Friday, May 17, 2024

Premier League: The Final Week

The results of midweek matches lend additional clarity to the remaining Premier League races. Tottenham Hotspur did their rivals Arsenal no favors by capitulating to Manchester City 2-0 on Tuesday. With Golden Boot leader Erling Haaland scoring both goals, Manchester City leapfrogged to the top of the table over the Gunners by winning at a strangely friendly Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. A good number of Spurs supporters in attendance cheered the failure of their own club, prioritizing the damage done to rival Arsenal over Spurs’ own fortunes. Manager Ange Postecoglou got into some verbal sparring with one such Tottenham Hotspur “supporter” during the match and highlighted the sad culture which is Spurs in remarks after the contest. Perhaps of little concern to its fans, Tottenham Hotspur was mathematically eliminated from Champions League contention with the defeat, the club’s fifth loss in six matches.

Manchester City, accused of 115 financial violations in building its super team, is now on the precipice of a monotonous fourth straight title should the Citizens defeat West Ham on Sunday.

Arsenal, now trailing the title holders by two points, must win its own match over visiting Everton and hope for a Manchester City loss or draw. Arsenal has a slender one net goal advantage should a goal differential tiebreaker come into play if Arsenal wins, and Manchester City draws.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, were winners on Tuesday without even stepping onto the pitch. The Tottenham Hotspur loss means Aston Villa has clinched a Champions League berth for the first time in more than 40 years. One can only hope that Manager Unai Emery receives Manager of the Year consideration. The case can certainly be made that the jobs done by Emery and Everton Manager Sean Dyche in accomplishing their club’s objectives while doing “more with less“ should merit debate versus just handing another trophy to Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola.

While the Premier League League title will be decided on Sunday, some of the European places could remain unsettled until the FA Cup winner is determined next week. The Champions League spots, of course, now belong to Manchester City

Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Despite its series of poor late season performances, Tottenham Hotspur remains guaranteed of a Europa Conference League berth at minimum. A point at relegated Sheffield United on Sunday would elevate the north London side to a more prestigious Europa League berth regardless of results elsewhere.

The second Europa league berth is complicated. If Manchester United were to deliver an unlikely win in the FA Cup final versus Manchester City, the Red Devils will be ticketed for the Europa League. A Manchester City win makes that second berth contingent on table position. Entering the weekend, Manchester United is eighth in the table and the hypothetical loser in the three-team chase for two remaining European spots (One Europa League and one Europa Conference League). The Red Devils created a final weekend opportunity to overtake one of those other clubs, however, with their 3-2 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford on Wednesday, a result which leaves the two clubs level on points. Unfortunately for Manchester United, the Red Devils’ negative goal differential puts it at a tiebreaker disadvantage versus the other two contenders for the final European places. Chelsea is three points above Manchester United but has a staggering 16 net goal advantage which makes Chelsea uncatchable for the Red Devils. Manchester United thus only qualifies for Europe by virtue of table position if the club betters the result of Newcastle on Sunday. Both clubs are on the road, Manchester United visiting Brighton while Newcastle is at Brentford.

Success is not assured for either of these stumbling clubs fighting to compete in Europe. In the last three matches for each club, Manchester United has dropped six points and Newcastle has dropped four. The beneficiary of those stumbles has been Chelsea. The Blues have peaked at just the right time and won four consecutive matches, the latest being Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Brighton. Aside from a resounding April walloping by Arsenal at the Emirates, Chelsea is otherwise unbeaten in its last 14 matches. Wunderkind Cole Palmer scored his 22nd goal of the season in the win over the Seagulls. A draw with Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge clinches sixth place for Chelsea, meaning Europa Conference League is assured and the more desired Europa League is theirs should Manchester City win the FA Cup.

Manchester United cannot pass Chelsea in the table but Newcastle can. A Magpie win at Brentford accompanied by a Chelsea loss to Bournemouth would see Newcastle finish sixth absent an unlikely shift from the Magpies’ current eight net goal advantage over Chelsea for tiebreaker purposes. Seventh place brings Europa Conference League as consolation…unless Manchester United wins the FA Cup in which case seventh place is a meaningless finish for its occupant.

The relegation battle at the bottom of the table by contrast is much more straightforward. Luton Town can only claw to safety if it defeats Fulham at Kenilworth Park, Nottingham Forest loses at Burnley AND the Hatters somehow overcome a current 12 goal deficit in tiebreaking goal differential. Impacting no race but historically important is Liverpool’s match with Wolverhampton when Jurgen Klopp makes his final appearance at Anfield as Liverpool manager. Even the remaining Premier League match this weekend between Crystal Palace and already Champions League bound Aston Villa holds some meaning. A sixth win in seven by the Eagles could see streaking Crystal Palace move into the top half of the table should Brighton and Bournemouth both lose on the final day.  

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