Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez and Andre Villas-Boas take centre stage on the Premier League's final day, but Alan …
The final day of the Premier League season is upon us, and with champions crowned, three teams already condemned to relegation and much buzz around the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, the biggest fate to be decided is that of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in their fight for two Champions League places.
It’s Spurs who are currently on the outside looking in, and with three points and a goal difference of 16 separating them in fifth and the new Europa League winners in third, the core question becomes: Can Tottenham get a better result than local rivals Arsenal and seal a spot in the top European competition at their expense?
I am not ruling that out, but it will be difficult.
All three sides take on opponents who have nothing left to play for. Chelsea host Everton, who will definitely finish sixth and are bidding farewell to David Moyes. Tottenham welcome Sunderland to White Hart Lane, while Arsenal also take on a North East side who now know they are safe in the top flight in Newcastle.
The difference for Arsene Wenger’s men is that they will be away from home. I did say recently that if Tottenham got something from Stamford Bridge, which they did, they would have every right to fancy their chances of finishing fourth as Arsenal will not be a lock to win their last game away from home.
Having said that, the Gunners have a very good record in Newcastle and Alan Pardew’s side have very poor recent home form, losing their last two matches there 3-0 and 6-0. But, the fact that Fabricio Coloccini is back could prove crucial for the hosts to stop the rot and make things really tricky for their guests.
I expect Sunderland to give Spurs everything they have, especially after the rollockings from Paolo Di Canio, but there is a clear lack of quality at the club at present and I expect that to show en route to a Tottenham win, leaving the onus on Arsenal.
Even though the Geordies were embarrassed 3-0 by Sunderland and then 6-0 by Liverpool, the angry reaction from their passionate supporters, who will all be there on final day expecting a positive end to a tough domestic campaign, means unlike their neighbours and Everton, they probably still have a point to prove heading into match day 38.
No season-ticket holder wants to witness three straight defeats in the last three fixtures, and as much as Pardew may act as though he would not care if they lost 4-0 now they are safe from relegation, he will not want to have to face the Newcastle fans after such a result. This is a big game for the manager, even if not for the club now Wigan are down.
At the Bridge, meanwhile, it is very easy to envision a party breaking out rather than a football match. There will be a trophy parade, a send-off for Moyes after over a decade of taking Everton forward, and now no doubt a mass salute of the news that Frank Lampard is sticking around after all.
But, Chelsea away is never an easy fixture under any circumstances and even though it would take a mathematical miracle for the Blues to finish fifth, they will not want fourth – nor the task of qualifying for the Champions League that comes with it. Victory over Everton, tired legs or not, is the only way to guarantee third regardless of events elsewhere.
Everton are a very brave side and are capable of going to teams with good home form, such as Arsenal and Southampton, and grinding out draws. However, Rafa Benitez has proven over the years – not least in Amsterdam on Wednesday – that he does his best work at the tail end of the season.
Between that, and the fact that Rafa always takes very good care of his players during these hectic weeks, I predict that the Moyes era will end in defeat for Everton, which will lock up third place for Chelsea.
That last remaining tussle in search of fourth place may then be an all-North London fight, but the answer lies just shy of the Scottish border in the hands of Pardew and his troops.
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