It’s the race that, seemingly, no-one wants to win, despite the treasure and prestige on offer.
Three of the quartet of clubs who came into the weekend with pretensions of securing the last two Champions League qualification spots through the top flight are in action on Sunday. This trio, just like third-placed Tottenham who were beaten – with nine men – 1-0 by Bournemouth, have all singularly failed to attain consistency during a perplexing end to 2018/19.
Sixth-placed Manchester United travel to relegated Huddersfield Town and are rank outsiders to make the top four after their David de Gea-assisted 1-1 draw with fourth-placed Chelsea, who welcome FA Cup finalists Watford. In the day’s final match, fifth-placed Arsenal welcome a Brighton side who now seem assured of top-flight survival.
Here are the talking points ahead of round 37’s culmination:
PICKING OUT YOUR PRIORITIES
Last weekend’s stalemate between United and Chelsea has taken the edge off a befuddling battle.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stumbling troops travel to John Smith’s Stadium, a venue that they lost at during 2017/18, in the knowledge that they must win there and against Cardiff, plus hope Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal slip-up in both their final fixtures.
A long shot, but not one that can be completely discounted. In the Premier League, the Blues are winless in their last three outings and the Gunners are enduring a three-match losing streak.
Added complication is provided by the latter pair’s semi-final deciders in the Europa League on Thursday. Victory in that competition guarantees progression to Europe’s premier club tournament, potentially at the expense of the top flight’s fourth-place finishers depending on other results.
Will they rotate and risk more domestic disappointment, leaving the door ajar for United when it should be bolted shut? Even if they do, can a Red Devils outfit that have triumphed in just two of their last 10 fixtures be expected to take full advantage?
We’ll see on Sunday.
MESUT MUST STOP GOING MISSING
What is going on with Ozil?
Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard did far more when staggeringly placed on the substitutes’ bench from the start in the 1-1 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt than the Arsenal playmaker did from kick-off during the 3-1 triumph versus Valencia.
Ozil produced zero shots and zero key passes from 74 minutes on the turf at Emirates Stadium. Hazard notched one shot and one key pass from 30 minutes of action at Commerzbank-Arena.
This impotence from Ozil has become depressingly familiar. It was enlightening how Switzerland anchor man Granit Xhaka produced far more ammunition to strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette on Thursday evening, than him.
The World Cup 2014 winner has one goal and no assists from his last 11 run-outs. This is not the stage of the season to go missing, especially when a two-pronged assault is under way on earning a return to the UCL for the first time since 2016/17.
Ozil’s early season travails under new head coach Unai Emery were well documented. But the 30-year-old has managed to start three of his club’s last four matches – with only a goal against Crystal Palace to show for it, plus two losses.
What he’s done to deserve this renewed faith is one only the Spaniard can answer.
The ex-Real Madrid creator should be eager to press for another spot from kick-off at Mestalla Stadium later in the week. But on his current feeble form, it’d even be a gamble to pick him to play lowly Brighton & Hove Albion.
How the once mighty have fallen.
TERRIERS’ NEW BEGINNING
Huddersfield’s status as a top-flight club is not the only thing at an end.
Sunday’s visit of United will be chairman Dean Hoyle’s final home fixture at the helm after a decade in charge. A 75-per-cent ownership stake was announced for lifelong fan Phil Hodgkinson on Friday.
The Terriers are guaranteed to go down in bottom place, ending a two-season stint at the top table. Not that there isn’t anything to play for.
Boss Jan Siewert was hired by the outgoing regime. The German has already spoken freely about a “huge” summer transfer window approaching.
He must show he deserves to oversee it.
A playing squad that is unlikely to be picked apart by Premier League vultures must also prove they can succeed in the Championship.
Another victory against floundering United would be the perfect way to catch the new supremo’s attention.
📣 CLUB STATEMENT— Huddersfield Town (@htafcdotcom) May 3, 2019
📝 Sunday’s game against @ManUtd is set to be the final home fixture of Dean Hoyle’s decade-long tenure as #htafc Chairman, with a commercial agreement in place with Phil Hodgkinson for the sale of the Club.
➡️ https://t.co/3mPFPaOPmD (AT) pic.twitter.com/dZjr4LsOvf
The raging title race between Manchester City and Liverpool will dominate the penultimate weekend of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Both sides are pushing to claim the big prize and will look to continue their momentum, while Cardiff are fighting what is looking an increasingly losing battle to remain in the division.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the key talking points ahead of the action.
LIVERPOOL LOOK TO EX-FACTOR IN TITLE RACE
With neither City nor Liverpool blinking in the run-in, the battle for the Premier League title remains the most exciting in years.
The Reds could be given a helping hand this weekend courtesy of two of their former managers, with a trip to face Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle on Saturday night. A win would return Jurgen Klopp’s side to the summit.
City play 48 hours later against a Leicester side resurgent under Brendan Rodgers, who came so close to delivering the title to Anfield in 2014.
Liverpool fans will be hoping Benitez does not make things difficult at St James’ Park before putting their hopes on Rodgers to give them the upper hand heading into the final weekend.
MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU
While the two title protagonists continue at an unrelenting pace, the battle for the rest of the top four has been littered with errors and defeats.
After all four teams stuttered in recent weeks, Tottenham and Arsenal both lost last weekend while Manchester United and Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Spurs, on the back of their Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat to Ajax, head to Bournemouth in Saturday’s early kick-off knowing a win will guarantee qualification for next season’s tournament.
Chelsea are strong favourites to join them but any slip-up against Watford will give Arsenal and United, currently in fifth and sixth respectively, renewed hope of a top-four finish.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT FOR BLUEBIRDS AND SEAGULLS
After losing at relegated Fulham last weekend, Cardiff are now the heavy favourites to join the Cottagers and Huddersfield in the Championship next season.
Neil Warnock welcomes former club Crystal Palace to south Wales on Saturday evening knowing anything other than a rare victory will seal their fate, as their worse goal difference means even a point will only prolong the inevitable.
However, picking up a 10th win of the season would ramp up the pressure on Brighton, who go into the weekend four points clear of the drop zone but face a tricky trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
WOLVES IN SEVENTH HEAVEN
Not since George Burley guided Ipswich to a remarkable fifth-placed finish in 2001 has a newly-promoted side mixed as high up in the Premier League table as Wolves.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side can all-but assure themselves a seventh-placed finish in their first season back in the top flight if they beat relegated Fulham at Molineux on Saturday.
Caretaker boss Scott Parker has led the Cottagers to three successive wins since their relegation was confirmed but Wolves will be confident of getting the job done in front of their own fans, knowing Europa League football may still beckon next season.
Individual prizes are also still up in the air this season and the battle for the Premier League golden boot is likely to go the distance.
Dominated by players from teams in the title race, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool currently leads the way with 21 goals as he looks to retain the award from last season.
His team-mate Sadio Mane is a goal adrift, with Manchester City hotshot Sergio Aguero level with the Senegal international on 20.
There are a couple of outsiders still in with a chance of ending the campaign as the league’s top marksman, however, with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 19 and Jamie Vardy – the top English goalscorer – with 18 goals for Leicester.
Each week, Sport360 will bring you tips for the English Premier League’s official fantasy football game. Fancy pitting your wits against us? You can join “Sport360 Fans League” using the code 2326997-532303.
Fantasy Premier League managers only have a couple of shots left at climbing up the rankings this season.
Gameweek 36 was a high-scoring one which yielded an average score of 69 but this weekend brings the penultimate round of the campaign.
The top six all boast inviting fixtures this time. Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United travel to Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Huddersfield respectively. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City host Watford, Brighton and Leicester City in that order.
Here are a few tips to guide you ahead of GW37.
CAPTAIN – SERGIO AGUERO | MANCHESTER CITY | 11.9M
Mohamed Salah was our captain pick last week and if he was yours as well, you probably had a great GW36. The Liverpool star excelled with two goals and an assist against Huddersfield at home, scoring 19 points that doubled to 38.
This week, it’s another FPL favourite who gets the nod in Sergio Aguero. The Argentine (20) is one goal behind Salah (21) in the race for the Golden Boot and will be determined to overtake the Egyptian in the remaining two rounds.
City host Leicester with Brendan Rodgers unlikely to have his side sit deep, so Aguero could see a few opportunities.
There’s also the fact that the striker has been sensational at home this season. The last time he failed to deliver attacking returns at the Etihad was back in GW22 and he only played 14 minutes on that occasion.
MOHAMED SALAH (13.3m) definitely remains in the running after his stunning display at home to Huddersfield. Newcastle away should be more tricky but with Liverpool desperate for a win to keep pressure on City, anything is possible.
RAHEEM STERLING (11.6m) is only behind Salah (249) for points this season with 226 to his name. He’s always a candidate for the captaincy and arguably City’s most dangerous player as they look to retain their crown.
DIOGO JOTA (6.3m) has continued his excellent form and now has two goals and an assist in his last two games. He faces Fulham at home this weekend although the Cottagers have found a bit of form as well, albeit belatedly.
TWO TO WATCH
PAUL POGBA | MANCHESTER UNITED | 8.5M
Neither United nor Paul Pogba have impressed in the last month or so but now that the top four appears to be beyond their reach, the pressure is off – as it was when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first took over.
Also, their last two games are arguably the most comfortable with Huddersfield away this weekend followed by Cardiff City at home on the final day. There’s every chance Pogba delivers in these games especially with him being on penalties. Only Crystal Palace (10) have scored more from the spot than United (9) this season.
RYAN BABEL | FULHAM | 5.5M
Ever since Fulham’s relegation was confirmed, they’ve been a different team. Scott Parker has overseen a run of three wins with his side keeping clean sheets in each of them. But Ryan Babel’s form has also been worth noting.
The Dutch forward has bagged four goals and an assist in his last six outings and is owned by just a little over one per cent.