Premier League: The Final Countdown
And so, my friends, the final week of the Premier League season is upon us. There's a relegation battle going on, but the winner of the title has already been decided.
Manchester United have won their 19th league title following a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers. Brett Emerton put the Rovers ahead thanks to a rather nervy and indecisive performance from Tomasz Kuszczak. But United, in characteristic fashion, found their way back into the game. Blackburn goalie Paul Robinson tripped Javier Hernandez in the penalty box. Wayne Rooney converted from the spot to secure the title for the Red Devils.
At the bottom end of the table, West Ham United have already secured their own spot and that is in the confines of the Championship. I have to remain objective and impartial as a featured columnist, but I have to say that I'm so tempted to laugh.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. The relegation battle is still an intense one. Whilst West Ham will be relegated whatever result they get against Sunderland, Birmingham and Blackpool hang by a thread.
I will be previewing the upcoming relegation battle. The last week of this year's Premier League season will be known as "Survival Sunday."
Higher-placed teams have been removed from the table as the ones featured cannot mathematically get any higher.
Wigan, Blackpool and Birmingham will be hoping that each other's games end with a loss to avoid the sadness of losing purely on goal-difference. All three teams have 39 points.
Stoke City is no more of a picnic than Manchester United, as Tony Pulis' Potters don't roll over for anybody, particularly when they're being egged-on by their loyally loud fanbase at the Britannia Stadium [statistically the loudest ground in the Premier League].
I think it's an even playing field for both Wigan and Blackpool. We'll have to see who truly wants to survive.
Tottenham's game with Birmingham has a big say in who will be relegated, notably due to Birmingham having the same number of points as Blackpool and Wigan. The three relegation candidates—Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan—all have 39 points, but Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers are only one point in front.
Manchester United v BLACKPOOL:
Manchester United have done all the work necessary to secure the title for the 19th time and so Alex Ferguson has no need—and will probably feel no need—to field a strong team. You'd think that Blackpool would be happy with that considering what would happen if they get thrashed.
But Ian Holloway is furious at that thought. He quite rightly views it as an insult that Sir Alex would consider fielding a second-string team for Blackpool whereas if it was a Derby, the team would most likely be at full strength. I can tell from this that Holloway has bags of integrity and dignity; a very enviable quality to most people associated with football *cough*FIFA*cough.*
To the Red Devils, it's a bit of a throw-away game a bit like Spurs v Burnley last season [2009/10], except Fergie's team are believed to throw it away before it begins. Under Harry Redknapp, Spurs had already secured their spot in the Champions League by winning against Manchester City earlier that week.
At halftime during that match at Turf Moor—knowing that Arsenal had won their game, guaranteeing third place for the Gunners (no Champions League qualifier to play if League position is third)—Spurs took their foot off the gas and appeared to "let" Burnley overturn a 0-2 deficit and win 4-2. Burnley's hollowly emphatic comeback was still in vain as they were still relegated and haven't returned as of yet.
United have won this season's title with their lowest total points tally since the Premier League began. So in essence, you might say they can win this match easily with the lowest-strength squad possible. However, with the quality of the squad and management, how can anyone clearly define who is a second-string player in that squad?
Darron Gibson can work wonders in midfield with his terrific shooting prowess, Javier Hernandez has hit the ground running and [Luis] Antonio Valencia is starting to score goals. The only real chink in the armour would be, not Ji Sung Park (English people with knowledge of slang will get that joke), but Tomasz Kuszczak, who looked highly unstable between the sticks against Blackburn last week.
With Edwin van der Sar close to retiring (after the Champions League Final against Barcelona), United may look shaky at the back in future unless Kuszczak steps up to the plate next season, but I doubt the Polish international will ever be able to fill the void which will be left by such a brilliant goalkeeper as van der Sar.
It's a bit of a raw deal having to face one of the finest teams in the Premier League (the champions too) on the final week of the season when you're on the verge of being relegated. So be thankful if you are not involved with Blackpool.
They're 17th in the league, and if they don't win against the Red Devils, they'll be relying on Stoke City to beat Wigan Athletic (18th in the league) at home and Birmingham City to beat Tottenham Hotspur away at White Hart Lane.
Whatever Blackpool's fate is on Sunday, I'd like to say they have been fantastic to watch. Some of their results will certainly be talked about by fans for a while to come. Winning against Liverpool both home & away; and dare I say it, embarrassing Spurs at Bloomfield Road 3-1.
They have a lot to be proud of, and if they stay up, they will surely have a lot more to be proud of. Ian Holloway will be sure to throw the kitchen sink and a few sticks of hard candy at Manchester United as the Seasiders become Roadsiders at Old Trafford.
Stoke City v WIGAN ATHLETIC:
Stoke City have now had a full week to put their FA Cup Final woes behind them and motor on in the Premier League. On the plus side, their runner-up status in English football's showpiece cup has earnt them a place in the Europa League next season, so it's not all doom and gloom.
If I know Tony Pulis, he'll make sure the Potters are firing up their kilns ready for Wigan. They are a tough team to break down when at home in the Britannia Stadium. The crowd also adds extra strength with the volume of their noise. The only drawback for Stoke will be the absence of regular starters Robert Huth and Danny Higginbotham due to injury. Huth is a solid, muscular German centreback. He'll be back...soon.
Wigan Athletic showed great character to turn a 0-2 defecit around to 3-2 against West Ham United. Wigan went down and then up in little over an hour, leaving West Ham to plummet into the Championship following relegation from the Premier League. Avram Grant was relieved of his duty by owners Gold, Sullivan and Brady after the final whistle. More embarrassingly, this was done in the Wigan Athletic directors' boardroom!
Stoke and Wigan are 10th and 11th in the form table. Both sides have had two wins, two draws and two losses in their last six League matches.
The Latics don't have any significant injuries so Roberto Martinez won't be short of options and there won't be any excuses if they fold in on themselves. Focusing on staying up is key. For me, Conor Sammon will be the one to watch upfront.
Tottenham Hotspur v BIRMINGHAM CITY:
Being a Tottenham Hotspur fan myself, I have to back my team and want them to win. Europa League is still an attractive prospect to the players, even if some fans do not see it that way. To them I say,"Come on guys, when star players like Lika Modric and Rafa van der Vaart still want to stay after not getting into the Champions League this time around, isn't that enough to convince you that it's not all bad?"
Spurs' defence looks rickety without William Gallas and Assou-Ekotto. Ledley King's knee, as we all know, can give way again at any point, which leaves Michael Dawson with Sebastian Bassong or Younes Kaboul to pair up with in central defence, alongside fullbacks Corluka and Rose. Spurs have to wish that Aston Villa beat Liverpool.
If Birmingham are to stand any chance of staying up, they'll need to match Blackpool's result if Blackpool win and also hope that Wolves draw with Blackburn.
Neither team are in great form, but Spurs still edge past Birmingham in that respect. Harry Redknapp's men will be looking to end on a high note following their convincing 0-2 win away at Liverpool and have only lost two of their last six games whereas Birmingham have lost four out of their last six games.
Both teams are plagued by injuries though, so it's anyone's game.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS V BLACKBURN ROVERS:
The form guide would indicate the likely winner of this match, but there are certain times when the form guide spontaneously becomes non-existent. Wolves are six places above Blackburn in the form table. Wolves have been steadily climbing with a draw and two wins in their last three, while Blackburn have been spluttering with the reverse of that, a win and then two draws.
Some teams don't ask to be dragged into a relegation battle when they're above the drop-zone, but unfortunately, most things we all get in life are never asked for. So footballers shouldn't be treated differently. Whoever wins this match will stay up regardless of the exploits of other nearby teams in the table.
But, if the two teams draw, we may have a, "If-I-go-down-I'm-taking-you-down-with-me," situation.
Both those teams may be relegated unless all three teams below them lose their respective matches.
There's odds of 250/1 with some bookmakers that Wolves and Blackburn will be relegated instead. That's definitely worth an investment of a coin or two.
The shoot-the-moon perspective:
If someone has $1/£1/€1 to spare on an accumulator this Sunday, PUT IT ON ONE.
You never know. This week, one guy in England won over £300,000 just by placing £1 on a far-out horse-racing accumulator, so I'm sure that with considerably shorter odds on football, you can still win enough money for a night out after the football.
If all three of the relegation candidates WIN their games convincingly and Wolverhampton Wanderers v Blackburn Rovers ends in a DRAW, BOTH Wolves and Blackburn will be relegated INSTEAD!
If any other result happens between Wolves and Blackburn, the loser may be relegated UNLESS two out of the three others lose their matches. The one-point gap will be the difference ending the relegation battle in the most dramatic of fashions.
So who will join the Hammers outside the Premier League toolbox? Sorry couldn't resist in the end ;)
It's all to play for!!!
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