Sunday's fixture list for Game Week 38:
Chelsea v. Leicester City
Everton v. Norwich
Manchester United v. Bournemouth
Newcastle v. Tottenham
Stoke v. West Ham
Swansea v. Manchester City
Watford v. Sunderland
West Brom v. Liverpool
With so much already decided, there certainly isn't as much to play for as the average fan and avid fantasy player would prefer. That said, the added uncertainty can't help but bring plenty of excitement as we agonize trying to predict who will start and which players will deliver.
Arsenal needs only a draw against visiting Villa to secure third place, while Tottenham requires the same result at Newcastle for second place. Of course, that means the Gunners require a victory combined with a loss by Spurs to keep their long string of St. Totteringham's Day celebrations going. With both squads facing relegated sides, Tottenham has to be favored to break the streak and finish above their bitter North London rivals, but can they really conquer the jinx?
Without recently sacked manager Roberto Martinez, Everton welcomes relegated Norwich, and the Toffees have to feel an enormous weight lifted off their shoulders, albeit combined with some measure of guilt as well. After strong starts to the season, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku have hit the skids and a big finale would do wonders for their summer frames of mind. (Lukaku has 18 goals on the season, but none in his last eight games; meanwhile, Barkley has eight goals and eight assists, but no goals and only one assist in his past 13 games.)
With things already well wrapped up, Leicester City does not have much motivation at Chelsea, but then again what could be better than capping off its Cinderella season with a victory over last year's champs at Stamford Bridge? The Blues' offense may struggle with Diego Costa out injured and Willian's fitness a question mark, but Eden Hazard has more than picked up the slack of late as it's not just this season's top team against last year's, but a battle of consecutive Player of the Year winners with Hazard featuring against Riyad Mahrez in a thrilling midfield match-up.
West Ham's brilliant midweek comeback win may just have dashed Manchester United's hopes for nicking the vital fourth place spot, but there is still a chance in the form of a win against Bournemouth combined with a Manchester City loss at Swansea. The former would be no surprise at all, while the latter would not be an unheard of shock as the Swans have impressed recently with victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham, earning a contract extension for manager Francesco Guidolin.
Southampton needs a victory over visiting Crystal Palace combined with a West Ham draw at Stoke or a Manchester United loss for a Europa League spot. Given that Palace will likely be resting players ahead of the F.A. Cup Final and that the Hammers' Dimitri Payet is out injured, the Saints have plenty of cause for optimism.
Watford should be expected to play its heart out trying to leave manager Quique Sanchez Flores a nice parting gift, while Sunderland's Sam Allardyce may rest several of his players who are surely exhausted after avoiding relegation with huge victories over Chelsea and Everton in the recent double game week.
Speaking of rotation, Liverpool will look to the aforementioned F.A. Cup Final against Palace, which should give the fans at the Hawthorns a good shot at a party.
As the truly crazy/remarkable/wonderful 2015-16 season winds to a close, let's take a look back at some memorable takeaways:
- We all know the fairy tale story of Leicester City. But add in Tottenham and this will be the first time that two teams outside of the five squad fiefdom of Arsenal/Chelsea/Liverpool/Manchester City/Manchester United have finished in the top four since all the way back in 1995-96 when Newcastle and Aston Villa joined Manchester United and Liverpool.
- On that note, Chelsea will miss the Champions League for the first time since 2002-03, while Manchester City could possibly do so for the first time since 2010-11.
- Speaking of Chelsea, the Blues have had the worst finish of any defending Premier League title holder ever (the Premier League began in 1992-93). The best Chelsea can finish is 9th place, while it could slip as far down as 10th. Previously, 7th place was the worst fall (Blackburn in 1995-96 and Manchester United in 2013-14).
- In a season year where Leicester's Claudio Ranieri won his first major title anywhere, managers from Chelsea (Jose Mourinho), Liverpool (Brendan Rodgers) and Manchester City (Manuel Pellegrini) were all sacked or otherwise let go while skippers from Arsenal (Arsene Wenger) and Manchester United (Louis Van Gaal) have both been under heavy pressure for most of the campaign and either or both could yet suffer the same fate following the finale.
- Mesut Ozil currently has 18 assists. Can he reach 20 which is the single season Premier League record set by fellow Gunner Thierry Henry in 2002-03?
- Harry Kane at the moment has a league-leading 25 goals, while Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy are hot on his heels at 24 each. If there is no outright winner, it would be the first tie since 2010-11 (Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez) and a three-way tie would be the first since 1998-99 (Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Michael Owen and Dwight Yorke). As well, if Vardy and/or Kane win, they would be the first non-Arsenal/Chelsea/Liverpool/Manchester City/Manchester United player(s) to don the Golden Boot since Sunderland's Kevin Phillips in 1999-2000. Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero would be the first repeat winner since...well, not that long ago, since Robin Van Persie turned the trick in 2012-13, although interestingly for a different team (Manchester United) than in 2011-12 (Arsenal).
- Leicester City have 80 points. If they lose or tie, they would finish with the fewest points by a champ since Manchester United in 2010-11, while if they win it would merely be the fewest since Manchester City in 2013-14.
- Even so, the Foxes have 10 more points than second place Spurs. The last time there was a double digit difference between the top two squads was 2012-13 when Manchester United was 11 up on Manchester City. The last time there was a 12 point gap was 2004-05 (Chelsea and Arsenal), while the last time there was a 13 point gulf was all the way back in 1999-2000 (Manchester United and Arsenal).
- Vardy (24 goals) and Riyad Mahrez (17 goals) have combined to score 41 goals. That's the most prolific combination by any pair of teammates since...well, not very long ago as Liverpool's Luis Suarez (31) and Daniel Sturridge (21) combined for 52 in 2013-14. But before that you have to go back a bit further to Chelsea's Didier Drogba (29) and Frank Lampard (22) who managed 51 together in 2009-10.
- Tottenham is tops with a +38 goal differential. Unless Spurs can beat Newcastle by at least three, that will be the least impressive goal differential leader since Newcastle's +33 mark in 1996-97.
- Manchester City leads the league with 70 goals scored. It needs to notch at least two goals to finish as the least prolific top scoring club since Chelsea and Manchester United's 72 in 2005-06; otherwise it would be the fewest since Blackburn's 68 all the way back in 1992-93.
- Aston Villa has won only once this season on the road. ONE STINKING WIN! (The first game of the season against Bournemouth, to boot.) That's the fewest since 2009-10 when West Ham and Burnley also won just once and Hull City failed to get even a single victory away from home. Coincidentally, Villa has only 17 points; without a victory over Arsenal it will finish as the worst team since Derby County (11 points) in 2007-08, while otherwise it would be merely the worst since Portsmouth (19 points) in 2009-10.
- Who is the fantasy MVP? Well, it depends on the format. Riyad Mahrez leads Official BPL with 238 points in what looks like an insurmountable lead over second place Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane (209 points each); Kane leads Fantrax with 501 points and Mahrez (473) is the only one with a chance of catching him; Mesut Ozil leads Togga Perfect XI with 694.5 points and with second place Dimitri Payet on the shelf, Mahrez has the best chance to catch him at 661.5 points.
While there is plenty of time for further injury/line-up news and mind-changing, currently my teams (named Stallone Wall) are:
Mannone / Bellerin, Rojo, Van Aanholt / Barkley, Ozil, Sanchez, Tadic / Aguero (C), Carroll, Kane (V); BENCH: Ruddy, Kirchhoff, Willian, Moreno (Official BPL)
Forster / Bardsley, Clichy, Gabriel / De Bruyne, Hazard, Tadic, Townsend, Valencia / Aguero, Sanchez (Fantrax)
Cech / Bellerin, Clichy, Fuchs, Valencia / De Bruyne, Eriksen, Ozil, Tadic / Aguero, Sanchez (Togga Perfect XI)
After big returns from the double game week, I've moved up to #12 in the BTB league in Fantrax, #18 in Togga Perfect XI and #213 in Official BPL. Here's hoping for a strong finish on the final Sunday!
Who are you relying on and how do you expect the games to turn out?
Good luck everybody. Let's chat!