Premier League preview: Europa League on the line on final day of the season
With the final day nearly upon us, the only battle left to contest is the contest for fourth. Manchester United and Manchester City duke it out on separate grounds against Bournemouth and Swansea City, with a win or draw sending Manchester City through, while Manchester United is ready to pounce should the Citizens botch things up.
Aside from those two matches, there is still a pair of Europa League spots to sort out, plus final positioning matters to many clubs for both payouts and pride, most notably the two North London clubs fighting for second.
Finally, there’s the chance a playoff will be needed to determine the final Europa league spot. Before we preview the matches, here are the Europa League scenarios:
West Ham secures Europa League play WITH: a win or draw vs. Stoke City OR Southampton loss AND Liverpool loss
Southampton secures Europa League play WITH: a win vs. Crystal Palace AND a West Ham loss OR a draw vs. Crystal Palace AND a Liverpool loss or draw AND Manchester United win in the FA Cup final OR a Liverpool loss AND Manchester United win in the FA Cup final
Liverpool secures Europa League play WITH: a win vs. West Brom AND a Southampton draw or loss AND a West Ham loss OR a win vs. West Brom AND a Southampton draw or loss AND Manchester United win in the FA Cup final
A playoff would be needed IF: Southampton loss or draw vs. Crystal Palace AND West Ham lose to Stoke City AND Liverpool beats West Brom AND Liverpool outscores West Ham by a goal AND the West Ham and Liverpool scorelines are both one-goal margins AND Liverpool lose the Europa League final AND Manchester United win in the FA Cup final. This would leave Liverpool and West Ham both virtually tied in 7th and level on both goal differential and goals scored.
On to the matches:
West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool
Currently in eighth, Liverpool can finish this campaign with Champions League on the horizon, or it can finish with nothing. All of that has yet to be determined, but the Reds can still assure themselves of some European play next season should they win on the road at the Hawthornes on Sunday plus have help. Danny Ings may potentially get a return from his ACL injury just before the close of the season, while Jordan Henderson could also return. West Brom has no new injury problems, and could get James Morrison back.
Stoke City vs. West Ham
West Ham holds the upper hand for the final guaranteed Europa League spot, in sixth and two points above Southampton. Should the Hammers lose at Stoke, things would get very, very messy, as seen above. West Ham will be missing its goalkeeper Adrian yet again, while Stoke City’s Stephen Ireland has a long offseason on its way after breaking his leg in training.
Southampton vs. Crystal Palace
Saido Mane is likely back for Southampton, who have won three straight and are unbeaten in five. That form has them serious contenders for those last Europa League places. Alan Pardew could rest players with the FA Cup final coming up.
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
The Gunners’ last target is finishing second above bitter rivals Tottenham. Danny Welbeck is out, but Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere could be back for the Gunners, who need a win plus a Spurs loss to jump into second.
Newcastle vs. Tottenham
Spurs need just a draw to fend off Arsenal, and they’ll also get a relegated club. Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele are both suspended, while Newcastle could rotate players as Rafa Benitez prepares for the possibility of guiding the club through the Championship.
Chelsea vs. Leicester City
The champions finish the season on the road, and nobody thought this match would have so little riding on it at this point. The Blues can only drop positions at this stage, 10 points back of Liverpool in 8th. Leicester, meanwhile, will certainly be looking for their maximum point total of 83.
Everton vs. Norwich City
With the Toffees searching for a new manager, Joe Royle and David Unsworth will team up to navigate Everton through the final match of the season. Norwich City, meanwhile, looks for some positives as they head to the lower division.
Watford vs. Sunderland
With the Black Cats safe, they cannot finish anywhere but 17th, while Watford will gun for a spot as high as 11th.