Still all to play for at Norwich…
Almost unbelievably, it could yet be a decent season for Man United. They will start firm favourites to lift their first FA Cup in a dog’s life and might – juuust might – think they can sneak past Man City into the Top Four.
A win at the surely condemned Norwich would put United just a point behind their neighbours, who are notably less noisy post-Champions League ties. If falling at the final hurdle in Madrid (without mustering much of leap, to be frank) puts them in a mood for the visit of Arsenal, it could cost them points.
This would give United the chance to vault over them into fourth place, if they can produce a perfect run-in.
Starting at Norwich…
12.45pm Norwich v Man United
The FA Cup seems to have given United a bit of end of season momentum. Four wins from five and a dominant performance over Champions Leicester will put them in a better frame of mind than the two teams immediately above them. A Top Four finish was LVG’s target. The FA Cup would be a bonus. Relegating Norwich looks an unfortunate consequence. Norwich have failed to score in six of their last seven matches and that is all that needs to be said really. Nice club, good manager but they are going down.
Score Prediction: Bye bye Norwich. 1-2
MVP: Antony Martial is starting to look like a snip compared to some at the club.
3pm Aston Villa v Newcastle
Last weekend saw a significant shuffle at the bottom. Newcastle hauled themselves out of the Bottom Three for the first time since early February and there are signs things are starting to go for them. Playing two teams who had just secured their PL safety (Swansea and Palace) and two with bigger fish to fry (Man City and Liverpool) hasn’t done their run off four unbeaten any harm at all. Likewise, facing Tottenham on the final day is less daunting now their title challenge has run aground. And Villa are rubbish.
Score Prediction: Surely they can’t ruin it at Villa. 1-2
MVP: Andros Townsend has added a new dimension.
3pm Bournemouth v West Brom
Since securing their PL safety the wheels have come off Bournemouth’s season a bit, losing five of their last six. They deserve better than to tail off like this though and with a trip to potentially Top Four chasing Man United on the final day, this looks the best chance to finish on a high note. West Brom have lost five of their last seven and only seem interested when they can spoil someone’s plans (like Tottenham’s title or Sunderland’s survival hopes).
Score Prediction: A final flourish from Bournemouth. 2-0
MVP: Callum Wilson will feel like he’s had his season stolen.
3pm Crystal Palace v Stoke
Funny season for Palace. They must be fairly gutted at the way it tailed off in the second half – riding high in fifth at Christmas, before falling off a cliff to finish a likely fifth bottom. But their Cup Final appearance will keep them believing for another season. Stoke have found it difficult to rouse themselves to their usual standards since insurmountable gaps opened up above and below them in the PL. Just one win in their last eight and four goals shipped in three of their last four is very un-Stoke like. But Mark Hughes’ work is done for the season. Perhaps for good.
Score Prediction: A point a piece. 1-1
MVP: Yannick Bolasie although he still threatens more than he delivers.
3pm Sunderland v Chelsea
Despite their shabbiest season for two decades Chelsea did have an impact on the destiny of the PL title, ending Tottenham’s pursuit. They could still have a say on who goes down too. Big Sam’s record of never having been relegated is in the balance but his reputation for spending big money on dour football is flourishing. Only three teams spent more than Sunderland in January. The defeats have turned into draws but the run-in needs to see them take the next step to avoid the trap-door.
Score Prediction: Both teams love a draw. 1-1
MVP: Jermain Defoe carries their hopes.
3pm West Ham v Swansea
West Ham’s next to last home game at the Boleyn Ground should be much more straightforward than the last. In terms of emotion and ambition the Man United fixture has all the ingredients that this match hasn’t. Swansea’s season was over the moment they achieved 40pts v Chelsea. Their win over a largely teenage Liverpool last week was a treat for their home fans. This will be purely an obligation before the summer off. And why not.
Score Prediction: No problem. 3-0
MVP: Andy Carroll will be wishing the season wasn’t ending next week.
5.30pm Leicester v Everton
Leicester deserve to take to the pitch as Champions. They would’ve certainly left it that way. Everton’s win last week was their first in eight and they could still end the season in the Bottom Five if the run-in doesn’t go well. It’s not good enough. Nowhere near in fact and we can expect changes in the summer, on and off the pitch. Leicester will need a minor overhaul before next season too. But the players will never forget their last two matches of this incredible season. Quite right too.
Score Prediction: Leicester will be full of beans. 3-0
MVP: Jamie Vardy has timed his return just right.
1.30pm Tottenham v Southampton
It’s not the high-stakes, high-pressure, title-chasing match the fans - or players – wanted. But Tottenham’s final home game gives them the chance to secure second place, which most fans – and players – would’ve taken at the start of the season. Spurs have only lost once in 15 matches, but they will look back on two draws that undid their title challenge in the end. Not at Chelsea, but at home to Arsenal’s ten-men and West Brom. Southampton have found a bit of form in the last quarter of an odd season, winning their last two 4-2.
Score Prediction: There won’t be a third. 2-0
MVP: Harry Kane will want to keep his form for the Euros.
4pm Liverpool v Watford
Liverpool fairly stormed into the Europa League final on Thursday. The intensity and speed that saw of Villarreal didn’t look like a team on the verge of their 60th match of the season. Two months ago they looked like they were running on empty. The players’ legs and the manager’s heart appeared heavy when clinging on to draws at home to Tottenham and in Borussia Dortmund. Then the home leg happened and they seem to have turned a corner. Jurgen Klopp has spread the workload carefully since then and we can expect him to again tread carefully ahead of the Europa League final. Watford are likely to benefit Sunday.
Score Prediction: All eyes on Basle now. 2-2
MVP: Troy Deeney will start and looks as fresh as anyone in the PL.
4pm Man City v Arsenal
The hoopla will be along the lines of a ‘shootout for third place’. The reality is somewhat less glamorous. Even third place would leave Arsenal (fans, at least) bemoaning the one place too many it leaves them behind rivals Tottenham. And the two places it leaves them off the summit which looked theirs for the taking. Man City are likely to be more concerned with the four-point gap below them than the three-point one above. United have a game in hand and are ready to pounce. Slipping out of the Top Four they have barely left in six seasons would be harder to take than their CL semi-final defeat. And even harder to explain to Pep.
Score Prediction: A moody draw. 2-2
MVP: Danny Wellbeck should start.
That’s how it looks from here.
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt