Sunday 24th May
One more season comes to a close, crushing for one of a couple and quite calm for all the rest. It’s worked out much like most people expected it to, Chelsea and Manchester City were everyone’s favourites to share the top two places between them and lo! & behold, it came to pass. In fact, the top four finishers coincide completely with the teams commonly referred to as the Top Four, that being the aforementioned two along with Arsenal and Manchester United. It’s almost as if the clubs with the highest wage bills have the best chances of finishing highest in the league. Coincidentally, of course, the club with lowest wage bill, Burnley, finished last. But enough of the wizened insights, are there any prices out there that are worth a splurt this weekend? In an unusual move for this most traditional of columns, we’ll have a look at more than the usual three matches and skim across a few more. All final matches are on Sunday and kick-off at 3.00pm so expect lots of annoying back & forth between the games as Sky/BT/whoever try and wring every last ounce of excitement from the season finale.
Arsenal and West Brom is worth a look. Weirdly, considering the great run of form they’ve been on of late, Arsenal have managed only one win in their last five games with none in their last three. As second place is out of reach and losing third place a near impossibility, Arsenal have nothing left to play for in the league and all to play for in their FA Cup final against Aston Villa next week so they might not be willing to put their bodies on the line to the same extent that Tony Pulis’ charges will. A win here leaves them with a chance of finishing in 10th and leapfrogging ahead of both Palace and West Ham. There is a very generous offer of 8/1 for the West Brom win from Ladbrokes.
Aston Villa play host to Burnley in a match that mirrors the last one insofar as Villa are safe with nothing left to play for in the league but have a possible date with destiny in the FA Cup final next week and you can be sure that none of their players will want to risk anything close to an injury lest they rule themselves out of that encounter. Shades of such an attitude might be inferred from the 6-1 tonking they received last week at the hands and feet of Southampton. Burnley, proud yet relegated Burnley will definitely want to go out fighting. They have been handed a rather pleasant fillip in the shape of an international call up for their goalkeeper, Tom Heaton, to the English squad and would be in their rights to bask in his reflected glory. One last time, this column will take a punt on the Burnley win with Boylesports offering 14/5 for that.
Chelsea v Sunderland, hmmm… We’re really going to push the boat out on this one. It seems a strange thing to say about a Jose Mourinho team but it is safe to say that the champions have taken their foot off the gas. A result like last week’s 3-0 defeat to West Brom could only happen if that were the case. Mourinho himself admitted as much in some post match interviews. Of course, with their last game being at home, they will want to give their supporters something to cheer about but really it doesn’t matter all that much. Sunderland’s safety is now assured and may well come south to London with a pep in their step. Or they too might be happy to just throw their hat at it. What might be vaguely interesting in terms of context is that in their last three encounters, Sunderland have won them all. Do they have a hex over Jose? Does Jose care? There’s a very lively price of 10/1 from Betfred for an unlikely Sunderland win. Hmmm…
Newcastle welcome West Ham to the north east for what could conceivably be their last game in the top division for quite some time. By god but they have been absolutely awful. Ashley’s miserly gamble on John Carver has backfired spectacularly as the self-professed best coach in the Premiership has managed to steer his team to one point from the last possible thirty. Top, top manager. One wonders whether owner Ashley cares at all. If persistent rumours are to be believed, West Ham manager Big Sam Allardici Allardyce will be preside over his last game for the London club and will get the boot pretty soon after. One doubts whether he cares at all. These teams have been two of the very worst since the turn of the year and it will be a great relief not to see either for a while. Having said all that, look at the price on offer from Boylesports for a West Ham win – 15/4. Nice.
Last but not least, Stoke welcome Liverpool for what is sure to be Stevie G’s last ever match in the colours of Liverpool. The big send-off was last week at Anfield but expect more tears from fans and possibly the player himself when Brendan Rodgers substitutes him in the 88th minute. Stoke have done very well this season and they will finish ninth for their efforts. Mark Hughes has made some shrewd signings, most notably in the cut-price deal for one time wunderkind Bojan Krkic. If he can add one or two faces to add competition to the starting eleven, expect further progress next season. Liverpool, on the other hand, seem to care not a jot for such a serene summer. Players and agents agitating to leave, club wanting to look bigger than they really are… this could drag out all summer long. Unlike this match, thankfully, which although likely to be mucky enough, can only last 90 minutes and whatever the ref cares for in the end. Stoke have had a decent record of taking points from Liverpool over the years and against a Liverpool side as bedraggled as this, expect to see make hay while the sun shines. This column wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Charlie Adam wonder goal either. Anyway, another generous price is on offer from the ever charitable bookmakers, this time it’s Bet365 offering 13/5 for a not altogether unlikely Stoke win.