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Premier League final day: 10 things to watch, including the title showdown, golden glove race and Mike Dean

The finish line is in sight. Two hundred and eighty-two days after Brentford stunned Arsenal on the opening day, the Premier League reaches its conclusion with so much still undecided. For just the ninth time in its history the title is up for grabs on the final day while further down the table there are still matters to be decided in the race to avoid relegation and maybe just maybe in the fight for top four. Here are 10 things to keep an eye out for:

1. A title showdown short on drama

After 37 games of hitting lumps out of each other, whether from afar or on the same pitch together, there is still merely the cigarette paper that is a solitary point between Manchester City and Liverpool. Ten years on from Sergio Aguero’s dramatic late winner at the Etihad Stadium, we could be in for similar drama on the final day.

Could, however, is very much the operative word here. This should be relatively serene for Manchester City. It has been 15 years since Aston Villa won away at City and 22 years since they travelled to a side that was top of the Premier League and returned with three points. Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has never lost on the final day of the English season.

Liverpool will almost certainly keep their end of the bargain up against a Wolverhampton Wanderers side whose season petered out so long ago that they may as well be playing in flip flops. Realistically though, City may well have their game against Villa wrapped up rather swiftly, allowing England’s attention to drift elsewhere.

2. Stakes are high for Burnley

The disappointment that one of Liverpool and Manchester City will be feeling by the time the sun sets on Sunday will pale into insignificance compared to the catastrophe that awaits one of Leeds and Burnley. The former head into the final weekend well aware that their fate is out of their hands. Leeds may be level on points with the Clarets, but their atrocious goal difference means that top-flight survival will be dependent on achieving a better result against Brentford than Burnley get at home to Newcastle.

Whether Mike Jackson’s side, who drew against Aston Villa on Thursday to claim control of the final day dogfight, will be weighed down by the sheer pressure on them remains to be seen. Relegation from the Premier League is rarely a pleasant experience for a club’s balance sheet; for Burnley, it could be all the more severe. “You wouldn’t get out of bed in a morning if you thought about that,” said Jackson. “I try not to. I try to keep it level and keep it real.”

Relegation to the Championship would force owners ALK Capital, who secured the club in a leveraged buyout in February 2021, to pay back the majority of the $81 million loan that financed their purchase. That would be hard enough at any time, but when their finances have already taken a battering from the pandemic, there would be serious cause for concern at Turf Moor. No pressure then.

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3. Spurs couldn’t, could they?

This should be the most tied up of all the races. Beat Norwich, the worst team in the Premier League, and Tottenham are back in the big time. But then Giorgio Chiellini’s grinning face emerges through the fog. “It is the history of the Tottenham.” Lasagna. A 5-1 win at St. James’ Park to 10 men. And now Harry Kane is feeling ill?! This would be a choke to eclipse even those great final day disasters.

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But it surely won’t happen. Antonio Conte’s Spurs might have a reputation for struggling against lower ranking, reactive opponents as opposed to clashes with the Premier League’s big boys, but the reality is that it has been some time since they faltered against a relegation candidate. You would need to go back to that shock loss to Burnley in late February — a time when this looked to be a radically different team.

Could Spurs slip at Carrow Road against a Norwich side who, if nothing else, might at least want to give their fans something to celebrate following another crushing return to the top flight? Perhaps. But even then, Arsenal would need to pick up three points against Everton, something that looks beyond a team that may struggle to fill the numbers defensively if Ben White and Gabriel, who missed training this week, are not able to take part. Spurs and Arsenal might have previous for dramatic denouements. Not this time.

4. The fight to avoid the Conference League

Just below Spurs and Arsenal is another European battle, one that Manchester United would never have imagined they might be involved in come the end of the season. As they travel to Crystal Palace, they have West Ham breathing down their necks, desperate to return to the Europa League after their invigorating run to this season’s semifinals. 

After all the disappointment that defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt bought, there seems to be a real motivating force to go better next time. Speaking last week, Michail Antonio even said: “As much as Manchester City want to win the league, we want to be back in the Europa League again.” They showed that in a more than credible 2-2 draw at the London Stadium.

It is hard to see quite the same energy emanating from Manchester United, who look to have written off this season long ago. If the carrot of Europa League football does not motivate his squad, Ralf Rangnick might at least be able to use the stick of Europa Conference League. Not that there is anything wrong with away days to Lincoln Red Imps, Qarabag and Kairat, of course. But a qualifying round before preseason is even done, perhaps meaning shortened holidays? Perish the thought.

5. Millions to make

It is that time of season where we are reminded that there is plenty at stake even for those not duking it out in the European places and relegation zones. Indeed, every step you clamber up the Premier League table should mean around $3 million more come the end of the season.

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If a few extra millions on the club’s balance sheet might not be enough to motivate players to go that extra yard, there might at least be some that see reasons to give it their all on the final day. In particular, that mass of clubs between Brighton in 10th and Aston Villa in 14th might all see plenty of prestige to be won from a top-half finish, something that few expected from either Crystal Palace or Brentford when the season was begun. That might just be enough for their managers to get the best out of them.

6. The Son-Salah shootout

With plenty on the line for both their teams come the final day, Heung-min Son and Mohamed Salah will surely get the chance to add to their respective goal tallies of 21 and 22, respectively, as the race for the golden boot goes down to the wire. For a while it seemed that the Liverpool forward would set an unassailable tally. When he flew off to the Africa Cup of Nations, he had 16 Premier League goals to his name already.

But as the Egyptian’s scoring form dried up, Son has hit perhaps the greatest heights he has yet reached in England with 10 to his name in his last nine matches. The South Korean international might find it easier to add a few more on the final day. Where Salah has to overcome the league’s outstanding goalkeeper this season (Jose Sa), it is only Norwich that stand in the way of Son becoming the first Asian footballer to win the scoring title.

The scoring title race

Games

34

34

Goals 22 21
Shots 131 79

Shots on target

57

44

Non-penalty goals

17

21

xG

23.5

14.2

Non-penalty xG

18.7

14.2

Shot conversion

17%

27%

Shooting goals added -2.3 2.2

7. Double for Salah?

The golden boot might not be the only trinket coming Salah’s way at Molineux. Indeed, the Liverpool forward could be the first player crowned the Premier League’s leading scorer and assister since … well, Kane last season, but it would still serve as a reminder of what an exceptional season Salah has put together on an individual basis. 

With victory required for his side to have a hope of winning the title, Salah doubtless won’t be sniffy about who is making the chances for him, but his biggest rival for the Playmaker Award will be on the pitch with him. If Liverpool are three goals up and a cross comes his way from the unerring boot of Trent Alexander-Arnold — one behind Salah with 12 assists to his name — might he be tempted to spoon a shot over? Almost certainly not.

8. All-Brazilian battle

Liverpool could well end up sweeping the individual honors board this season. Salah is already the football writers’ player of the year and could bag the two output titles available to him whilst for Alisson the golden glove award is within reach. Both he and his Manchester City counterpart Ederson are locked on 20 clean sheets, a shutout for either would guarantee that they at least share the award.

Alisson will surely be feeling confident that he can win this award for the second time. Wolves have scored four times in their last six games and go into this season’s final match with the league’s second lowest expected goals tally at 41.1. Whether they’re lifting the Premier League crown or not, there could well be plenty of trophies and trinkets to go round the Liverpool squad on Sunday evening.

9. Fond farewells …

There may not be all that much to play for at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea face Watford, but there are certain to be a few moist eyes as Antonio Rudiger waves farewell to supporters and teammates before his move to Real Madrid on a free transfer that he has handled impeccably. He has experienced the highs and lows of life at Chelsea almost as deeply as any supporter, going from the fringes of the squad to Champions League winner in six months last season. 

As he put it in his farewell piece in the Players’ Tribune: “Chelsea will always be in my heart. London will always be my home. I came here alone, and now I have a wife and two beautiful kids. I also have a new brother for life named Kova. I have an FA Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League medal. And of course, I have hundreds of memories that will stay with me forever.”

Add to the mix what might be Christian Eriksen’s final Brentford match in what has been a remarkable six-month comeback to football, cult hero Divock Origi waving so long to Liverpool and final outings for academy graduates at Arsenal (Eddie Nketiah) and Manchester United (Jesse Lingard) and there are sure to be some moments hitting players and fans right in the feelings.

10. … and some less warm goodbyes

And yet while the Premier League may be losing Paul Pogba, Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Alexandre Lacazette this summer, there will be more than a few eyes on Stamford Bridge for a different reason. Mike Dean surely would not want it any other way. The most box office of referees (the only official known to have been namechecked in a Rosalia song — and yes, she might have meant the American record producer, but what about if she didn’t?) is bowing out after 559 games and 114 red cards, though he must be tempted to add to that tally in his final game. Joining him in riding off into the sunset will be Jon Moss and, after 18 years of service, Martin Atkinson.

Naturally, no one will remember the times these three got their decisions spot on — with the possible exception of the time Dean was so pleased that he had correctly played advantage that he appeared to celebrate the Tottenham goal that followed — and if the boos that greeted Dean’s final game at Vicarage Road are anything to go on, there will be plenty at Stamford Bridge who will make sure he knows how glad they are to see the back of him.

That is until they realize that next season he’ll be at the VAR monitors. What could possibly go wrong?


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