Are you going to the end-of-season party? But where will it be – London or Manchester? This Sunday could have been England’s own version of Scotland’s ‘Helicopter Sunday’, but the English FA prefer handing out a replica to Chelsea. The poor trophy still doesn’t know where to go, but surely the odds are on it to be residing at Stamford Bridge come Monday?
Fergie v Ancelotti goes down to game no. 38
Chelsea’s squad consists of players from various parts of the world, but the equation could not be simpler to explain – win and the big prize comes to London, lose and the title stays in Manchester.
Carlo Ancelotti’s first success as Chelsea manager is just one step away and he would have constantly called for ‘focus’ throughout the week. Complacency, and not Man Utd or Wigan, are Chelsea’s closest challengers now. They have won 16 out of their 18 games at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have won seven of their last eight matches.
Chelsea are expected to make one change from the line-up which did the job at Anfield – they will leave Gerrard out for this one! Blues are still without Carvalho, Bosingwa, Essien and Obi Mikel.
Wigan, on the other hand, have nothing to play for – unless you count places fourteenth to seventeenth. Roberto Martinez’s side is overjoyed at survival, but there is one characteristic of a Wigan team – they wake up only against top sides. Wigan have beaten Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool already this season. All those victories came at home, though.
Stojkovic will start in goal for Wigan in the absence of Chris Kirkland. Wigan’s main threat Charles N’Zogbia could return from injury for the final game of the season. Titus Bramble is a key absentee.
For Wigan to take points off a rampant Chelsea is a lot to ask for, and THT isn’t burdening the Greater Manchester side with such expectations. TheHardTackle predicts Chelsea to seal the title, finally!
The atmosphere at OT is expected to be subdued – unless they wish to ‘Green and Gold’ it on the last day. The attention will certainly be in London – through radio, phone calls, text messages and stadium announcements. Sir Alex Ferguson never gives up on the title though and over his time at the helm, his teams have pulled off miracles of greater magnitude.
United go into this game on the back of three wins against tricky oppositions. Their home record reads 15-1-2 but it hasn’t been enough to guarantee a title this season. The Red Devils have won eight of their last ten matches. Wayne Rooney has a personal goal as well – to clinch the golden boot. He is currently tied with Drogba on 26 goals.
Rio Ferdinand is expected to start after he was handed a late run-out at the Stadium of Light. Hargreaves may get a longer look-in as well. Valencia, along with Anderson and Owen, isn’t available for the final bow of the season.
Stoke City have collected 20 points on the road this season, level with Liverpool incidentally. Tony Pulis has inculcated a fighting quality into his team and he would be desperate to see it in the last game of the season – to show the progress which has been made at the club. A good showing at Old Trafford can cap a wonderful season for his side.
Sorensen and Faye are the only absentees for the Potters. Rory Delap’s arms have no injury issues either – a fact which is key to a Stoke City game.
TheHardTackle predicts United to do their bit and put the ball in Chelsea’s court.
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Man Utd 3-0 Stoke City
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch: Nani (Man Utd)
TheHardTackle’s Predicted golden boot winner: Didier Drogba
Both strikers – Rooney and Drogba – play home games to weaker sides, but Stoke City might put up more of a fight than Wigan.
Rest of the games – A Wrap
The relegation battle is over. The Champions League and Europa League positions decided. But with player’s who could be playing their last games for the club, managers with jobs on the line and club’s still evaluating their season; the last day of the season is still crucial when it comes to the end-of-season report card.
Not only is there North-London ‘pride to play for’ but a direct entry into the Champions League group stages at stake between Arsenal and Tottenham. It’s been twenty years since Tottenham ended a season above Arsenal in the points table and what a Spurs fans would give for something like that to happen and make Theo Walcott eat his words. Manager of the season Harry Redknapp needs his side to beat relegated Burnley at Turf Moor and hope a visiting Fulham beat Arsenal at the Emirates. It’s a highly improbable scenario though as Fulham will rest all their key players ahead of a European final in three days’ time. Brian Laws’ rebuilding of Burnley football club begins now and it will be an emotional farewell from the big league for an entertaining Burnley.
Under-question Villa manager Martin O’Neill will be hoping his side could end the season with a win against Blackburn to ensure they finish above Liverpool. Liverpool’s debts are soaring and question marks are being raised at the future of their top players. The Merseyside Reds travel to the KC stadium to face a relegated Hull City side, where both teams will be debating over who had a more disappointing season. No final day singing at the KC this time around, thankfully. The irony in these two fixtures is that Allardyce and Dowie are guaranteed to be in charge of their club next season, while O’Neill and Benitez are not.
Upton Park will see the battle of the Italian managers as Zola prepares to entertain Mancini’s millionaries. Manchester City have failed in their bid to qualify for the Champions League next season, whereas Zola has been successful in keeping West Ham up. But Mancini is expected to be at City’s helm next season, whereas Zola’s time may be up for the Hammers. This match could be crucial in securing Zola another stint at the London club – Scott Parker to the rescue again?
Owen Coyle may have secured Bolton‘s survival this season but in 1998, they were relegated with four more points than they currently have – so haven’t they gone backwards? The Wanderers entertain the high-achieving Birmingham who need just one point to equal their best ever league finish and also record their best ever league tally. Alex McLeish has done wonders at the newly promoted club, who are guaranteed a top half finish now!
Alex McLeish – One of the managers of the season
In other matches, Sunderland travel to an over-joyed Molineux stadium and Everton host Pompey at Goodison Park. At the Stadium of Light, there isn’t any pressure on either managers as Bruce has finished just his first complete season at Sunderland and McCarthy has completed his job by keeping Wolves up. Darren Bent has scored an incredible 24 league goals – an astonishing achievement playing for a club lying thirteenth in the table. At Goodison Park, David Moyes has done what Steve Bruce couldn’t – revive a sinking ship. Everton will finish just one place below their city rivals in eighth, which is quite an achievement after how they struggled at the start of the season.
Bye bye Pompey! A special mention for a club who have entertained viewers around the world for the past seven years. The spirit which they have shown this season and the support of their fans are examples for every club in the world to follow. Every week we expect them to lie down and be beaten but they simply refuse to. In a doom-gloom season, there is still a Wembley final to look forward to for Portsmouth.
Here’s to hoping they will be back in the League sometime soon! After all, we prefer them to the Toon army, don’t we?
TheHardTackle’s Predictions – Players To Watch Out:
Arsenal 2-0 Fulham – Van Persie (Arsenal)
Aston Villa 2-1 Blackburn – James Milner (Villa)
Bolton 1-2 Birmingham – Jerome (B’Ham)
Burnley 1-2 Tottenham – Lennon (Tottenham)
Everton 3-1 Portsmouth – Cahill (Everton)
Hull 1-2 Liverpool – Aquilani (Liverpool)
West Ham 1-1 Man City – A.Johnson (Man City)
Wolverhampton 1-1 Sunderland – Bent (Sunderland)