English Premier League: 10 Bold Predictions for the Final Day of the Season
The 2012-13 Premier League season concludes Sunday with all 20 clubs kicking off simultaneously. As you might expect, that should make for plenty of drama.
The title race ended weeks ago, and Arsenal's win over Wigan on Tuesday concluded the relegation battle with one match to spare. But if you know where to look, the storylines still abound.
Here are some of the stories we'll be watching this weekend, along with bold predictions for each.
Spurs Will Win…
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The biggest—and, really, only—drama of Sunday's matches will involve the fight for the top four. Chelsea are all but assured of their place, barring a wild swing in goal differential, leaving Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal to compete for the final spot.
By finishing fourth, Tottenham would clinch a spot in the final round of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage. By qualifying, Spurs would receive a vital financial windfall.
Tottenham trail Arsenal by one point heading into the final day, so manager Andre Villas-Boas (pictured) knows his team must win and hope for help. Spurs host Sunderland, who were assured of another season in the Premier League when Wigan were relegated Tuesday night.
Sunderland will have nothing to play for Sunday besides pride. Spurs will have millions of reasons to win.
Logic favors Tottenham. Heavily.
…but so Will Arsenal
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Here's the problem for Spurs: Arsenal face pretty much the same scenario, except that the Gunners have the luxury of a one-point advantage in the table.
For Arsenal, the situation is as simple as this: Beat Newcastle and reach the Champions League for the 16th straight season. With a little help, the Gunners can even finish third (more on that momentarily).
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told the club's official site that he was merely joking about the suggestion that, after staving off relegation, Newcastle would be content losing 4-0 to Arsenal. That probably won't happen, and Newcastle will probably put up a fight, but it's hard to imagine Arsenal losing this one after holding off desperate Wigan on Tuesday.
One More Win for Fergie…
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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson last week announced he will retire at the end of the season, per The Guardian, ending a brilliant 26-plus-year tenure with England's most historically successful club.
Ferguson won 13 league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League crowns with United. He is without doubt the greatest British manager of all time, and perhaps the greatest manager in the history of football.
His last game in charge of United—the 1,500th of his career—will be this Sunday at West Bromwich Albion. Do you think United will let him go out without a win?
Neither do we.
…but Not for Moyes
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David Moyes will succeed Ferguson at Manchester United, but first there is the business of finishing his final season with Everton.
Everton play at Chelsea on Sunday, and while the Toffees will probably want to send their manager of 11 years off with a win, their opponents still have something to play for as well. The Blues, it should be noted, have a midweek European final to contest, but with Arsenal beating Wigan on Tuesday, there's still a chance the Gunners can finish third.
That means Chelsea could still finish fourth—and thus face the unwanted burden of qualifying for the Champions League group stage. Expect Rafa Benitez's team to play accordingly, even with a European hangover.
Swansong for Frank Lampard? Or Just Another Goal?
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Midfielder Frank Lampard has served Chelsea admirably for more than a decade, playing an influential role in the Blues' title success in recent years. This season his role has diminished under interim manager Rafa Benitez, and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, Lampard could be set for a Stamford Bridge exit.
So is this the end for Lampard at Chelsea? Maybe not.
Earlier this season, Lampard's agent ruled out the chance of Lampard, 34, receiving a new contract from Chelsea. More recently, though, after Lampard reportedly resigned himself to his new role as a squad player, Chelsea have supposedly reversed their stance, via Daily Telegraph.
Lampard has been linked with a move to Major League Soccer, per Daily Star, but we think it's more likely that he will stay with Chelsea for another season—and maybe even score another goal on the season's final day to extend his new club record.
UPDATE: The Telegraph is reporting that Lampard has signed a new one-year deal.
Hold That Thought
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Manchester City announced the sacking of manager Roberto Mancini late Monday, via MCFC.com. Malaga's Manuel Pellegrini is widely expected to succeed Mancini, but the deal might not happen as soon as this weekend.
According to The Independent, City could face competition from Barcelona for Pellegrini's services. Barcelona's current manager, Tito Vilanova, has faced health problems this season, a situation that reportedly concerns club officials.
The same report says City and Pellegrini have already reached a verbal agreement but adds that City will have to trigger Pellegrini's £3.3 million release clause.
That could mean the process will take some time. With Malaga's season ending June 1, don't expect Pellegrini to be Man City's man until then.
Bye, Bye, Benteke
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Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke is suspended for the final day after drawing a red card last time out. That means he won't play Sunday, and in fact, we think he might not feature for Aston Villa again.
Villa signed Benteke, a 22-year-old Belgian international, from Genk last summer for £7 million. He has scored 19 goals in his debut Premier League season, and that total has reportedly drawn interest from a number of clubs.
The most recent reports have linked Benteke to Borussia Dortmund, who could be looking to replace Robert Lewandowski this summer, per Daily Mail. Villa reportedly want about £20 million for Benteke, and if they can get that fee, we think he will move on.
Where To, Lukaku?
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Romelu Lukaku is a 20-year-old Belgian forward whose parent club is Chelsea. He has spent the 2012-13 season on loan with West Bromwich Albion, for whom he has scored 14 Premier League goals in 34 appearances (20 starts).
Still a developing talent, Lukaku is likely to spend another season on loan. Another season at West Brom, though, is unlikely, per Daily Mail. Swansea has been mentioned as a possible destination for Lukaku, per Daily Mirror, who reportedly wants to experience European competition. The Swans have qualified for the UEFA Europa League via their League Cup triumph.
For now it's too early to predict where Lukaku will play next season. Instead we'll agree with West Brom boss Steve Clarke and merely predict that he won't be with the Baggies much longer.
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This one could be controversial. Martin Jol, whose contract with Fulham lasts another season, could leave Craven Cottage sooner than that.
Fulham have lost five straight matches and six of seven. Such a poor run has seen the Cottagers slip dangerously close to the relegation scrap. For now, Jol isn't officially under pressure, but that could change quickly.
Or, he might leave for another job. After being linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Everton post, Jol was almost too glib.
"I wouldn't be embarrassed to be linked with them," Jol said, via Sky Sports. "Everton are a good club."
Is it out of the question to think Jol might manage his last game with Fulham this weekend? We don't think so. But even if he stays, the yearly managerial carousel will start up again soon.
Wigan's Roberto Martinez has been linked with Everton as well, though Sky Sports reports there has been no contact between the clubs. If the Latics are relegated, it seems almost certain he'll look for a new job.
Get ready for football's silly season, starting this Sunday.
Mourinho Sightings Galore
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What would a Premier League finale be without a few Jose Mourinho sightings?
Mourinho, currently the manager of Real Madrid, has been linked strongly with a return to Chelsea. These links come from outlets such as Daily Mail, Yahoo! Sports, The Telegraph and BBC. The 50-year-old Portuguese managed the Blues from 2004-07, winning league titles in 2005 and 2006.
Coincidentally, Mourinho's Real Madrid are off this weekend after Friday's Copa del Rey final. With so much speculation clogging up the rumor mill, it's almost certain somebody will report a Bigfoot-like Mourinho sighting this weekend in London.
We await further developments with baited breath.