Premier League Survival Sunday: 10 Things You Need to Know
Here we go then. After nine months and 37 rounds of Premier League matches, the 2011-12 season will reach its crescendo on Sunday. There could be barely be more at stake.
The results of the 10 games will determine who wins the title, who qualifies for Europe (caveats to follow) and who becomes the third and final team to be relegated.
All 10 matches will kick off simultaneously at 3 p.m. UK time (10 a.m. Eastern, 7 a.m. Pacific), and all 10 will be shown live on 10 different channels in the U.S. Details on that here.
Here are 10 things you need to know heading into what Fox are calling "Survival Sunday."
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Blue vs. Red for the Title
"Survival Sunday" sounds great, but it's misleading and only applies to one of three things to be decided on Sunday—the relegation battle.
By far the biggest issue to be resolved is who will be crowned Premier League champions.
As we stand, Manchester City and Manchester United are level on 86 points at the top of the level. City, however, have a superior goal difference (+63 compared to United's +55) and thus are in pole position to win their first championship since 1968.
|1.||Manchester City||86 pts||+63|
|2.||Manchester United||86 pts||+55|
Here are the two games that will decide who finishes first and second (league positions in brackets):
MANCHESTER CITY (1) vs. QUEENS PARK RANGERS (17)
SUNDERLAND (11) vs. MANCHESTER UNITED (2)
If City beat QPR, the title is theirs—unless United go on a prolific scoring spree to even up the goal difference, which is not going to happen. To entertain the thought, we'd be talking about City winning 1-0, United winning 9-0. United would then trump City on goals scored this season.
If City draw against QPR, United would need to beat Sunderland to win a 20th league title.
If City lose to QPR, United would need only a a draw against Sunderland.
When you consider QPR have won just three times on the road this season, while City are unbeaten at home—winning 17 and drawing one of their 18 games at the Etihad—it's no surprise City are odds-on to complete the job.
The Battle for Champions League Spots
Whatever happens, Manchester City and Manchester United are guaranteed the top two spots in the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League next season.
Who joins them in Europe's premier competition next season will be decided not just by what happens on Sunday, but also by how Chelsea fare in the Champions League final.
Here's how things stand right now:
And here are the fixtures that will have an impact on Sunday:
EVERTON (7) vs. NEWCASTLE UNITED (5)
TOTTENHAM (4) vs. FULHAM (9)
WEST BROM (10) vs. ARSENAL (3)
England will have four teams in the Champions League next season, so Arsenal would in theory need only a draw at West Brom to finish third or fourth and thus be sure (for now) of qualification (such is their superior goal difference to Newcastle).
They could also afford to finish level on points and goal difference with Spurs, because the next decisive factor is goals scored. Arsenal have scored more than Spurs this season.
To stand any chance of making the Champions League, Newcastle must beat Everton and hope other results go their way. If both Spurs and Arsenal lose, Alan Pardew's team jump up to third with a victory.
If one of the London clubs lose, Newcastle would have to make do with fourth.
If Newcastle win, Spurs must do the same to hold on to fourth. Their only hope of finishing third is a victory coupled with a loss for Arsenal.
In any normal season, finishing fourth would be good enough.
The problem with finishing fourth this season is...
Chelsea's Shot at Double Glory
Chelsea might be out of the running for Champions League qualification via the Premier League, but Roberto Di Matteo's team can do it another way.
If they beat Bayern Munich in the final on May 19, Chelsea will automatically earn entry into the Champions League next season—as holders.
But because England is only allotted four teams in the competition, that would mean the team who finishes fourth in the Premier League—most likely Spurs or Newcastle—will have to make do with the Europa League.
Europa League Qualification
If Chelsea lose the Champions League final, they'll at least be guaranteed a spot in the Europa League as FA Cup winners.
Liverpool will also be in the Europa League, courtesy of their Carling Cup success.
There is also a Europa League spot open to the team that finishes fifth in the Premier League—which will go to one of Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle.
If Chelsea win the Champions League, the team who finishes fourth will go into the Europa League too.
In some seasons, the Premier League also benefits from a place via the UEFA Fair Play rankings, but not this time. Those spots have gone to teams from Finland, Netherlands and Norway.
The Dreaded Drop
Blackburn and Wolves are already relegated. There's nothing either team can do on Sunday but accept their fate and watch their best players advertise their services to teams more fortunate.
But the third and final relegation spot is still to be decided. It's come down to a straight shootout between QPR and Bolton. Here's how things stand:
|17.||Queens Park Rangers||37 pts||-22|
|18.||Bolton Wanderers||35 pts||-31|
And here are the games on Sunday that will determine their fate:
MANCHESTER CITY (1) vs. QUEENS PARK RANGERS (17)
STOKE CITY (14) vs. BOLTON WANDERERS (18)
Put simply, Bolton must beat Stoke to have any chance of survival. Anything less and they'll be relegated to the Championship.
QPR can afford to lose at Manchester City if Bolton fail to get three points. If Bolton win, however, QPR would need a draw or better against City to stay up.
It's QPR's desperate need for a result that will keep Manchester United fans believing something extraordinary could happen at the Etihad on Sunday.
All 20 Premier League teams will receive prize money based on their final position in the table.
Exact amounts are hard to come by, but each place should be worth around £800,000 to the team concerned.
That means Stoke could pick up an extra £2.4 million if they win on Sunday, should three points lift them from 11th to eighth in the table.
According to Sporting Intelligence, Manchester United picked up just over £15 million in "merit money" for winning the title last season.
Premier League Top Scorer
Arsenal's Robin van Persie has scored 30 Premier League goals this season, four more than his closest rival for the golden boot, Wayne Rooney.
It would take something remarkable from Rooney to stop Van Persie finishing on top.
As The Guardian points out, Van Persie still has a record to play for this Sunday. If he scores, he'll match the Premier League record of 31 goals in a 38-game season shared by Cristiano Ronaldo (2007-08) and Alan Shearer (1995-96).
If he scores twice or more, he'll set his own.
Liverpool vs. Everton
Carling Cup win aside, it's not been a great season for Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool.
The Reds go into the last game of the season resigned to mid-table mediocrity but will be desperate to avoid finishing below their Merseyside neighbors Everton. Bragging rights are at stake.
Here's how they stand:
And here are the games to determine which half of Merseyside will emerge on top:
SWANSEA CITY (12) vs. LIVERPOOL (8)
EVERTON (7) vs. NEWCASTLE (5)
Fortunately for Liverpool, they're away from Anfield—where they've had a miserable season. They also have the luxury of facing a Swansea team with nothing really at stake.
Everton face a tougher test in the form of Newcastle, but this one could easily go either way.
If both teams lose, Fulham could jump up to seventh with victory against Spurs.
The goals record for a Premier League season stands at last season's total of 1,063.
We've seen 1,034 so far this season, so a return of 30 or more across the 10 games on Sunday would see a new record set.
Not Quite Over
Not everything will be decided on Sunday.
Along with the fourth-placed team having to wait on Chelsea's fate in the Champions League, there's also the matter of who'll be coming up to the Premier League next season.
Reading and Southampton have already been promoted from the Championship.
The third spot will go to the winners of next weekend's playoff final between West Ham and Blackpool.