2011-12 Premier League Season Finale: Match Predictions
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Chaucer once wrote that "All good things must come to an end," and this weekend is testament to the poet’s claim as the 2011-12 Premier League campaign draws to a close.
When people within the football community refer to the English top flight as "the best league in the world," an increasingly common response is that it is not the best but instead, belittle it slightly as "the most entertaining league in the world."
There are those out there who have criticised the Premier League, pointing out a drop in standard amongst its elite representatives. Whether this be true or not, it has certainly been hard to notice from a local spectator’s point of view, with this season providing as much of a roller-coaster ride as any in its history.
The most recent installment of top-tier action has seen giants fall and former titans rise from the ashes. Tears of both joy and happiness have been on display and however wrong it may seem, it all makes for fantastic viewing.
Sad though it may be however, it’s time to give our hard-working stars a much deserved break—but not before they fight on the final frontier and here’s how it’s expected to play out.
Sunderland vs. Manchester United
Sir Alex Ferguson: Set to relinquish his trophy?
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Let’s get straight into the most important matter at hand.
Sir Alex Ferguson has repeatedly admitted that it would take something miraculous to happen on the final day of the season for his side to retain their Premier League championship; but that won’t stop the Scot leading his side out with the most positive mentalities on Sunday when they make the trip to Sunderland.
The Red Devils currently sit level on points with fierce rivals Manchester City but the league leaders boast a considerably better goal difference and will clinch the crown as long as they match—or better—United’s result.
Despite the fact that it may seem as if the world is against them, Manchester United can take subtle victory in the fact that they have the best away from in the Premier League, netting an average of two goals per game when playing in unfamiliar territory.
The reigning league title-holders have also managed to keep clean sheets in 44 percent of their away fixtures this season no matter the score at the Etihad Stadium, will seek to end their season on a high by running out the best result possible over the Black Cats.
Martin O’Neill may have managed an almighty resurrection at the Stadium of Light since his arrival in December of last year but the wheels certainly appear to be coming off the Sunderland machine of late given the rough patch the club is going through.
The North East outfit are without a victory in eight games, scoring just three times in their last six outings.
This weekend’s hosts have managed to keep clean sheets in 32 percent of their matches this season but have found it admittedly harder in front of the opposition goal, relying largely on their midfield contingent for goals.
A win for Sunderland could mean a top-half finish, but with so much on the line for their visitors, it’s difficult to see past an away win at the Stadium of light on Sunday.
Prediction: Sunderland 0-3 Manchester United
Manchester City vs. QPR
Mancini: Inches away from title glory
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Looking at the circumstances going into the match, history looks likely to written on Sunday where Manchester City will seek to win their first league title in 44 years.
Manchester United have established themselves as the dominant power in the city in recent decades but the Premier League title may finally takes its first turn for Eastlands when the Citizens host QPR on Sunday.
Roberto Mancini’s men are currently level on points with the bitter rivals who sit in second spot, but have the advantage of a significantly better goal difference.
This means that to clinch Premier League glory on Sunday, all City must do is either match the result or do better than United who travel to the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland.
The fixture comes just two days after City skipper, Vincent Kompany, was named Premier League Player of the Season and the Belgian stalwart won’t be keen on stopping the accolades there as he looks to lead his side into Manchester City folklore.
Since the club’s Arab takeover in 2008, Manchester City have undergone a rise through the ranks of the English top flight that can only be described as meteoric.
Their success spells out bad news for QPR, who have ample reason to win themselves this weekend.
As things stand, Mark Hughes’ side are two points away safety but with Bolton playing Stoke City, Premier League is far from assured for the team next season.
The Hoops currently have the second worst away defence in the Premier League and will find it difficult to say the least when they take on the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure.
League leading City have the best home form in the English top tier and are yet to fail to score in a home fixture this campaign; a statistic that is likely to go untarnished.
Manchester United fans will be awaiting a City slip up this weekend but Mancini isn’t inexperienced in high-pressure scenarios such as this one and is the firm favourite to grab Premier League success.
Prediction: Manchester City 4-1 QPR
Chelsea vs. Blackburn
Di Matteo: Trophy double in sight
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Despite going through two managers this season, Chelsea have done well to fight for their place amongst the English elite since March.
The West London outfit can’t finish anywhere but sixth as far as the league is concerned and with a Champions League final just under two weeks away, Roberto Di Matteo won’t be keen on risking any of his stars unnecessarily this weekend.
Although there is still pride to fight for, a victory over Bayern Munich on May 19th is all Roman Abramovich really wants right now and Sunday’s fixture against Blackburn won’t be a priority.
As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blues field a slightly weakened side in what presents a good opportunity to blood some players who may not have got the chance this season.
Ryan Bertrand has already played a role in recent matches but may give way to Ashley Cole, who will be looking to regain some match fitness after missing the midweek loss against Liverpool.
Similarly, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Salomon Kalou all missed the Anfield trip and could be started to shake off any rustiness before they travel to the Allianz Arena.
Blackburn are moving in the complete opposite direction of Chelsea but are in surprisingly similar circumstance.
Steve Kean’s men have already sealed a relegation finish and can’t budge no matter the outcome on Sunday, giving the Scot a chance to give some playing time to those who wouldn’t otherwise be playing against the likes of Chelsea too regularly.
It doesn’t help that Paul Robinson is a doubt for the clash but with second-choice stopper, Mark Bunn, already out through injury, Robinson will have to shake off any concerns to give his side a fighting chance this weekend.
Given the current veins of form of each team, Chelsea would be considered heavy favourites here in a game that holds almost no significance and should make for exciting viewing as a result.
Prediction: Chelsea 4-1 Blackburn Rovers
Tottenham vs. Fulham
Redknapp: Ready for Champions League return?
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With everything still to play for, both Tottenham and Fulham will be going out with firearms at the ready on Sunday as each side look to achieve their respective targets.
Spurs currently sit in fourth place and merely have to match or do better than Newcastle’s result at Everton if they are to clinch it.
That being said, third place is still a realistic finish for Harry Redknapp’s men, who currently sit just one point behind Arsenal.
It comes as no coincidence that Tottenham’s form has suffered in near direct accordance with how hotly the media have linked Harry Redknapp with the then-vacant England manager job.
However, Roy Hodgson has now taken over that position, ending all speculation, meaning that Spurs can get along with their business knowing that Redknapp has the club’s success at heart.
Fulham have suffered a massive blow in their search for seventh place after it was announced that team talisman and top scorer, Clint Dempsey, would be unavailable for the trip to North London due to a groin strain.
This news means that Swiss prospect Kerim Frei is likely to obtain a starting berth while Moussa Dembele moves into a more attacking role.
With Liverpool and Everton sitting just above them in eighth and seventh, respectively, the Cottagers can jump up to seventh should the two teams fail to win in their Sunday outings.
However, Martin Jol’s men have the second worst away attack in the Premier League and will find it tough to break down a Tottenham side that haven’t lost in three matches and currently boast the fourth best home defence in the English top flight, in correlation with their league standing.
Prediction: Tottenham 3-1 Fulham
West Brom vs. Arsenal
Wenger: Keen to play ball with the big boys
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Without a win in four consecutive games, Arsene Wenger would do well to put all the motivational prowess he can muster to good use this weekend if his Gunners side are to assure themselves of Champions League football next season by grabbing a win against West Brom.
Although the match holds great significance for the visitors, the Baggies will be having a sentimental time too, as they wave goodbye to manager Roy Hodgson before he truly delves into his tenure as England manager.
Despite a slippery start to the campaign, the North London club have rallied since the turn of the year (with special thanks to a certain prolific Dutchman) and now sit precariously in third spot.
That could all be taken away from them however, and with Tottenham and Newcastle just one and two points behind them respectively, anything but a win at the Hawthorns on Sunday is risky to say the least.
Arsenal have played their best football at the Emirates Stadium this campaign but even that form appears to be stuttering, meaning that away form is surely not far behind.
The Gunners have attack can’t be disrupted too much when you boast a figure like Robin van Persie leading the assault but their back line has been a different story, conceding 1.67 goals per away outing; a very average "average."
With Sunderland facing Manchester United and Swansea hosting a resurgent Liverpool, the Albion would like to think that the 10th spot is all sewn up
However, that won’t stop the Baggies from attempting to cause a serious upset by sending Arsenal packing on Sunday, especially in Hodgson’s last game in charge of the club.
Surprisingly, West Brom have found it easier to score away from home this season than in front of their own fans but Sunday’s hosts are unbeaten in their last three home fixtures and will be striving to make that number four before season’s end.
With Bacary Sagna out with a very unfortunate broken leg, Francis Coquelin is expected to return from injury and fill in at right-back for Arsenal.
Yossi Benayoun’s loan period comes to an end at the end of the season and travelling fans will be grateful for the Israeli’s work over the season.
There’s one more story to take into account though, as this could be Robin van Persie’s last game in an Arsenal shirt if transfer speculation is to be believed, making for a potentially emotional crescendo for the Dutch hitman.
Hodgson has no considerable injury concerns to worry about but still has a hefty job in his hands in holding off what will surely be a very eager Arsenal attack who will be going out guns blazing in an effort to clinch third.
Prediction: West Brom 2-3 Arsenal
Everton vs. Newcastle
Pardew: All is good on Tyneside
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Although the club have gone above and beyond in their expectations this season, Newcastle United sit just 90 minutes away from a Champions League qualification place and will travel to Goodison Park on Sunday striving to do what many could not.
The Magpies may have been featuring in the Championship just two seasons ago but under the right leadership and with an even "righter" influx of playing staff, they are now just inches away from finishing fourth.
Alan Pardew just picked up the Premier League’s Manager of the Season award and with a squad that is, for the most part, unchanged from last season’s, one would find it hard to argue against his accolade.
With the Senegalese strike pair of Papiss Demba Cissé and Demba Ba leading the front line, Newcastle have looked imperious in front of goal this season, whether it be away or at home.
The North East club have averaged 1.49 goals per game but their defence has suffered when playing outside of the Sports Direct Arena.
Just as well then, that they are facing Everton, who’s attack has been very average on all fronts.
The January introduction of Nikica Jelavic has made scoring a more common sight to come by at Goodison Park, but it’s safe to say that the Toffees’ defence is still their strong suit.
David Moyes’ men have conceded an incredible average of just 0.78 goals per home match this season, making them one of the strongest home defences in the English top flight, second only to Manchester City.
Third place is still on for Pardew’s side but the three points are far from in the bag for either side and this particular fixture is definitely one to keep your eye on.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Newcastle
Swansea vs. Liverpool
Swans: New kids on the block
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The first Welsh team to have played in the division since it formed in 1992, Swansea City should have no regrets about the way they have gone about their business in the 2011-12 season.
Earning the tag of "Swanselona" along the way, Brendan Rodger’s side have cut a name out for themselves as a more than capable outfit, building considerable foundations for what looks to be a decent run amongst the Premier League big boys.
Much of that success was based on a fearsome home reputation that Liverpool will undoubtedly find hard to crack on Sunday.
The Swans have conceded an average of just one goal per game when playing at the Liberty Stadium this campaign and although that form has taken a slight dip over the past month, they will be keen to give their supporters something to cheer about over the summer as they look to keep out a resurgent Liverpool.
Kenny Dalglish’s men looked confident in their 4-1 win over Chelsea during the week but will have to accomplish something they have struggled to do this season and form a string of results if they are to emerge triumphant on Sunday.
The Reds have won three of their last six outings and have surprisingly scored more goals on average away from home than in front of their own fans this campaign.
With Merseyside dominance on the line and a summer full of bragging rights at risk, Liverpool will do well to crack the Swans defence that has kept out a long list of attackers this season including Manchester City, Fulham on two occasions and Aston Villa.
However, last weekend’s 4-4 home draw against relegated Wolves shows that Swansea may be lacking the stamina necessary for a top half finish, giving hope to Liverpool who are in impressive form as of late.
Prediction: Swansea 1-2 Liverpool
Norwich City vs. Aston Villa
McLeish: Time up at Villa Park?
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Disappointing. Below par. Dismal.
There are many words that could be used to describe Aston Villa’s 2011-12 campaign and any of the above wouldn’t be too far away from the truth, if not bang on the money.
If you would have told me eight months ago that on the final day of the Premier League season, Norwich City would be considered favourites against Aston Villa, I would have struggled to believe you.
Alas, that is now the case and Alex McLeish leads his team out in what is potentially and realistically his last game at the helm of the Birmingham club.
Villa sit in 16th place as things stand and although relegation is still a possibility for them, it’s highly unlikely that Bolton will give Stoke the 18-goal thrashing necessary to actually send Villa down.
Nevertheless, Villan fans will be extremely frustrated with how the season has gone, falling from last campaign’s ninth spot finish to the slums of a relegation battle.
The Canaries, on the other hand, lie in 13th position and a win on Sunday could see the Norfolk club end up as high as 11th, realistically.
Paul Lambert’s men have admittedly made it their business to concede in just about every match they’ve played this season and the Scot knows exactly which area of the pitch to strengthen first this summer.
This spells out good news for Villa, who need just about all the help they get as far as scoring goals is concerned.
The season-ending injury picked up by Darren Bent didn’t help their chances one bit but Gabriel Agbonlahor is now a doubt for Sunday’s clash meaning that Emile Heskey, often the butt of jokes amongst the football community, could lead the Villa attack, making for a very apt end to the season.
The visitors currently have 38 points to their name and I wouldn’t bet on it to finish otherwise.
Norwich City 3-1 Aston Villa
Wigan Athletic vs. Wolves
Martinez: Wigan Messiah
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One would have found it nigh on impossible to predict but Wigan Athletic have actually turned out to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in these latter stages of the 2011-12 campaign and fans will be hoping that that is still the case when they welcome Wolves to the DW Stadium.
Barely four weeks ago, the Latics were in the same mess that Wolves find themselves in but whether it be down to the skills of their manager, Roberto Martinez, or just dumb luck, they now see themselves sitting pretty with Premier League survival assured.
Personally, I’d put it down to the latter and chairman Dave Whelan will surely have a job in keeping hold of Martinez for too much longer.
The Spaniard has turned around the fortune of what is a very average Wigan squad and made them world-beaters, fending off the likes of Manchester United, Newcastle and Liverpool, all in the last six weeks.
Therefore, one wouldn’t expect relegated Wolves to pose too much of a challenge as Wigan hope to finish the campaign with a flourish.
The Greater Manchester club don’t boast the statistics to back up their results, still tainted by a miserable first half to the season, but it’s no question whatsoever that the hosts will be favoured to emerge victorious on Sunday.
Although they are currently in 15th, that could all change for Wigan with Aston Villa and QPR right behind them and Martinez isn’t going to be wanting to surrender a point and risk a lower-placed finish.
The Latics aren’t likely to make any bulk changes from Monday’s win over Blackburn and will go with a much unchanged side.
This match will be Terry Connor’s last in charge of Wolves with former Cologne manager, Stale Solbakken, making his way to the Molineux.
Despite the low standings of both clubs in regards to the league table, it’s often these fixtures that can provide the most entertainment in a meeting between two managers whose futures at their respective clubs are highly uncertain.
Prediction: Wigan Athletic 4-1 Wolves
Stoke City vs. Bolton
Coyle: An unfortunate figure at the Reebok
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With QPR facing a near insurmountable challenge at Manchester City, Bolton go into this weekend’s fixture knowing that a win against Stoke City will likely give them Premier League salvation while it would send the "Rs" down.
Owen Coyle’s team have had a very, very hard season filled with injuries.
Not least of which was the tragic cardiac arrest of Fabrice Muamba, who is now well on his way to fitness and claims that playing once again is a firm possibility.
However, it’s results that the Trotters need more than ever now and points haven’t exactly been easy to come by at the Brittania Stadium this campaign, much like in any other.
Stoke City are unbeaten in their last six home matches, keeping clean sheets in 33 percent of their home fixtures this season.
That being said, one thing that Owen Coyle can hang onto is the fact that Stoke have the worst attack in the English top flight after scoring a lowly average of just 0.92 goals per game this season.
The visitors will need all the help on hand too, as they have one of the worst away defence in the league as things stand.
A particular boost to Wanderers’ chances of earning the win is the possible return of Lee Chung-Yong, who is in line to make his first appearance of the season, according to Coyle.
The South Korean was very unfortunate to suffer a broken leg in pre-season and has spent the whole campaign in the stands but after returning to training and playing several reserve games, could feature from the first whistle on Sunday.
Bolton currently lie two points adrift of QPR and, realistically speaking, nothing but a win at the Brittania will do Coyle’s side.
Despite the return of Chung-Yong, Bolton have a number of other injuries to worry about and Mark Davies, Darren Pratley and Nigel Reo-Coker are all doubts for the trip to Stoke while David Wheater is out for nine months with a ruptured ACL.
The Potters have their own agenda however, and can achieve an 11th place finish if things go their way this weekend.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-2 Bolton Wanderers
Champions: Manchester City
Relegated: Bolton Wanderers
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