Friday 16 November 2018

Final day will probably fall flat - but that's no reason to seek change

Don't be swayed by any calls to inject some Super Bowl-style drama into the Premier League

Arsene Wenger finds himself facing a Huddersfield side who are mathematically safe and have rightfully celebrated it, as the long goodbye reaches its final farewell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Arsene Wenger finds himself facing a Huddersfield side who are mathematically safe and have rightfully celebrated it, as the long goodbye reaches its final farewell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

MIiguel Delaney

It is one of those final days, you would fear, when some of the more adventurous types at the top levels of English football start wondering why exactly is it that the Premier League does not have a Super Bowl-style grand finale.

That is, of course, the beauty of a league. It is all the more exciting and precious because it takes so many elements to align for proper last-day drama, for the type of circumstances that produces Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal in 2012 or Everton's survival heroics in 1994.

This is not one of those days - or, at the very least, it is unlikely to be.

It would take some really sensational twists for the key positions up for grabs to change . . . but then if they were to actually happen, it would be a final day for the ages.

It also isn't completely against the odds.

Southampton would have to get utterly thrashed by a free-scoring Manchester City still chasing 100 points, and who have already broken the goals record, while Swansea City would then have to beat a Stoke City who are already relegated and seemingly in disarray. A jaded-looking Liverpool would, meanwhile, have to lose to a resolute Brighton and Hove Albion while Chelsea win at a subdued Newcastle United.

It isn't completely against the odds, no, but anything even approaching such outcomes would be more in keeping with this Champions League season than the Premier League.

In that, it is a fitting final day and reflective of this Premier League season as a whole: interesting and entertaining, but not really intense, because so much feels settled beforehand.

And for all that certain sensational circumstances feel possible, the relegation battle will still come down to two things: whether a newly dogged and revitalised Southampton cave, and whether a Swansea City who have scored zero goals in their last four games, not scored more than one in a match since January 30, and only hit 27 all season, can suddenly start racking up the goals.

At the other end, it will require Liverpool to be as tired as they have looked, although it is already problematic for Chelsea that Jurgen Klopp has been waxing about how much better his players have looked on the back of finally having a week's rest.

It's got to that point of the season, although the oddity of that is that such circumstances can produce some very entertaining and memorable games. A classic was Manchester United's 5-5 at West Brom in 2012-13, in what was Alex Ferguson's actual last game . . . although after all the goodbyes had already been said.

Arsene Wenger finds himself in a similar situation against a Huddersfield side who are mathematically safe and have rightfully celebrated it, as the long goodbye reaches its final farewell.

It would be nice for Wenger to get that first away win of 2018 in his last Arsenal match.

The French great isn't the only person saying goodbye, and some of the others involve storylines with a bit more intrigue.

Wayne Rooney may be playing his last game for Everton, after just a year back, but then both of the managers involved may be also facing their last games too. There is no certainty about the futures of Sam Allardyce or David Moyes at Goodison Park or West Ham United, respectively.

Michael Carrick will, meanwhile, line out for Manchester United for the final time, as Jose Mourinho craves more players of his personality as much as his talent. The XI the Portuguese puts out could be very relevant to the FA Cup final, the summer and the future as there are a few players - especially Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford - who are not in favour right now. Whether Mourinho puts out a side similar to the dismal 0-0 against West Ham United will be indicative.

There is then the only side above United in the league, who can yet have such impact at the bottom.

If Manchester City sign off with victory at St Mary's, it might well be a nervous afternoon at Southampton, whose supporters will be regularly looking for updates from Swansea City. The Welsh side need to win and swing a goal difference of nine. Results of 4-0 and 5-0 would do it, and it isn't impossible. It would also give City those 100 points.

You could argue that such an embossment really belongs in a more exciting season, but then an achievement like that is why this feels like it will be such a flat last day.

It would take something sensational for that to change, but we've only really seen that this season from the champions. It is also why denying such sides a title due to a one-off Super Bowl-style finale would be so wrong. That is the beauty of a league, even if it won't feel like it today.

Independent

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