Exactly 9 months after it started, the 2017/2018 English Premier League season draws to a close today. There are many storylines to follow, including:
- Who will clinch the 4th Champions League position?
- Who will join Stoke and West Brom in the Championship next year?
- Will Manchester City break still more records in the final game of their historic season?
- Will Arséne Wenger end his reign at Arsenal with a victory?
- Who will win the sprint to the finish in the race for the Golden Boot?
So settle in with your beverage of choice and get ready to enjoy all the drama and surprises that will surely unfold today in this, the world’s greatest football league!
A win for Bournemouth could move them into the top half of the table, while Burnley have already secured a seventh place finish — and European football — regardless of what happens today. Not a lot on the line in this one then, and both teams have been in poor form for the run-in. I’m not expecting an entertaining game. A draw here maybe?
Is anyone else mildly stunned that Crystal Palace have somehow avoided relegation despite their unprecedented 0-7 start to the season, during which they went 731 minutes without even scoring? With safety already secured for Palace, and with West Brom already doomed to relegation, one might assume there is nothing to play for here. Think again: West Brom are undefeated under EPL Manager-of-the-Month Darren Moore, and the caretaker will want to add yet another feather to his cap as he continues his audition for the permanent job.
The point collected against Chelsea was enough to guarantee Huddersfield’s survival. After the game, the team was so ecstatic that they canceled their return flight, preferring instead to travel home by party bus for an extended celebration. Consequently, one must wonder what frame of mind they will bring to the home match against the Gunners.
On the other side of the pitch, however, Arséne Wenger will oversee his final match in charge of Arsenal. Although the Gunners have only won three away games this season, Wenger will desperately want to go out with a victory, and his players will desperately want to make that happen. That could spell trouble for the Terriers.
Liverpool’s 1-1-3 league record since its 2-1 defeat of Palace has left the Champions League door open for Chelsea, even if only just a crack. Jurgen Klopp will be looking to slam that door shut today. Moreover, he has already stated that he will put out a strong lineup in order to keep his starters sharp ahead of the Champions League final (May 26th). Lastly, Mohamed Salah will be hungry to score in order to fend off Harry Kane’s last ditch effort to usurp the Egyptian for the Golden Boot title. If Salah does bulge the net, he will set a new Premier League record for most goals in a 38-game campaign, with a mind-boggling 32. Think he might be on pens today?
Brighton are safe and have no real possibility to improve their position with a win, so I doubt they will be too ambitious away from home. This has all the makings of a Red’s siege, and it could even degenerate into a beat-down.
Thursday’s scoreless draw with West Ham means Manchester United will finish second. They cannot be surpassed by anyone below them, and they have no chance of overtaking the juggernaut that is this year’s Manchester City. Watford currently sit in 13th place and cannot finish worse than 15th. With no extrinsic motivation to push either team, I smell a potential fantasy trap here. Of note, 36 year-old United stalwart Michael Carrick will play the final match of his career today.
Chelsea are two points outside of 4th place. If they beat Newcastle, and if and Pool lose to Brighton, the Blues will pip the Reds for the final CL position (goal difference is 15 in favor of ‘Pool, so a Reds draw is virtually the same as a win). Chelsea surely recognize the improbability of a Brighton victory today. Will they attack this match in spite of the odds, or will they resign themselves to their fate and look past this game to Saturday’s FA Cup final?
A victory or a draw for Soton would seal their survival and condemn Swansea to relegation, so expect the Saints to play with focus against their manager’s former club. They lead Swansea on goal-difference by nine, so they might just take the air out of the ball and aim for a drab, low-scoring affair.
On the other side, City have already set EPL season records for points, wins, and goals in Wednesday’s victory over Brighton. A victory today would bring their points total to an even 100 and extend their wins record to an amazing 32. Every Sky Blues goal will also set a new record. Will City savor their season with a gentlemanly game of kick-around that safely delivers stars to this summer’s World Cup, or will they push hard right through the tape at the finish line?
Tottenham have secured Champions League football for next year, and Leicester are safe from relegation and yet out of contention for the Europa League. Consequently, a victory today offers little benefit for either team. But a Harry Kane hat-trick would tie him with Mo Salah in the race for the Golden Boot. Kane will not consider that three goal gap to be insurmountable, and his teammates will be doing everything they can to help him bridge it. And if you think the idea of a Kane hattie is far-fetched, think again: He’s notched trebles against Leicester not once before, but twice. Tottenham’s final game at Wembley could be a cracker!
Stoke are already relegated, and frankly it is amazing that Swansea aren’t as well. On Carlos Carvalhal’s arrival in this winter, the Swans appeared to be doomed. But Carvalhal promptly won five of his first nine in charge, giving fans a reason to dream. Unfortunately, the initial magic has faded. The Swans have lost four straight, leaving them clinging to only the faintest glimmer of hope. For the Swans to stay up, Southampton must lose today, and the Swans must win and overcome a goal-differential deficit of nine. For a team who have scored just two goals in their last eight matches, the task before them seems all but impossible. However, for a neutral observer, this match could be one of the more open on today’s docket, as Paul Lambert has vowed to field his strongest eleven and close out with a victory, and Carvalhal must try to orchestrate a 10-goal swing over the Saints.
David Moyes faces his former club in what could be his last game in charge of West Ham. The Scottish gaffer accomplished his mandate to keep the Hammers up, but his contract expires this summer.
Everton captain and EPL legend Wayne Rooney is a doubt with a knee injury, although his probable July transfer to the MLS may earn him at least a cameo so that he can receive the honors he is due. At any rate, this game may mark the end of Rooney’s illustrious 16-year career in the Prem.
If history is any lesson, Rooney will go out on a high note. In five meetings, Moyes has never beaten or even scored against his former club. And Rooney bagged his first Everton hat-trick against West Ham in the reverse fixture back in November, with goal #3 being this memorable stunner:
So which match will you be watching? In America, NBC plugged into ten channels so it can show all of the matches simultaneously. Who could have predicted that the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) would ever show English Football?!? Anyway, at least the Yanks have as many viewing choices as their cable coverage allows. Join us in the chat below and tell us what you see and which players are earning you points.
[Editor’s Addendum: This may be the end of the season, but NMA will still be here between now and August.
This coming week, we will look back at the season, and when the points settle, we will look at the final standings in our various fantasy leagues, including the actual totals (not Fantrax’s buggy numbers) in the Fantrax NMA+Bench League. The week will culminate in the FA Cup Final on the 19th.
After that, Liverpool and some Spanish side will play a Champions League Final on May 26th, so there will be some fantasy player picks and live match chat for that. Then there’s the whole World Cup (and its fantasy leagues), when we may get crazy busy for a month (June 14-July 15). Then there will be the occasional block-buster summer transfer, and an early look at each promoted side...
And before you know it, it’ll be time to preview the 2018-19 season and the Fantasy formats available to us. So after next Sunday, we might have some slow weeks without daily articles, but even then we will be worth at least a weekly visit, hopefully more during the World Cup. Therefore, please do tune in (and tell your friends to tune in) during the off-season.]