Premier League Preview – May 24
This is it.
Match day 38 has arrived, and with it comes the promise of Premier League salvation or the gloom of a forced descent into the Championship.
Here’s what we know
Manchester United own the championship trophy, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal will be joining them in varying stages of the Champions League in 2009-2010.
Everton and Aston Villa have two of the three available Europa League spots.
West Bromwich Albion is going down. Two of the following will join them: Sunderland, Hull City, Newcastle or Middlesbrough.
Here’s what’s fuzzy
Will Fulham or Tottenham Hotspur will claim the final Europa League spot?
Who the heck is going down with the Baggies?
Sorting out the bottom
I’m not an engineer, so I lack the math skills required to tell you how many different possible outcomes there are Sunday for the games that involve the teams scrambling to avoid the drop.
So let’s put it this way:
For Boro to stay up – Gareth Southgate’s club need to win at West Ham and get losses from Newcastle and Hull – all while turning over a -4 goal difference.
For Newcastle to stay up – Alan Shearer’s club need to win at Aston Villa and a loss by either Sunderland or Hull. The Toon can also draw and stay in the top flight if Hull City falls at home to United.
For Hull City to stay up – The Tigers can beat United. If they draw and Newcastle loses, they’ll be fine. If they lose and the Toon nips a point at Villa Park, the Tigers will be returning to the Championship.
For Sunderland to stay up – A win at home over Chelsea would be the shortest route to safety. The Black Cats can also draw and be safe is Hull doesn’t win. If they draw, and both Hull and Newcastle win, then goal difference and perhaps even goals scored might come into play.
Arsenal vs. Stoke City
The Gunners wrap their season at home to the Potters in a game that frankly doesn’t matter a great deal.
Don’t be shocked if Arsenal trots out a Carling Cup-type lineup for this one.
Aston Villa vs. Newcastle
A massive game for Newcastle as it tries to avoid falling out of the top flight for the first time since 1993.
Villa has fallen apart down the stretch, picking up only one win in the last 12 games. Of course, Newcastle has exactly the same recent form.
“People have asked me whether it’s possible to be optimistic after the hammer blow at the weekend. It’s not only possible, it’s imperative that we stay positive,” said Iain Dowie, Shearer’s assistant on Tyneside.
We’ll see if that positivity leads to a point – or three.
Blackburn Rovers vs. West Brom
The Rovers have booked their place in the EPL next season, while the Baggies will be heading back down to the Championship.
Not much for neutrals to see here.
Fulham vs. Everton
The Whites can lock up a Europa League spot with a win, and with a five-goal edge over Spurs on goal difference, a draw will probably be enough as well.
The Toffees will be trying to finish in fifth place, which will provide a better entry point to UEFA’s second-tier competition next season.
Hull City vs. Manchester United
The Tigers face a huge game at home Sunday as the Red Devils come calling. With the Champions League final looming on Wednesday, it’s likely that Sir Alex Ferguson will field a somewhat-weaker-than-normal side.
Of course, nobody boasts the depth and talent that United has at its disposal.
Liverpool vs. Tottenham
Tottenham visits Anfield with dreams of Europe still within reach. The Reds don’t appear to have much to play for in this one, but their captain, Steven Gerrard, is hoping for a strong finish to the campaign.
“We haven’t got much to play for really, but I think every time you put the Liverpool jersey on in front of your home supporters, the least they deserve is effort and if we go into it with that attitude, we can finish on a high with three points,” he told The Liverpool Echo.
Manchester City vs. Bolton
Maybe City will use this game to put together a highlight reel for players it wants to lure during the transfer window. Other than that, neither side seems to have much to gain or lose here.
Sunderland vs. Chelsea
The Black Cats can assure their survival with a win over the Blues, but that might be a tall order against a surging side.
Chelsea have 22 points from its last eight matches, and will look to build momentum towards its FA Cup final next weekend.
West Ham vs. Middlesbrough
Boro need three points from its visit to Upton Park on Sunday – and even that might not be enough to save them from the drop.
Middlesbrough will look to break an eight-match winless streak at Upton Park, and will have to do it without injured midfielder Stewart Downing.
Wigan vs. Portsmouth
Pompey can jump Wigan in the table with a win at the JJB, but really, that’s about all the drama on offer here.