The love you take
Is equal to the love you make — Paul McCartney
A terrific season comes to an end. Manchester United has deservingly won the Championship. We saw tremendous soccer at times from Arsenal and Chelsea and Manchester City, and at the beginning of the season, from Tottenham. But no one was as consistently strong as Sir Alex’s men.
Here is your definitive guide to the various Sunday scenarios:
Spurs qualify for Europe (1) if they beat Birmingham; (2) if Villa beat Liverpool, or (3) if both matches end in draws. Otherwise Liverpool get the automatic spot.
West Ham are relegated and finish rock bottom. 2 of the other 5 (Blackburn, Wolves, Birmingham, Blackpool, and Wigan) go down. Wolves and Blackburn are the only two who fully control their own destiny as the winner of their match is safe. If (say) at halftime, Wigan, Blackpool & Birmingham are all getting hammered, Wolves & Blackburn could pass the ball back and forth to each other and both be safe with a draw. That is the danger for FS+ televising that match. Blackburn, playing on the road, has a far greater incentive for a draw, given their better goal difference than Wolves. So if Blackburn draw, the only way they are relegated is if ALL of Wigan, Blackpool, and Birmingham win. So Blackburn could easily try to park the bus. If Wolves draw, they would be relegated if 2 or more of Wigan, Blackpool & Birmingham win. For Blackpool and Wigan, in the Bottom 3, they must get points to have any hope of safety. If one of them draws and Birmingham and the other loses, the one with the draw is safe. They really all need to go for wins. Given who Birmingham and Blackpool are playing, you’d think Wigan just might be safe by beating Stoke without having to run up the score. If all 3 win, they would all be safe if Blackburn and Wolves draw. But if there is a winner in that match, then one of Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan would still go down (assuming they all win) and it would come down to goal differential, with Birmingham on -20, Blackpool on -21 and Wigan on -22 to start the day.
City clinch 3rd if (1) they win at Bolton, (2) Fulham beats Arsenal, or (3) if both matches end in draws. Otherwise Arsenal.
For Fair Play
England have clinched a 4th team for Europa League, joining Birmingham, Stoke, and Spurs/Liverpool. It’s impossible to tell, given the range of scores that go into fair play (it’snot just yellow/red cards, but also fan behavior, player behavior, manager behavior, etc.), but it looks as if Spurs might just get it if Liverpool get 5th place. Otherwise Fulham. Blackpool has an outside shot. The ‘winner’ of this competition gets to play up to 6 extra matches starting June 30. That’s June 30. If Birmingham are beating Spurs soundly, look for a flurry of Clattenburg cards at the end of the match!
And I conclude with a personal comment. The roots of this weekly column came two years ago, when, as we started to get more and more EPL soccer available to us here in the US, I struggled each week to find out whether my beloved West Ham would be televised, and if so, when and on what channel. I love the league too so I tried to figure out the best games, the best derbies to watch, the relegation battles, etc. There were listings available, first from Oliver T’s wonderful soccertv.com, then at epltalk and elsewhere, but they were sometimes incomplete. So for me it was a bit of a puzzle to find out the listings, who the commentators were, which station had first and second choice, etc. I thought there might be other crazy soccer-lovers out there so I offered to the Gaffer to write this column occasionally. Growing up, I had seen other columnists who would rate the American football games each week and thought I would emulate that style. This year I ended up doing it for every single EPL match. And it wasn’t easy. Mostly because I run a business full-time. And I traveled a lot. I wrote this column in Switzerland, in Italy, in California, in Chicago, even in London! I wrote it on planes, downloading various Fox and ESPN and other web sites before flying, so I could get you accurate information. In the second half of this year, I figured out how to get advance referee appointments, and added those for each game. While I made some mistakes, the great thing about the Internet is there are free fact-checkers everywhere! And I was excoriated for far more than making an error or two. My favorite comment called me David the Septic Tank; love that one. But now, as the season comes to an end, so does this column. I won’t be back next year. And it’s not just because my Hammers were (deservingly) relegated. The listings are generally available, the time commitment to write this column well is too high given my work and family constraints, and there wasn’t enough positive reinforcement to compensate. I would love to read such a column going forward, and would be happy to share the ‘secrets’ of the business with anyone interested in continuing the column. The Gaffer knows where to reach me.
But enough about me. On to the games!!
****: Must-see. Cancel all other activities. Do not even DVR as even in America you might hear the score!
***: Strong match; worth watching live; DVR a must if you can’t see live
**: Flip through quickly to see the goals, red cards, injuries, and perhaps watch the last 5 minutes + injury time if close
*: Only if you’re a die-hard
Matches shown in chronological order:
Sunday, May 22 (all times EDT)
**** Man Utd v Blackpool, 11 am, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com [Dean]
The reverse fixture was delayed from December to January 25 due to ice/snow, and what a game it was. The Champions, like they did to my Hammers recently, came back from 2-nil down at halftime to win it, with late goals from Berbatov, Hernandez, and Berbs again to win it in a Tuesday night thriller. United may play their Carling Cup roster, which will not please Wigan or Birmingham. Remember Carlos Tevez scoring for West Ham at Old Trafford on the final day of the season, as United prepared to lift their trophy, to ensure safety? That was just 4 years ago this week. Can Charlie Adam do the same on Sunday?
**** Tottenham v Birmingham, 11 am, FSC, [Clattenburg]
I had to laugh when I saw the referee appointment for this match. I believe this is the first time Spurs are seeing Clattenburg since the infamous Nani/Gomes goal. While it became conventional wisdom that Spurs did not ‘want’ 5th/Europa, it appears that their alternative if they lose this match is to still go to Europe but start in June, they really should try to win this match! The match in December ended 1-1 with Gardner equalizing late. A Birmingham win will probably see them stay in the league next year. Spurs’ inability to beat the bottom teams (they took 1 point of 6 from the abject Hammers) cost them a chance at Champions League.
**** Wolverhampton v Blackburn, 11 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv [Webb]
Blackburn destroyed Wolves in December, 3-nil (just after having been thumped themselves 7-1 at Old Trafford). We know Wolves will fight for Mick, and some of us neutrals would prefer to see his side stay up, for the humor value alone of his post-match comments. I’ve outlined the scenarios above: the winner is safe, they may very well both be safe with a draw, and the loser might just stay up too. So Fox has taken some chances making this the live match, vs. Stoke-Wigan. But I’ll be watching, hoping for a back and forth multi-goal battle that goes down to the wire, with results in the other matches making this one incredibly meaningful for both sides.
**** Stoke v Wigan, 11 am, foxsoccer.tv & 1 pm (delayed) FS+ [Marriner]
I don’t think you’ll be able to watch Wolves v Blackburn live and then watch this one on tape-delay and hope to not know the score. So 4-stars for those with foxsoccer.tv. You’d have to call it a successful season for Tony Pulis’s boys. Safely mid-table, a trip to Wembley, and heading to Europe next season! Wigan fought back well against my we’d-be-safe-if-games-were-45-minutes brigade last week, but they’re going to have to win on the road, realistically, to have a shot at staying in the league. I don’t know how hard Stoke will fight to ensure a top 10 finish, so Wigan will want to go for it early and hope Stoke concede. Stoke scored 4 times in the December match at the DW, only Collins & Delap did so in the wrong net and the sides finished 2-2, with all four scored in the first half.
** Fulham v Arsenal, 11 am, foxsoccer.tv & 5 pm (delayed) FSC, [Atkinson]
Arsenal have a shot, perhaps a long one, at finishing third in this disappointing conclusion to what looked like a bright season. Fulham may be heading back to Europe and should focus on getting no cards if they want to go.
** Aston Villa v Liverpool, 11 am, espn3.com only [Probert]
Nice turnaround for Dalglish, but they may get to concentrate on the league only next year. Villa has work to do.
*** Bolton v Man City, 11 am, espn3.com only [Foy]
City will go for 3rd and Bolton will probably put up a fight. nil-1 anyone?
* Everton v Chelsea, 11 am, espn3.com only [Walton]
Ordinarily a fun watch to match; too bad it was scheduled for week 38.
* Newcastle v West Brom, 11 am, espn3.com only [Halsey]
What a terrific managerial change the Baggies made.
* West Ham v Sunderland, 11 am, espn3.com only [Taylor]
The last taste of the big time before Millwall comes to Upton Park