As is usually the case this time of year, the Premier League’s clubs are already casting an eye on next season. There are the announcements of preseason, summer trips abroad. There are the splash signings (hello, Erling Haaland!) and the forthcoming manager changes (welcome, Erik ten Hag). But there’s also still business to be handled that will determine just what shape—and in what competitions—teams are going to be competing come 2022–23.
With clubs having as little as one or as many as three games to play, much remains unsettled. The league title could be clinched as soon as next Tuesday, or it could go down to the final day of the season. The last spot in the Champions League could be clinched as soon as Thursday, but it, too, could go down to the wire. And the ignominy that comes with relegation also hangs in the balance for a trio of clubs that desperately would prefer to remain in the top flight rather than take the tumble and have to spend next season clawing their way back.
So while there is a focus already on what could happen next season, the business end of the current one must still be handled with care. Here’s what remains on the line as the Premier League sprints towards the finish line.
man city and Liverpool are going shot-for-shot yet again, and it looks like Pep Guardiola’s side is going to persevere. After a 5–1 thrashing of Wolves on Wednesday, City leads Liverpool by three points—and has a +7 edge in goal differential—with each club having two games to play. City has responded well to its Champions League semifinal debacle in Madrid, bouncing back with a pair of five-goal efforts to right the ship. Now, it can put the finishing touches on another back-to-back run in England and a fourth title in five seasons.
With Liverpool not in action this weekend due to its FA Cup final vs. Chelsea, the earliest a title coronation could occur is on Tuesday, when Liverpool plays at Southampton. City will have played West Ham on Sunday, and a win there would mean that a Liverpool draw or loss Tuesday would end the race in City’s favor (and a City draw would be enough to clinch the title were Liverpool to lose outright). A Liverpool win would send the title decision down to the final day (where the drama would be unlikely to match that of 10 years ago).
Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have put forth a valiant effort, bouncing back from a double-digit table deficit to even provisionally leap into first, but barring a major Man City collapse—one that would be even worse than what occurred in stoppage time in Madrid—at West Ham and home vs. Aston Villa, the trophy is going back to the Etihad.
Liverpool could still wind up with a cup treble, already having won the League Cup with FA Cup and Champions League finals to come.
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Thursday’s Tottenham–Arsenal match makes for one of the more important North London derbies in recent memory, with top-four implications at stake for both clubs. Arsenal carries a four-point lead into the match, with both clubs having two further games still to play. A Gunners road win would finish the race on the spot: Arsenal would end its five-year Champions League hiatus by going up seven points with only a maximum of six up for grabs, while Tottenham would be settling for Thursdays in the Europa League. But a Tottenham win or draw would keep the head-to-head battle going for at least another week.
Both clubs’ other London foe, Chelsea, sits in place, four points clear of Arsenal and eight ahead of Spurs and is all but safe. It would officially cement its Champions League berth with a Tottenham loss or draw on Thursday. No other clubs are mathematically able to break into the top five, with Man United and West Ham only able to get to a maximum of 61 points. Tottenham, in fifth, currently has 62.
Watford and Norwich City have already been relegated (Fulham and Bournemouth are coming back up), with one place in the second-tier Championship still remaining to unceremoniously be claimed. It’s down to Everton, Burnley and Leeds, with the Toffees and Clarets having the luxury of owning a game in hand on Jesse Marsch’s slumping side. Three straight defeats have taken the bloom off the rose for the American manager, whose club needs to change its own fortunes while also hoping for good fortune elsewhere in order to stay in the top flight.
Entering the weekend, 16th-place Everton is on 36 points and 17th-place Burnley is on 34—the same as 18th-place Leeds but with an unassailable goal-differential edge.
Leeds plays Brighton and Brentford—two difficult middle-table sides albeit ones with nothing left to play for—while Everton hosts Brentford and Crystal Palace and goes to Arsenal and Burnley must go to Tottenham and Aston Villa before finishing at home vs. Newcastle. The permutations are aplenty, but Frank Lampard’s Everton sits in the driver’s seat—for now—in the quest to stay up. The consequences for failing to do so would be considerably dire, especially for the Merseyside club.
For all three, the goal of finishing 17th was probably not the aspiration last August, but now, it’s all that matters.
More Soccer Coverage:
- Wilson: What a Post-Abramovich Chelsea Could Look Like
- De Bruyne’s Four-Goal Masterclass Inches Man City Closer to Title
- Wilson: Klopp’s Commitment Fortifies Liverpool’s Present and Future
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