Peter Fitzpatrick·2 June 2023
Peter Fitzpatrick·2 June 2023
As the season finally nears a close, we look at the standout fixtures this weekend.
A Serie B play-off semi-final might not seem too glamorous to many but when it features Parma, one of Italian football’s most storied clubs in recent times, it is big news.
Arguably the trendiest side of Serie A’s 1990s heyday, Parma have been through the ringer in the last two decades. Financial scandals involving their owner led to the club being put into administration from 2003 to 2007, before eventually being declared bankrupt in 2015.
From the ashes, a phoenix club rose and, starting in Serie D, secured three consecutive promotions to return to the top flight in 2018. Two seasons later, they went down again and could only finish 12th last season.
This season has been a different story, with a fourth-placed finish putting them in the play-off for the third promotion spot.
Things seemed to be going to plan when they went 2-0 up at Cagliari on Tuesday night inside 26 minutes but this club doesn’t do anything the easy way, and three goals in the last 22 minutes (two in the last five) see them looking to come from behind at the Stadio Ennio Tardini on Saturday night.
Cagliari themselves are looking for an immediate return to Serie A but only one will advance here.
Despite Real Vallodolid, Celta Vigo and Almería being in greater peril at the bottom of La Liga, all eyes will be on the Benito Villamarín Stadium to see whether Valencia (two points clear of 18th) can secure their top-flight status and avoid being relegated for just the second time in their history.
It last occurred in 1986, when they bounced straight back up as champions. There would be no guarantee of that this time around given the financial crisis that has engulfed the club in recent times under the ownership of the much disliked Peter Lim.
A fall out of LaLiga and all that comes with it could see the club sink even further down, like fellow classic 2000s side Deportivo La Coruna, who are currently languishing in the third tier.
One of the heroes of the ’02 and ’04 title successes, Rubén Baraja, is fittingly the man in charge for the final day, having taken over back in February.
While Betis away is usually an extremely tough game, Valencia can find solace in the fact that Los Verdiblancos have nothing to play for, having already secured Europa League football and being unable to move up or down from sixth.
A third straight cup final without Bayern Munich? Maybe German football isn’t as monopolistic as we think.
Leipzig enter the final as favourites and as defending champions, having won their first-ever DFB-Pokal last season, while Frankfurt will be looking to follow up on their Europa League success of last year with their sixth victory in the competition, with their last coming in 2018.
It is Leipzig who arrive in Berlin playing with house money, having secured Champions League football by virtue of finishing third in the league. Frankfurt could only achieve a seventh-placed finish in the Bundesliga this season, leaving them without European football for 2023/24 as things stand.
A win here for them would secure Europa League football and should serve as an extra motivation.
This will also be the final game for boss Oliver Glasner, with ex-Julian Nagelsmann assistant Dino Toppmöller in line to take over this summer.
Another goodbye comes in the form of Christopher Nkunku as he plays his final game for Leipzig, with the French forward having reportedly long agreed on a move to Chelsea. Could it also be a final game in the colours of Frankfurt for his countryman Randal Kolo Muani, who has been heavily linked with a move away?
Those two are the two most likely to fire their team to glory.
This year finally sees Barça and Wolfsburg meet in a Women’s Champions League final, having somehow avoided each other despite one side featuring in each of the last 10 finals bar 2017.
Both sides have fallen foul to the dominance of Lyon, losing in five of those finals to the French giants, and it was Barcelona’s turn last season, having defeated Wolfsburg 5-3 over the two legs in the semi-final en route.
Barça enter the final as favourites, having knocked out WSL winners Chelsea in the last four, won the Spanish title once again and with star player Alexia Putellas now back in action following injury. Both of their goals against Chelsea came from another of their stars, Caroline Graham Hansen, formerly of Wolfsburg.
Wolfsburg, who defeated Arsenal in a dramatic second leg at the Emirates Stadium, can count on the tournament’s top scorer this season, Ewa Pajor, and captain Alex Popp, a veteran of their victories in 2013 and 2014, who’s coming into the game off the back of a brilliant campaign.
It promises to be a thriller as a sold-out PSV Stadium sets a record for the highest ever attendance for a Women’s Champions League final.
What else could it be?
The first-ever Manchester derby in a domestic final and perhaps the biggest match ever between the pair, though the 2011/12 Premier League near-title decider might just top it.
A chance for Pep Guardiola and City to complete part two of the treble is also a chance for United to stop them and preserve their own place in history and achieve a domestic cup double in Erik ten Hag’s first season. The narrative couldn’t really be any better.
United do have previous for such things, defeating Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup final as their greatest rivals claimed league and European Cup success on either side of it.
The two Manchester clubs shared the spoils in the league this season, albeit those games now feel like a long time ago such has been the transformation both have undertaken across the campaign.
Could perennial final winners Raphaël Varane and Casemiro be the inspiration for a red letter day or will Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and co. continue their relentless march to glory?
We’ll find out at Wembley!