Leicester may have completed its fairy tale Premier League triumph but several teams are battling to the last for their dreams — whether of European glory or survival
By Lester J Wan
It’s finally down to the very last round. How will it stand when the dust settles?
The world is abuzz with Leicester City’s fairy tale run culminating in an unprecedented, glorious Barclays Premier League triumph. Deservedly so, the wily and dogged Foxes are in seventh heaven and will go down in football lore.
Nonetheless, several things remain to be determined. Whether the Premier League Golden Boot award for the top-scorer of the tournament, the last spots in the UEFA Champions League or Europa League, or sealing the fate of the relegation-bound, it all comes down to this Sunday. What a football season it’s been.
Here are my picks for how the 2015-2016 season will finish.
Premier League Golden Boot
Jamie Vardy may have won Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year but Harry Kane is likely to clinch the Premier League Golden Boot. (Photo: CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com)
The race for the Golden Boot is an intriguing subtext, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero neck and neck in a three-horse race. Kane leads by one goal but who will go out guns blazing, in a final barrage to stake his claim?
Vardy has recently gotten into trouble for behaviour on the pitch and may be a bit complacent having already won the Premier League title as well as the Football Writer’s Association Footballer of the Year award. As for Aguero, will he finally burn out from carrying his team?
With Spurs currently a whopping 10 points behind Leicester, Kane and his teammates may have a point to prove, at least to their egos. My money is on Kane (and Spurs) to go all out in the last match to prove that they’ve not been pretenders, and possibly claim the Golden Boot. His one-goal advantage also gives him the edge over his rivals.
Relegation & FA Cup Glory
Newcastle United has a rich history, including a fairy tale ascent in the ‘90s and even being Premier League runner-up in the ’95-’96 and ’96-’97 seasons. Who can forget manager Kevin Keegan’s “I would love it…” rant against Manchester United’s SirAlex Ferguson?
Unfortunately, the prospect of New-castle winning its last match against Tottenham is unlikely. Spurs have a much superior team.
The truth is, having 34 points with only one match to go is a very bad place to be at this final stage of the competition. Goodbye, Magpies. I hope you return to the premiership as speedily as you did (after one season away) in 2010.
Sunderland only needs two draws or a win to survive, against Everton and Watford — both below mid-table and with nothing to play for. The Black Cats have yet to use up their nine lives and are all but certain to survive.
Interestingly, Norwich also faces Everton and Watford in its final two matches. These two clubs may well determine the fate of the relegation battlers.
Even if Norwich acquires a maximum 37 points, Sunderland should easily out-score Norwich. Goodbye, Canaries. Looks like it’s not a very good year for birds.
Hmm… On that note, will the Eagles of Crystal Palace come crashing down against the Red Devils in the FA Cup Final on May 22? That’s a highly-likely scenario. It’s hard to fathom how Palace, close to the bottom of the table, could’ve made it to the final. The Red Devils, wanting a consolation prize, should despatch the Eagles with ease.
Champions League & Europa League spots
Surprisingly, with one match to go, Manchester United has the second-best defence in the Premier League based on goals scored against (second only to Spurs and ahead of Leicester by one goal) but even with players like Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and David de Gea, the Red Devils are likely to bow out failing to qualify for the Champions League. (Photo: mr3002 / Shutterstock.com)
Apart from Leicester, Spurs and Arsenal are assured of Champions League places while City only needs a draw against Swansea to seal qualification. With only one match to go, United, despite having the second-best defence in the league based on goals scored against — second only to Spurs and ahead of Leicester by one goal — with the likes of Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and David de Gea, is likely to bow out failing to qualify for the Champions League.
United might win Bournemouth but there’s a risk of capitulation again, such as against West Ham on Wednesday. The Hammers are likely to win their last match against Stoke to confirm Europa League qualification.
Southampton will probably win Palace, focused on the FA Cup Final, and will qualify for Europa if United clinch the FA Cup.
However, Liverpool could acquire a maximum six points from its last two matches — including against Chelsea today — to finish as high as fifth place and kick up to two of the above three out. Even if Liverpool finishes outside of Europa qualification, it has a chance of returning to the Champions League if it wins the Europa League Final against Sevilla.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 152, May 13 – May 26, 2016, with the headline ‘How the Premier League will end’.