With the Premier League champions now confirmed, attention will turn to the bottom of the division this weekend, as there are three vital games in the race to stay afloat in the top flight.
Two of them—involving sides in the bottom three hosting illustrious names, as does a clash to determine which side will join Burnley in the top tier from 2016-17; that one is a classic case of winner takes all.
Rounding off what should be a gripping weekend is a local derby which will play a critical role in determining the Spanish champions, as well as a showdown between two of Major League Soccer’s heavyweights.
All kick-offs are in Eastern Time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Middlesbrough vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Saturday, May 7, 7:30AM, beIN SPORTS, beIN SPORTS en Español, fuboTV and SlingTV
Middlesbrough are in the box seat to join Burnley in the Premier League next season via automatic promotion, although their final day tussle with Brighton & Hove Albion is primed for drama.
That’s because Brighton know they can still take one of the top spots if they were to go to the Riverside and win. Chris Hughton’s team froze in front of their own fans on Monday, knowing a win over Derby would have handed them an advantage heading to the North East; a 1-1 draw means only three points will do now.
After letting a 2-1 lead slip against Birmingham City on Friday night, Boro will be relieved to still be in a strong position to progress. Aitor Karanka’s side were by far the better team at St. Andrew’s, with a selection of decisions going against them on the night. Nevertheless, as a side who have only lost twice at home all season, they are big favorites heading into the clash.
Brighton’s task will be made even more difficult by the fact star center-back Lewis Dunk will miss the game after his red card against Derby. However, with the pressure and expectation on the home side, perhaps the visitors will play with the kind of freedom which has pushed them into this position to begin with.
Norwich City vs. Manchester United
Saturday, May 7, 7:45AM, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra
Norwich City’s penultimate home match of the season needs to be a memorable one if the Canaries are going to stay afloat in the top flight, as they gear up to face Manchester United in a clash they need to win.
The Canaries seemed to be moving in the right direction earlier in year, with crucial consecutive wins secured over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United. However, the defeat to Crystal Palace and subsequently Sunderland seem to have really set Alex Neill’s men back. Coming into this one, they trail 17th place Newcastle United by two points with a game in hand.
United’s season isn’t quite over with yet. While they were held to a draw by Leicester City in their previous outing, Manchester City’s loss to Southampton has pulled them back into the battle for fourth spot. If the Red Devils win, they’ll move one point behind City, who face Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Norwich can heap massive pressure on their rivals with a win too, as three points would push them above Newcastle and temporarily into a position of safety. However, a loss here could all but seal their fate as the second side to be relegated alongside Aston Villa.
Sunderland vs. Chelsea
Saturday, May 7, 10:00AM, USA and NBC Sports Live Extra
Regardless of what goes on at Carrow Road on Saturday lunchtime, the match between Sunderland and Chelsea at the Stadium of Light later in the day is going to be crucial.
The Black Cats gave themselves a massive boost in their previous contest, when they were able to snatch a last gasp point against Stoke City. Jermain Defoe netted from the spot in stoppage time and throughout this tussle to stay afloat in the top flight, his ability to bag key goals has left many thinking Sam Allardyce’s side have an edge.
Chelsea are something of an unknown commodity, though. Without the carrot of ending Tottenham Hotspur’s title challenge dangling in front of them, it’ll be fascinating to see what kind of performance the Blues put in in the North East. Encouragingly for Blues fans, Eden Hazard at least looked back to his usual self in the clash against Spurs.
Undoubtedly, this is a bigger game for Sunderland, though. Allardyce’s side have proven tough to beat on home soil under his guidance and showed they can cope with classy opposition when Arsenal came to town not too long ago. With Newcastle performing well under Rafael Benitez, and visiting Villa on the day, three points here would be a huge boost to their survival chances.
Barcelona vs. Espanyol
Sunday, May 8, 11:00AM, beIN SPORTS Español, fuboTV and Sling TV
Just two wins stand between Barcelona and another league title, although Sunday’s visitors to the Camp Nou, local rivals Espanyol, will be out to spoil the party.
Having drawn each other in the Copa del Rey earlier this year, this will be the fourth time these two enemies have come face-to-face in 2015-16. And it’d be fair to say the previous three meetings were especially feisty affairs, with neither side holding back when it came to the physical side of the game; Espanyol were reduced to nine men in the cup at the Camp Nou.
For Barcelona, there’s plenty at stake. Wins for Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid last weekend kept the pressure on the Catalan giants and while they delivered with a 2-0 win at Real Betis, there were a few signs of nerves, even for a football club as illustrious as the Blaugrana. Slip up here and the title could be gone.
Espanyol could still feasibly be dragged into a relegation battle and while that’s unlikely there’s still something for them to play for in terms of their own season. They’re a team who can occasionally raise their game when faced with the iconic blue and red jerseys too and would relish being the side to deliver a devastating blow in Barca’s quest for glory.
DC United vs. New York City FC
Sunday, May 8, 8:30PM, FOX Sports 1, FOX Soccer 2GO & MLS Live
After finally getting a victory under their belt last weekend, New York City FC head to DC United trying to find some consistency.
Patrick Vieira’s side were involved in a stunning contest on Saturday, as they edged Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2, their first win since the opening day of the season. David Villa bagged a brace, Andrea Pirlo dictated the game and while the defensive issues which have hampered this team continue to emerge, it was evident just how much these three points meant.
The challenge will be to repeat those standards at a very difficult venue. DC United may not have had the best beginning to the season, languishing down in fifth position in the Eastern Conference, but Ben Olsen’s side are a strong on home soil and will feel capable of exposing NYCFC’s longstanding woes at the back.
Both of these sides will feel capable of achieving something memorable this season and while there’s a long way to go in the regular season yet, wins in these kinds of matches can trigger a run. For each team, a victory could be so important.