With nominally just two matches left in the EPL season there are still a number of things up in the air. And of course, there will likely be some controversy along the way. The issue will be for those teams that don’t have a dog in the hunt so to speak. Do they take the opportunity to play some younger players or do they field their best XI. For the individual clubs in that situation it becomes a tough decision. From a pure soccer perspective its a great opportunity to reward your younger players for all their hard work in training for the last 10 months and give them some well earned minutes. But just how does that impact other teams? If a team trots out a weaker lineup against teams still in the mix for the topics we’ll get to in a minute is that OK? The notoriously tough English media will jump all over that. To which I say tough! IMHO teams should play out the rest of the season as they see best for their club situation and the future. If club management thinks the last couple of matches should be a look to the future then I am fine with that. For the clubs who whine about that my response is simple. You’ve had all season to earn your position! With that lets take a look, top to bottom, at just what remains to be decided in these last two weeks.
Its down to just two clubs at this point. Manchester City which is in control and Arsenal. After months of Arsenal being the front runner they faded a bit over the last two months and Man C has just been playing lights out. Here’s the situation:
Manchester City – They currently sit in first place with 85 points and actually have 3 matches remaining. They host Chelsea then they are on the road at Brighton Hove Albion and Brentford. They need only 2 points in the last 3 matches to capture the title. The Brentford match shouldn’t pose much of a problem but the BHA match is another story. More on that one in a bit. Chelsea can’t really even move up to the top half the table so they are playing for just to avoid more pain.
Arsenal – Sitting in second with 81 points they simple need a miracle to move into first. They are at Nottingham Forest then host Wolverhampton. The Gunners should be Forest but Forest is also not entirely safe from relegation so they will play with abandon. The Wolves are comfortably mid-table so other than knocking off a big club they don’t have much to play for.
Prediction – No real surprise here. Manchester City wins the title. And it will be deserved.
UEFA Champions League
The top four finishers in the EPL qualify for next seasons UCL. Manchester City and Arsenal have already qualified. That leaves two remaining spots for a handful of teams.
Newcastle United – Currently sitting in 3rd tied with Manchester United but ahead on goal differential. They have 66 points and 3 matches left to play. They host BHA and Leicester then finish up away at Chelsea. This is not an easy schedule because BHA and Leicester both have a lot to play for. In fact, they probably have the toughest schedule of the teams still in the top 4 hunt. To ensure a top 4 finish teams will need 71 points. That means they could have to earn 5 points in their final 3 matches. Doable for sure but it will require a mistake free run the rest of the way…unless of course other teams slip up.
Manchester United – Tied with Newcastle in points but much too far behind in goal differential meaning they must finish ahead of Newcastle in points unless Liverpool fails to run the table the rest of the way. They finish away at Bournemouth then at home against Chelsea and Fulham. From an impact perspective they have a pretty easy schedule as none of those three teams have a chance to change their season outcome. They are all going to finish above relegation but outside any European competitions for next season. So other than those teams wanting to knock off Man U they don’t have much to play for. This is one of the scenarios talked about in the introduction where these teams could field weaker starting lineups looking to the future giving Man U an easier path to a top 4 finish. But they also likely need 72 points to ensure a top 4 finish. Trouble?
Liverpool – Proof that wins and losses in the early season count the same as those at the end. If it wasn’t for their dreadful first two months of the season they might have been challenging for the title. Instead they are fighting just to earn a top 4 spot. Tough for Reds fans to swallow in that of late they, along with Man C, have clearly been the two best teams in the league. And not particularly close either. Sitting in 5th with 65 points they are but a single point behind both Newcastle and Man U. But both of those teams have 3 matches left to play to Liverpool’s 1. The Reds are going to need some help. Now the good news. They host Aston Villa who don’t have much to play for then finish on the road at Southampton who are going to be relegated. Fully expect Liverpool to earn the max 6 points the rest of the way. They would finish with 71 points. Plus they are well ahead of Man U in goal differential giving them a little advantage there.
Brighton and Hove Albion – What a terrific season for the Seagulls. Predicted to be a bottom half team, although well above the relegation zone, they have been one of the seasons positive surprises. Here they are with less than two weeks left in the season and not only are they going to finish solidly in the top half they have a legit shot for a top 4 or 5 finish. Now they are going to need a lot to go there way but if you asked their fans if they’d be happy on May 17th sitting in 6th it would have been a hell yes across the board. So first the bad news. They only have 58 points putting them well behind the other top 5 contenders. But on the flip side they are also the only team in the league with 4 matches left to play. Potentially giving them 70 points if they run the table. Which isn’t enough unless they get a help but still what season in Brighton. The schedule the rest of the way does help them a bit with one exception. First they are on the road at Newcastle. Its on the road but they have a chance to get 3 points while denying 3 points to one of their main competitors ahead of them. Then they host relegated Southampton which they should win so they have a solid chance to be sitting on 64 points with 2 matches left. But then there’s trouble as they host Man City. The Citizens control their destiny in winning the league so are not going to want to stumble in this one. Still it is at Brighton so who knows. Then they finish on the road at Aston Villa which is another match where a team could field a young inexperienced lineup. So its an outside shot. But its still a shot.
Prediction – Liverpool is playing so well. Newcastle has the inside track over Man U because of goal differential. I think Liverpool and Newcastle finish 3rd and 4th in that order with Man U dropping to 5th.
The 5th place team will qualify for Europa and its down to Newcastle, Liverpool, Man U, and BHA. As discussed above I think it ends up being Man U. They aren’t playing that well but I think the gap BHA has to overcome is just too much. Now there is a wrinkle here. If the winner of the FA Cup also finishes in the top 5 of the EPL then that Europa spot goes to the 6th place team in the EPL. Well this year that’s almost guaranteed to happen since the FA Cup final features Man City against Man U and both of those team should finish in the top 5.
This is a situation that many American sports fans have a tough time grasping. Since none of our sports have relegation it seems to be a lot of hoopla over a who cares topic. So what if you finish last (or bottom 3 in this case)? To most fans it all just means your team stinks. But there is actually a ton more to it than that. First off, their is the prestige factor. Its way better to be in the EPL even if you are at the bottom than to be in the English Championship (next lower league) even if you are near the top. Much of this is a cultural thing that has evolved over time and we simply don’t have a similar situation. Then there is the practical matter. Money. Teams in the EPL earn substantially more revenue than teams in the Championship. What that means to their fans is the quality of their future team. Relegated teams often can not afford some of their better and higher priced players so they are forced to either loan them out or sell them outright. That means that their team is likely to not be as good the next year. Now of course they are also facing much easier competition so sometimes it balances out. But ask any EPL fan of clubs outside the big money clubs before a season begin what is most important thing for their team’s season and almost universally they will answer “to not get relegated.” Its that big a deal. So just who are likely to be the bottom 3 this season?
Southampton – Sitting in dead last with 24 points and two matches to play they are relegated and will finish 20th. So long to the Saints.
Leicester City – Currently sitting in 19th with 30 points and 2 matches to play. They are in deep trouble. They are close enough to several teams sitting above them but they have a really bad matchup in their next game having to travel to Newcastle. With Newcastle on track for a top 4 finish this presents a really tough match for Leicester even with their drive to get out of the bottom 3. Then they finish at home against West Ham which is a bit better match. West Ham have been dreadful of late and are probably safe from relegation but really don’t have much to play for. For discussion purposes lets say Leicester gets 3 points in these last 2 and ends up on 33 points.
Leeds United – Sitting in 18th with 31 points they still have a shot to get to safety. And fans of the USMNT certainly want to see that. Hate to see Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Brenden Aaronson playing in the Championship next season. Although if relegated all three of those would be potential transfer candidates. Leeds finishes up at West Ham and then at home against Tottenham. As mentioned West Ham has been awful and Tottenham doesn’t have much to play for in that they can’t finish top 5. Leeds will be playing all out but has to be careful. They are a goal behind Everton on differential so they not only have to catch them in points but may need to pass them on differential. Crazy as it sounds, Leeds could actually pass Everton by earning just a single draw the rest of the way but two points or more would be a lot better. Two draws would sit them on 33 points. Seeing a theme here?
Everton – Everton has the 2nd longest streak playing in the English top flight at 70 years behind only Arsenal’s 97. Which means they have a ton to play for in their last 2 matches. At this point, having such a dreadful season, keeping their streak alive almost seems like a winning season now. The good news for Everton is that they control their own destiny. Sitting on 32 points neither Leeds or Leicester City can catch them if they win out. The other help is that they finish away at Wolverhampton and at home against Bournemouth which don’t have anything of note to play for. Advantage Everton. I think they win at home and are safe.
Nottingham Forest – At 34 points they are up in 16th but are not out of the woods just yet. With 2 matches to go they have a bit of trouble on the horizon. There next match is to host Arsenal which come game time will still have an outside shot to win the league. And Arsenal can’t all to 3rd to its a risk free match for them. They will go all out to win even an ugly 5-4 affair. Expect Arsenal to win that one. Then Forest go on the road to Crystal Palace which is another team not playing for anything. But if Arsenal beats Forest and Leeds and/or Leicester City get results in their next matches the pressure will be on.
Prediction – This is going to be a crap shoot right to the finish. Everton has tradition on their side. Leeds may be the most talented of these teams. Leicester City has the toughest match left. Forest may find themselves looking up going into matchday 38 instead of behind like they are now. As much as I am pulling for Leeds I think Leicester City and Leeds join Southampton down in the Championship next season.
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O’s. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.