as Somen Tchoyi stunned Newcastle United in 2011.

May 12, 2019: City take title again but avoid frantic finish (36 goals)

Already champions this term, City know a thing or two about last-day title triumphs and the Premier League will do well to ever see a victory as dramatic as that of 2011-12.

However, one scenario that might come close would see the team starting the day in second go away with the silverware. For all the customary entertainment on the season's closing weekend, that has never happened in the Premier League.

In fact, there have only been eight examples of a team falling into the relegation zone right at the last – and none since 2011 – and a single occurrence of the team in fifth breaching the top four. That was Arsenal leapfrogging Tottenham in 2006, although Leicester will hope to join them on Sunday.

Therefore it should have come as little surprise in 2019 that City protected their narrow advantage over Liverpool at the top, even though the leaders briefly trailed at Brighton and Hove Albion.

A 4-1 comeback win sealed Pep Guardiola's second success and he boasts a 100 per cent record on the final day.

The only other manager never to have dropped a point on the last matchweek while overseeing four or more such games is Chris Coleman, all from his time as Fulham boss.

May 11, 2008: City smashed and Reading rout unrewarded (34 goals)

Crucially, Guardiola has never had to face Middlesbrough on the final day as City manager. Boro have a bizarre hold over the Etihad Stadium outfit at this time of year.

In 2004-05, as David James appeared in attack, Robbie Fowler's failure to score from the spot in stoppage time took Boro into Europe at City's expense. Three years later, it was even worse.

Although City still qualified for the UEFA Cup through the UEFA Fair Play ranking, their season ended with a humiliating 8-1 defeat at the Riverside – at the time the biggest loss on a final day and still City's heaviest in the Premier League, all while rivals United won the title.

Yet the real drama was at the foot of the table, as Fulham's triumph meant Reading and Birmingham City were relegated, at least, much like Buzz Lightyear, falling with style thanks to respective 4-0 and 4-1 victories over Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.

Five other teams have won on the day they have been relegated from the Premier League, but never two in the same season, let alone the same day, and never as emphatically as Reading.

The Royals were at least by then used to scoring four times and going away disappointed. This was the third occasion on which they had done so in 2007-08 and, remarkably, they had lost the prior two matches – 7-4 at Portsmouth and 6-4 at Tottenham.

Manchester City are champions, Manchester United will come second, and Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham will be relegated. We know that.

And yet, there is so much to play for on the Premier League's final day.

Chelsea's win over Leicester City has put them in the driving seat to come third, while Liverpool's late-season resurgence means they are back in a Champions League spot, something that seemed implausible just weeks ago.

However, with Leicester behind only on goal difference and just a point separating third from fifth, it could all change depending on Sunday's results.

While they cannot now break into the top five, West Ham, Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and Leeds United are also vying to finish as high as they can – and clinch a place in next season's Europa League or Europa Conference League.

With so much at stake, it's difficult to predict exactly how things will play out, but that's exactly what the AI team at Stats Perform has done.

 

HOW IT WORKS

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model - with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

So, who will be celebrating on Sunday?

LIVERPOOL HOLD FIRM AS FOXES FALTER

Our model predicts the Premier League season will finish with a top four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea side are given a strong chance – 55 per cent – of finishing in third place. They need to match the result of Liverpool and Leicester to be certain, and they face an Aston Villa side who are guaranteed to finish 11th.

Liverpool are also set to have a reason to celebrate at the end of a troubled season. The Reds are given a 48.6 per cent chance of finishing fourth, which they will almost certainly do if they defeat Crystal Palace at Anfield. They could still snatch third, of course, if Chelsea do not win, and are given a 40.3 per cent chance of doing that.

Leicester City are given just a 20.4 per cent chance of taking back a top-four spot and only a 4.7 per cent hope of coming third. In fact, our model gives them a 74.9 per cent chance of finishing in fifth place. Assuming there is no shock on Merseyside, Leicester must beat Tottenham handsomely to leapfrog Liverpool, as they trail by four goals in goal difference.

 

WILL SPURS OR ARSENAL FINISH HIGHER?

West Ham have an 88.1 per cent chance of sealing sixth place to sign off an impressive season. They need only avoid defeat at home to Southampton to make sure.

As for bragging rights in north London, things are a little tighter.

Tottenham, whose chances of pipping the Hammers to sixth are rated lower than one in 10, have a 36.4 per cent chance of finishing seventh. However, they face the tough task of going to Leicester and taking all three points to be certain.

Arsenal, who are on a four-game winning run, are given a 38.6 per cent chance of clambering above Spurs on the final day, with Mikel Arteta's men hosting Brighton and Hove Albion knowing a win could lift them up two places in the table, given Everton must go to Manchester City.

The Toffees and Leeds United are poised to round out the top 10.

Atletico Madrid are champions of Spain again after holding off heavyweight pair Real Madrid and Barcelona in the closing stages to win their second LaLiga crown in eight seasons.

Atleti beat Real Valladolid 2-1 on Saturday to finish two points above Madrid – the only side that could catch them heading into the final round of games after Barca lost ground.

Diego Simeone's men moved into top spot with a 4-0 win over Cadiz on November 7 and, despite some inconsistency over the past two months, they have stayed there ever since.

With the help of Opta, we took a look at the numbers behind Los Colchoneros' latest triumph.

ATLETI BREAK MADRID-BARCA STRONGHOLD

Atleti have now been crowned champions of Spain 11 times – three of those in the last 43 years – which is third only to perennial winners Real Madrid (34 titles) and Barcelona (26).

Athletic Bilbao are next on the list with eight titles to their name, while Valencia have come out on top on six occasions.

Indeed, Simeone's charges are the only side other than Madrid or Barca to finish at the summit of Spain's top flight in the past 16 years, doing so this season and in 2013-14.

Atletico have now claimed the title in at least one season in eight of the last 10 decades – only in the 1920s and 1980s did they fail to do so.

DESERVED TITLE WINNERS

Atletico have spent 30 matchdays on top of the table, despite only stringing together successive wins on a couple of occasions since the end of January.

They won 26, drew eight and lost four of their 38 matches to end the season with 86 points – their longest winning run being the eight strung together between December 19 and January 31.

It is the 10th time Atleti's fate has gone down to the final day of the season, most dramatically of all in 2014 when drawing away at Barca to hold off their title rivals.

That season, incidentally, Simeone's side spent 11 matchdays alone at the top of the table.

THE CHANGING FACE OF ATELTICO

Another interesting aspect of Atletico's title success is that this is the first season they have averaged more than 50 per cent possession in the league under Simeone.

They have averaged 52.02 per cent possession in LaLiga in 2020-21, which compares to 48.75 per cent in the season they last finished top, and is an increase on the 47.86 per cent they managed last season when finishing 17 points off top spot.

Increased possession has led to a better balance, too, with Atletico scoring 67 goals this season, which is the joint-third most they have mustered in Simeone's nine seasons at the helm, alongside 2014-15 and behind 2013-14 (77) and 2016-17 (70).

The 25 goals they have conceded, meanwhile, is their fourth-best return over that time, their best season in that regard being the 18 goals shipped in 2015-16.

OBLAK, SUAREZ AND LLORENTE KEY TO SUCCESS

As Simeone has himself repeatedly pointed out, this has once again been a collective effort from Atletico.

However, there is no doubt that this latest title triumph would not have been possible if not for certain individuals – none more so than Luis Suarez, who joined from Barcelona at the start of the season for a small fee.

The Uruguay international scored comeback-clinching goals for Atletico in their final two games of the season and won 21 points for his side in total – more than any other player in the division – with his 21 goals.

Indeed, only Radamel Falcao in 2011-12 (24 goals) and Antoine Griezmann in 2014-15 (22) have scored more goals in their first season at the club in the 21st century.

At the opposite end, goalkeeper Jan Oblak made 103 saves from the 125 shots faced in LaLiga this season – an 80 per cent save rate, the best percentage of any keeper in Europe's top five leagues among those to have played at least three times.

Marcos Llorente is another deserving of special recognition, having played a direct part in 23 LaLiga goals – 12 of his own and a further 11 assists – a tally that is bettered by just Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (30) among midfielders in Europe's top leagues.

His 12 goals came from an expected goals (xG) return of 3.4 – a difference of 8.6 – which is the biggest differential between xG and actual goals of any player in the big five leagues bar Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (41 goals from an xG of 32.3).

 

We should have known Diego Simeone would do it differently.

The customary celebrations were all there: the cheers, the hugs, the hoisting of the coach high into the air by jubilant, exhausted players.

Yet the most poignant moment of Saturday's post-match scenes at the Jose Zorrilla, where Atletico Madrid became LaLiga champions for the 11th time, was one of quiet reflection. Simeone, wiping his eyes, went to console dejected Real Valladolid players whose relegation was confirmed by that 2-1 defeat. His own emotions running their highest, he was still attuned to theirs.

Simeone has always seemed fuelled by the raw emotive power of a football match, more than any other coach among Europe's elite clubs. When he reels off platitudes in dour pre-game press talks, it's like he's frightened of wasting an ounce of energy; once the whistle sounds, he explodes into a 90-minute sideline supernova, frantic, impassioned, inspirational.

It was like that this season perhaps more than any other. This was his second league title with Atleti and eighth trophy – a record among those to have coached the club – in 10 years overall, but it feels like this one belongs to him most of all. This was the crowning of true Cholismo champions: a triumph built on the power of belief.

Atleti have defied expectations at almost every turn in 2020-21. Even on the final day, when they just needed a win against a team they had beaten 10 times in 11 games, it almost slipped away.

Oscar Plano, a former Real Madrid player, opened the scoring to give his old club hope only for Villarreal to take the lead in the capital, where Madrid knew only a victory would be enough to defend their crown. Angel Correa's dancing feet and inspired toe-poke levelled the scores with just Atleti's second shot on target of the match; nearly 200 kilometres away, Karim Benzema saw an equaliser disallowed by VAR. When Luis Suarez swept home his 21st goal of the season from the best throughball of the contest – an errant hoof by Valladolid substitute Michel – it felt like fate was overplaying her hand.

So it has been throughout nine months of hectic schedules and empty stadia. Exhausted Atleti players missed the succour of roaring fans like the rest, but the difference was their firebrand coach. Simeone demands the utmost, but he gives his players the conviction that they can deliver it, no matter what the outside world expects. It's brutal, unquenchable defiance. It's Cholismo.

Atletico have outperformed expectations so much this season they almost had little right to be champions. They have scored 67 goals from just 53.07 expected goals (xG) in LaLiga and conceded 25 from expected goals against (xGA) of 37.8. Add those differentials together and you get 26.73, the highest such figure in Europe's top-five leagues, and nearly 27 reasons why they should not have finished top.

Suarez, cast out of Barcelona as an expensive has-been, has outscored his xG by 4.85, a bigger number than in his final three seasons at Camp Nou. His 21 goals have delivered as many points, more than any other player in the competition.

Marcos Llorente, a defensive midfielder warming the Madrid bench before his move two years ago, is the first Atletico player to reach double figures for goals and assists in a single season since Diego Forlan in 2008-09. The only other 'double-double' in all of LaLiga this season was achieved by Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas.

On February 1, Stats Perform AI gave Atleti a 79.9 per cent chance of winning the title thanks to their 10-point lead, yet they managed to allow the race to come down to the final day – and still win it by a whisker after falling behind.

That's what Simeone gives you. In a modern game supposed to be won by controlled variables and tiny percentages, Atleti just reminded us all what a little faith can do.

Atletico Madrid are Spanish champions again, Saturday's tense 2-1 win at Real Valladolid sealing the title seven years on from their only previous championship success under Diego Simeone.

Much like on that occasion, Atletico had to wait until the final day of the season to make absolutely sure of their triumph, something few would have predicted of their campaign not too long ago.

Simeone's men have been top for much of the season, granted, but in recent months their position at the summit became precarious.

It's fair to say they have ridden their luck over the past few weeks, including on Saturday as they had to come from behind at Valladolid, but their supporters will be fine with that after they eventually brought it home.

Following their title-clinching victory, we look back on the other matches that have been crucial in their success.

Atletico Madrid 6-1 Granada, September 27

Okay, maybe it's a little over the top to suggest Atletico's very first game of the season had much bearing on winning the title, but the manner of it was seriously impressive and set the tone for the rest of the campaign – even if they did draw their next two matches.

It was a particularly memorable outing for Luis Suarez, who, cast aside by Barcelona, netted a brace as he became the first player this century to score and assist on his Atletico debut.

Atletico romped to what was their biggest opening-day win under Simeone, and they've hardly looked back.

 

Atletico 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Barca were in turmoil at times in the first half of the season and that gave Atletico the perfect opportunity to gain a psychological edge. With Suarez missing against his former club, the visitors might have fancied their chances, but Atletico prevailed to claim their first league win over the Blaugrana in more than 10 years.

Yannick Carrasco got the all-important goal as Atletico set a club record of 24 LaLiga games unbeaten, while Barca were left with just 11 points from their first eight league matches, their worst start to a season since 1991-92.

Eibar 1-2 Atletico Madrid, January 21

One aspect of Atletico's trip to Ipurua in January will be recounted time and time again by statisticians, and it's not that they came from behind to win. No, the most fascinating element of this game was that it was Marko Dmitrovic who broke the deadlock from the spot, becoming the first goalkeeper to score in LaLiga since Dani Aranzubia in February 2011. The last stopper to net a penalty was nine years before that.

 

But it was Atletico who had the last laugh. Suarez scored both of their goals, including a last-gasp penalty, to spare Los Colchoneros' blushes.

While a win away to Eibar – who've since been relegated – may not look like much, who's to say that having someone as reliable as Suarez to convert a late penalty under pressure wasn't the decisive moment in their title quest?

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico, May 8

At the halfway point of their season, Atletico were seven points clear at the summit with two games in hand on Real Madrid in second. They had been devastatingly effective in the first half of the season as they collected 50 points, but in the 18 matches since, that haul has plummeted to 33.

Atletico have been far more erratic since the turn and their trip to Camp Nou looked especially uncomfortable, as a defeat would have seen Barca go above them in the table, while any result other than a win will have given Real Madrid the initiative.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen impressed for Barca in the first half, making six saves, though clear-cut chances weren't exactly a regular occurrence, neither side even managing to reach 1.0 xG (expected goals) over the course of the game. Atletico faced a nervous wait to see if their neighbours would capitalise…

 

Real Madrid 2-2 Sevilla, May 9

The second part to a title-race double-header across May 8 and 9, Madrid and Sevilla both still fancied their chances of sealing the crown at this point, and what an occasion it was in Valdebebas.

Madrid looked to be heading to a remarkable defeat when they had a late penalty overturned because Eder Militao was controversially deemed to have handled in his own area at the start of the attack, with Ivan Rakitic converting the spot-kick to put Sevilla in front for the second time.

Toni Kroos saw a long-range shot deflect in off Eden Hazard deep into stoppage time but it was not enough – winning the title was no longer in their own hands.

 

Atletico 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

The title looked to be slipping from Atletico's grasp again last weekend, as Ante Budimir's 75th-minute header put Osasuna in front shortly after Madrid had gone 1-0 up at Athletic Bilbao – at this juncture Los Blancos were top by a point.

Renan Lodi levelled for Atletico with 82 minutes on the clock but that wasn't going to be enough, as they would still sit behind Madrid due to their inferior head-to-head record. They needed another.

 

With two minutes left, Suarez ended something of a mini-drought to clinch victory, his 20th goal of the season, a haul that had secured Atletico 19 points at that point – only Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri could match that at the time.

The goal sparked joyous celebrations on the pitch, Atletico's bench and in the stadium's car park where a group of supporters gathered.

It left them with the two-point advantage over Madrid that was required heading into the final day, with Simeone's men subsequently refusing to throw it all away against Valladolid, despite falling behind once again.

 

Oscar Plano put Valladolid in front in the first half, but Atletico rallied after the interval as Angel Correa netted a brilliant equaliser and Suarez sealed the win 23 minutes from time, Madrid's own turnaround against Villarreal elsewhere ultimately an irrelevence.

Atletico are the champions.

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