Friday, May 21, 2021

Matchweek 37 Results and Final Weekend: Eight Teams Contend for Europe on Championship Sunday; Liverpool Crashes Top Four; Chelsea Rebounds As Foxes Fall; Hammers Respond; Spurs Stumble; Manchester United Extends Winless Streak; Sam Allardyce and Nuno Espirito Santos Say Goodbye

Eight teams have unsettled prospects for Europe entering Sunday’s season ending matches. Manchester City and Manchester United have clinched first and second in the table, securing their Champions League places for next year. All else remains unsettled. Heading into the final matches, each of the remaining teams in the top half of the Premier League table has a mathematical possibility to qualify for some form of European competition. Chelsea sits third in the table but could still be displaced from Champions League qualification. Fifth place Leicester, loser of its penultimate match of the season to Chelsea, is just a single point behind Chelsea entering the final weekend. Leicester is level on points with fourth place Liverpool but trail the Reds on goal differential with a four-goal difference currently separating fourth and fifth place. 

Liverpool surged into the top four by virtue of a 3-0 victory over West Brom on Wednesday coupled with Leicester’s Tuesday defeat at Stamford Bridge. Suddenly in-form Liverpool forward Bobby Firmino scored for a third time in his last three appearances after scoring just once in his previous 19 matches.

Defender Nat Phillips scored his first ever Premier League goal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored for a first time this season to complete the unlikely cast of goal scoring heroes. The Reds have now won four consecutive matches and are unbeaten in nine league matches to put themselves in position for an improbable rescue of their season. 

Chelsea was determined if not impressive in a 2-1 Tuesday defeat of Leicester. Timo Werner missed on his usual assortment of goal scoring opportunities but was responsible for drawing the penalty which Jorgino converted for the winning margin. Antonio Rudiger had scored the opening goal for Chelsea shortly into the second half with a volley off his left thigh. With Chelsea ahead by two goals, Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho raised further question as to why the red-hot striker was not in the starting line-up when the second half substitute struck in the 76th minute from well outside the box, cutting Chelsea’s lead in half. A missed opportunity by Leicester’s Ayoze Perez in the closing minutes added to the woe of the flagging Foxes who risk a late fall from the top four for a second consecutive season. Emotions running high after back-to-back critical matches between the two clubs, a bench clearing brawl erupted between Chelsea and Leicester toward game’s end. 

Europa League qualification is the now assured consolation prize for whichever of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester finishes outside the top four. Liverpool will enjoy the most favorable matchup of the three clubs on Championship Sunday when the Reds host Crystal Palace in front of returning fans at Anfield. Chelsea needs to go to Aston Villa which impressed in a win over Tottenham Hotspur last week with Jack Grealish back in the line-up. N’golo Kante and Kai Havertz are injury question marks to play against Villa for a Chelsea squad which faces a Champions League final next week. Leicester, meanwhile, is home to a Spurs side in contention for its own European place. Spurs striker Harry Kane, tied at 22 goals with Mohamed Salah in the chase for this season’s Golden Boot, has scored more career goals versus Leicester than against any other Premier League opponent. 

West Ham is currently sitting in the second of the two available Europa League places after late goals by Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio cemented a 3-1 victory for the Hammers after a first half which saw a 46th minute score by Tomas Soucek negate an early West Brom lead delivered by Matheus Pereira. West Brom manager Sam Allardyce, loser for an eighth consecutive match against West Ham manager David Moyes, announced he is leaving his position with the relegated Baggies effective with the end of the season. West Ham is guaranteed, at minimum, a place in the Europa Conference League unless Everton can improbably overcome an 8-point goal differential with a Toffee win and Hammer loss on Sunday. A draw by West Ham against visiting Southampton would clinch Europa League competition and West Ham’s first top six finish in over 20 years.

A win on Sunday would see West Ham finish with 26 more points than their 2019/20 total. Tottenham Hotspur, who play at Leicester Sunday, remain a threat to bump West Ham from the more preferred Europa League should the Hammers lose, and Spurs defeat the Foxes. 

Tottenham Hotspur suffered a potentially devastating 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa during the week. An early Spurs lead on a Steven Bergwijn goal was eradicated by a Sergio Reguilon own goal before Villa’s Tammy Watkins provided the winner at the 39-minute mark. A miserable day for Spurs ended with the solitary figure of Harry Kane sadly clapping the Spurs fans at the end of perhaps his final home match for the club. Spurs, currently without a permanent manager and potentially soon without their top star, are clinging to a place in the Europa Conference League. A “proper” Europa League slot, however, remains possible for Tottenham Hotspur with a Spurs win and West Ham loss on the final day. 

Should Spurs lose on Sunday, both Everton and Arsenal can threaten for the Europa Conference League spot. An Everton win at Manchester City and a Spurs draw or loss would give the Toffees seventh place and the “Conference” position. West Ham’s 8-point goal differential advantage versus Everton likely makes Europa League too long of a putt for the Toffees even in the event of a West Ham loss and Toffee win on the final day. Everton’s slim chances are courtesy of a Richarlison goal in a 1-0 win Tuesday over Wolves. A meaningless final stretch of the season for Wolves was brightened this week by news that striker Raul Jimenez is sufficiently recovered from his skull fracture to resume training. 

Arsenal is eliminated from Europa League but could qualify for the Conference League should the Gunners win their match versus Brighton and both Spurs and Everton lose. Arsenal were 3-1 winners over Crystal Palace Wednesday, securing victory with two stoppage time goals by Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe. Pepe’s goal was his second of the game. Christian Benteke scored in a fourth consecutive appearance for Crystal Palace. Eagles manager Roy Hodgson was recognized by an honor guard provided by both teams before the game in the veteran manager’s final appearance before fans at Selhurst Park. Anything less than a Gunner victory over Brighton this Sunday automatically eliminates Arsenal from Europe. 

Mathematically, Leeds would have a chance for the Europa Conference spot should the Whites defeat West Brom and Spurs, Everton, and Arsenal all lose. Unfortunately, Spurs currently enjoys a 15-goal advantage on Leeds in tiebreaking goal differential, thus requiring a feat of goal production on the final day for Leeds which would seem insurmountable even for Marcelo Bielsa’s electric offensive philosophy. Leeds won for a third consecutive time this week in a 2-0 defeat of Southampton behind goals by Patrick Bamford and Tyler Roberts. 

Manchester City will receive the Premier League trophy in front of their home fans Sunday. The Citizens will be eager to punctuate their championship season with a victory over Everton after a frustrating loss by the Citizens to Brighton in their penultimate match last week. A ten-man Manchester side surrendered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss to the Seagulls. Jao Cancelo was ejected for Manchester City in the 10th minute with the Citizens holding 1-0 advantage on a goal by Ilkay Gundogan. Despite the disadvantage, City went ahead by two goals on a Phil Foden goal early in the second half before the Seagulls began to spread their wings. Consecutive goals by Leandro Trossard, Adam Webster, and Dan Burns brought Brighton all the way back against the tiring City defense. Dan Burns’s winner was his first Premier League goal as Brighton earned its first Premier League victory over Manchester City. City’s loss ended a league record 12 consecutive away victories and 23 match unbeaten run in all competitions. The ultracompetitive Pep Guardiola exchanged heated words with Brighton coach Graham Potter after the game. 

Manchester United failed to win for a third consecutive league outing as the Red Devils drew 1-1 with relegated Fulham Tuesday as a 76th minute goal by the Cottagers’ Joe Bryan negated a first half score by Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani. The Old Trafford crowd was orderly but for the tossing of a green and gold scarf onto Luke Shaw as he lined up to take a corner. Green and gold have the become the colors symbolizing protest of the Glazer family’s ownership of the club. Manchester United finish their league slate on Sunday at Wolves. The fans at Molineux Stadium will be saying their final farewell to Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santos who has surprisingly been announced to be leaving the club after this season by mutual agreement. The soon to be former Wolves manager will now be rumored to fill the vacant Tottenham Hotspur managerial position. While not meaningful for league positioning, the final league game for Manchester United is important to build some positivity before heading into the Europa League final against Villareal. 

Relegated Fulham say goodbye to the Premier League by hosting a finale versus Newcastle which was once thought to be an important relegation decider before the Cottagers late season collapse and a renaissance by Newcastle manager Steve Buce’s Magpies. Newcastle were 1-0 winners over Sheffield United during the week as Arsenal loanee Joe Willock scored in a sixth consecutive appearance for Newcastle. Relegated Sheffield United finishes its season with a visit from Burnley.

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