Friday, May 20, 2022

Championship Sunday

The Premier League season ends in dramatic fashion Sunday with all ten league games beginning simultaneously to decide races up and down the table. The following is what’s at stake.

The Premier League Title

Manchester City clings to first place by a single point over Liverpool as the defending league champions host Aston Villa in their final match. Aston Villa Manager Steven Gerrard will have an opportunity to deliver yet another trophy to Liverpool, the club he captained for many years, if he can guide the Villans to an upset victory. Other former Liverpool players who can help their former club include Aston Villa’s Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings. While hope springs eternal for Liverpool fans, Manchester City has defeated Aston Villa in six consecutive league matches and in nine of their last ten meetings. Manchester City has all to play for in front of its home supporters as the Citizens look to wrap up their fourth Premier League title in the last five years. Liverpool is home to Wolverhampton as they chase their second league title in three years. The Reds have won ten consecutive matches against their Sunday opponent and are undefeated at home in the Premier League this season. Despite a one-point deficit in the title race, Liverpool likely needs to win their match, even if Manchester City loses, as the Reds’ goal differential is six goals worse than the league leaders. As Liverpool looks to run down Manchester City on the final day for the title there are also individual honors on the line. Mohamed Salah, despite failing to score a goal in 13 of his last 14 matches, still leads Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min by a single goal in the race for the Premier League’s Golden Boot. Salah also leads the league in assists with one more than teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Egyptian superstar can thus become the fourth Premier League player to win both the Golden Boot and Golden Playmaker awards.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson each have a joint league leading 20 clean sheets entering the final weekend in the battle for the Golden Glove award. Ederson has won the award in the past two seasons. 

Champions League Qualification

Tottenham Hotspur can secure Champions League football with a win or draw at cellar dwelling Norwich. Spurs carries a two-point advantage and vastly superior goal differential advantage over fifth place Arsenal into the final weekend. Current Spurs and former Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte can become the fifth manager to steer two different Premier League teams into the top four.

Three wins and two draws in their last five matches have moved Spurs ahead of crumbling Arsenal in the top four chase. The Gunners have lost their two matches including a devastating 3-0 shellacking by their north London rivals. A loss by the Gunners this Sunday would establish a club record of 14 losses for a single season. Arsenal needs to defeat Everton at the Emirates Sunday and hope lowly Norwich can shockingly defeat Tottenham Hotspur if the Gunners are to secure improbable Champions League qualification. The Gunners have a fifteen-goal deficit in goal differential versus Tottenham Hotspur entering the final weekend. The pressure is off Arsenal’s opponent, Everton, after the Toffees ensured their Premier League survival with a Thursday win over Crystal Palace. 

Europa League Qualification

Manchester United can suffer one further embarrassment this season. A draw or loss at Crystal Palace in their final match can eliminate the Red Devils from Europa League qualification if West Ham wins at Brighton. Further descent down the table would put an exclamation point on Manchester United’s worst Premier League season. Manchester United cancelled its annual award dinner earlier this week at the request of shamed players. Crystal Palace experienced its own embarrassing moment when the Eagles collapsed mid-week in a come from ahead loss which secured Everton’s Premier League survival. A home win in their final match now becomes more meaningful as the Eagles will want to rebound from Thursday’s debacle where they lost despite holding a two goal second half lead. The three-day turnaround from Thursday’s match for the Eagles contrasts with a 15-day break for Manchester United since the Red Devils were beaten 4-0 at Brighton. West Ham visits the Seagulls Sunday as Manager David Moyes hopes to return his club to Europa League competition after the Hammers impressively advanced to the semifinals of that competition this season. West Ham is assured of a Europa Conference League berth but would like to trade up with Manchester United for the more prestigious Europa League. To do so will require the Hammers to beat the Seagulls for the first time in ten Premier League meetings. Tenth place Brighton is trying to secure its first top half Premier League finish. 

Premier League Survival

And then there were two. Everton removed itself from the relegation scrap with a dramatic come from behind 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace Thursday. Down by two goals at the halftime whistle, Everton’s intensity in the second half overwhelmed Crystal Palace. Calvert-Lewin’s header in the 85th minute clinched survival for the Toffees.

The fans at Goodison Park energized their club throughout the late season survival struggle but may finally have crossed the line of acceptable behavior. Supporters previously made news with late night fireworks to disturb the sleep of Chelsea players and, more dangerously, have been regularly igniting and throwing blue flares within the Goodison confines. Thursday’s historic win was marred by two different pitch invasions and Everton fans physically accosting Crystal Palace players. One Toffee supporter harassed Eagle manager Patrick Vieira on the pitch after the match only to be kicked to the turf by the former Arsenal legend. As Merseyside celebrations continue, two clubs remain at risk of relegation. Burnley grabbed a point in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa Thursday to leapfrog Leeds to safety. The two clubs are level on points, but Burnley has a 20-goal advantage in the goal differential tiebreaker. Leeds must thus better Burnley’s result on Sunday to stay in the Premier League. Burnley is home to Newcastle while Leeds travels to Brentford in the relegation deciding matches. Newcastle and Brentford are both two points behind Brighton for a potential top half finish. 

Not So Much...

Only two matches bear little interest for the unbiased observer. Chelsea is locked in to a third-place finish and Champions Leage qualification as it hosts already relegated Watford at Stamford Bridge. With new ownership pending and several current players departing the club after this season, the Blues are more focused on planning for the future than swatting the Hornets on Sunday. Chelsea have stumbled toward the conclusion of their league season, garnering just twelve points from their last nine league matches following a 1-1 home draw with Leicester on Thursday. Woeful Watford, meanwhile, says goodbye to departing manager Roy Hodgson as the 74-year-old former Liverpool, Fulham, West Brom and Crystral Palace manager bids adieu to the Premier League. Leicester hosts struggling Southampton. Leicester can clinch a top half finish, but Fox supporters will not be impressed after the club barely missed the top four in the previous two seasons. Southampton has won only one match since February and enters the weekend only five points above the drop zone.  

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