Tomorrow (Sunday 15 May) sees the final day of the English Premier League. Unlike every other weekend, when matches are spread out over Saturday, Sunday and Monday, on the final weekend all matches kick off on the Sunday at 3pm.
Leicester City have already won the Premiership title, which is a refreshing change and a remarkable achievement. Last season, Leicester were struggling to avoid relegation, and only a few years ago, in the 2008-09 season, they were in the third tier division (confusingly known as League One). From 2009 to 2014 they were in the second tier (the Championship), gaining promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2013-14 season. Since the inception of the Premier League in the 1992-93 season, Leicester are only the second team outside of the ‘big four’ (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal) to win the Premiership title; the other time was Blackburn Rovers in 1993-94.
Some of you may know that the team I support is Chelsea, who as defending title holders have had a terrible season. They look set to finish 9th, although if they lose and Stoke win they could finish 10th. Even if Swansea City win and Chelsea lose, Chelsea’s goal difference is so much better than Swansea’s (16 better) that it is nigh on impossible for Swansea to finish above them.
Fittingly, Leicester City play their final game of the season at Chelsea, last year’s champions. Another twist to this story is that Leicester’s popular manager, Claudio Ranieri, was Chelsea’s manager from the 2000-01 season until the end of the 2003-04 season, when he was replaced by José Mourinho. I expect both the team and Ranieri will receive a good reception at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho, of course, started this season as the Chelsea manager on his second spell at the club, but after a string of disastrous results he left in December 2015, and Chelsea have been managed since by interim manager Guus Hiddink.
But, probably the most intriguing story of this weekend will be whether it is Manchester City or Manchester United who finish in 4th place and get the last Champions League spot. Manchester City play away at Swansea, and Manchester United have a home game against Bournemouth. Man U not only need to win their match, but they need Man City to lose to Swansea in order to finish 4th. If Man City draw and Man U win, both teams will finish on 66 points, but Man City have a much better goal difference. On paper, Man U should beat Bournemouth. Although Swansea are down in 11th place, they have won their last two games, so will be no push over for Man City. It is conceivable that Man U will get the dream results that they crave.
Should Man U fail to finish in 4th I anticipate that their manager, Louis van Gaal, will be sacked. They are in the final of the FA Cup, but this competition has become so much less valued in the last decade or so that I don’t think winning it will save his job. If, on the other hand, Man U do get 4th place then I think van Gaal will hang on to his job, even though he is quite unpopular with the fans. Since Mourinho was sacked from Chelsea in December there have been persistent rumours that he would be replacing van Gaal at Old Trafford. We shall have to wait and see.
Whether it is Man U or Man City who fail to qualify for the Champions League, it will be deemed a disaster for the club that misses out. Man U have the most prolific record of any English team over the last few decades, and Man City have won the Premier League title twice in the last few seasons, and this year got as far as the semi finals of the Champions League. The rivalry between the two Manchester clubs has been intense over the last few seasons, but this weekend one side of the city is going to be very disappointed and the other side will be relieved, if not elated.