Posted by News Express | 26 July 2020 | 1,652 times
Champions League qualification and the battle to avoid relegation are the major issues at stake as the Premier League season concludes on Sunday.
Coronavirus prompted fears the campaign might not be completed but after 92 games in 40 days the top flight is set for a dramatic finale.
Leicester City host Manchester United with both teams and Chelsea competing for the two remaining top-four spots.
Two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth will be relegated.
Europa League qualification is also up for grabs, with Wolves and Tottenham battling for sixth place, which guarantees a European place next season.
Jamie Vardy is favourite to win the Golden Boot, while the Golden Glove is also up for grabs.
Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne will be hoping to match - or break - an assists landmark only previously achieved by Thierry Henry, plus the Premier League will bid farewell to a legend as De Bruyne's City team-mate David Silva plays his final match in the competition.
Remember in normal times when the television cameras loved zooming in on sobbing fans after their club had been relegated?
With supporters unable to attend games because of the coronavirus pandemic, that is not going to happen this season.
But fans of Bournemouth, Watford and Aston Villa are preparing for a nerve-shredding day as their clubs look to avoid joining Norwich in the Championship.
After a long slog of a season, three teams separated by three points and with almost identical goal differences, are left to battle for one Premier League place.
Villa, who start the day outside of the bottom three on goal difference, visit a West Ham side who are now safe, 18th-placed Watford go to FA Cup finalists Arsenal, while 19th-placed Bournemouth are at mid-table Everton.
"We can control our own destiny and that was looking unlikely," said Villa boss Dean Smith, whose side moved out of the bottom three with one game to go.
"We are above the dotted line but the most important thing is to be there after the game on Sunday."
Sports data analysts Gracenote have used their Euro Club Index to work out the chances of relegation for those teams trying to stay up.
Bournemouth's chances of going down are rated at 95%, Watford are 77.5% while the figure is 28.5% for Villa.
The Cherries may be favourites for the drop as they are reliant on both their relegation rivals losing - but manager Eddie Howe believes keeping a cool head is crucial.
"It's controlling our emotions that is going to be key because you have to play the game and you have to play the moment, be very much in the present," he said.
"Thinking too much, or getting too emotional, can be very counter productive so we need the players to enjoy the game, play the game as they have always done.
"I'm sure at some stage I will hear what's happening elsewhere. But we have to win regardless, so that's what I'll be working on."
Hayden Mullins, in charge of Watford following Nigel Pearson's surprise sacking, knows his side must better Villa's result.
"If we need to get messages onto the pitch we will but they just need to concentrate on their jobs," he said.
With all of Sunday's games kicking off at 16:00 BST, expect tears to be flowing around 17:50 - just not from fans in stadiums, as we have become used to on the last day of the league season.
For a detailed explanation of the permutations at the bottom, click here.
With champions Liverpool and runners-up Manchester City having booked their places in next season's Champions League, Chelsea, Leicester and Manchester United are battling it out for the final two group-stage spots.
United, who are third, will guarantee a top-four finish if they avoid defeat at fifth-placed Leicester. FA Cup finalists Chelsea, who are one point clear of Leicester, just need a point against sixth-placed Wolves to secure a place. Leicester will guarantee a spot in the top four by beating Manchester United.
"We'll approach the game to win it - I don't think there's any other way," said Chelsea boss Frank Lampard.
Meanwhile, Wolves will qualify for the Europa League for a second successive season if they win at Chelsea.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United were six points off the top four after a 2-0 home defeat by Burnley on 22 January. They go into the final day with an 88% chance of making the Champions League, according to Gracenote, as do Chelsea. Leicester's chances are rated at 70%.
"We want the players to learn about the traditions and history of the club and what the players before them have done," Solskjaer told Sky Sports.
"The club's former players have played so many vital games at the end of the season - a cup final, a game to win the league, a game to get into the Champions League.
"The players now are learning what the other players through history have been through."
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said: "This is virtually like a barrier-breaking goal, a goal that will get us into the Champions League.
"It wasn't really something we spoke about at the beginning of the season because naturally, where the club had been these last few seasons, we wanted to try step-by-step to arrive there."
Eight years ago, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town. On Sunday, the Leicester striker could win the Golden Boot awarded to the leading Premier League scorer.
Vardy, 33, is top of the scoring charts with 23 goals, two ahead of Southampton's Danny Ings, his nearest rival for the award.
While Vardy goes into the Foxes' final game at home to Manchester United without a goal in his past two appearances, Ings has scored six times in eight matches since the restart for Southampton, who entertain Sheffield United.
Should Vardy and Ings seal the top two places, it will be the first time two English forwards have finished top of the scoring charts outright since 1999-2000, when Sunderland's Kevin Phillips scored 30 and Newcastle's Alan Shearer got 23.
In 2015-16, Vardy shared runners-up spot with Manchester City's Argentina forward Sergio Aguero - the pair ending the season on 24 goals, one behind Tottenham's Harry Kane.
With Manchester City's Raheem Sterling on 19 goals, there is a chance English forwards could fill the top three places, although Arsenal's Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (20) and Liverpool's Egypt forward Mohamed Salah (19) might have something to say about that.
Burnley against Brighton is one of the few games on the final day with little riding on it.
The Clarets start ninth after another solid season while the Seagulls have secured their safety.
But it is a huge game for Nick Pope as he chases the prestigious Golden Glove - the award for the goalkeeper who keeps the most clean sheets in a Premier League season.
The Clarets stopper has managed an impressive 15 shutouts - the same number as Manchester City's Brazil keeper Ederson.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche praises goalkeeper Nick Pope's performance at Liverpool
Pope will become the first English winner of the award since City's Joe Hart in 2014-15 if Burnley do not concede against Brighton - and relegated Norwich score at Pep Guardiola's runners-up.
If Pope and Ederson finish on the same number of clean sheets, the award will be shared for the first time since 2013-14 when Chelsea's Petr Cech and Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny were tied on 16 shutouts.
Although there will be no supporters present, Silva will be fighting back the tears when he makes his 309th and final Premier League appearance for Manchester City.
The former Spain playmaker, 34, is regarded as one of the club's greatest-ever players, a key figure in transforming City into the dominant domestic force over the past few years.
Silva, who has helped the club win 11 major trophies in 10 years, announced in June he would leave at the end of the 2019-20 season, adding: "Ten years for me is enough. It's the perfect time for me."
Since arriving from Valencia for £24m in July 2010, he has provided 93 assists in the Premier League and scored 60 goals.
With relegated Norwich providing the opposition for City's final league game of the season, Silva might well be confident of adding to that tally.
"I know he's loved by City fans and appreciated far beyond Etihad Stadium, but I'm still not sure he quite gets all the wider accolades he deserves for what he's brought to English football since he arrived in 2010," said former City defender Micah Richards.
Other things to look out for
Will Liverpool finish the season with another record? Jurgen Klopp's runaway champions are in the hunt for the biggest title-winning points margin.
The record currently stands at 19, set by Manchester City in 2017-18 when they finished on 100 points and runners-up Manchester United got 81. Liverpool, who are at Newcastle, are 18 points clear with one match to go.
Liverpool 5-3 Chelsea: Jurgen Klopp 'couldn't be more proud' after Reds lift trophy
Meanwhile, Henry's record of 20 Premier League assists in one season is under threat.
Henry achieved the record in 2002-03 at Arsenal but Manchester City's De Bruyne needs just one more to go level with the Gunners legend. (BBC)
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