Saturday, May 10, 2008

Premier League: The Final Sunday

It finally dawned on me who I thought Avram Grant looks like- actor Seabastian Shaw, who you may better know as the face of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. What does this have to do with the last day of the English Premier League season? Not much, but Grant may need to summon the powers of the dark side if Chelsea are to steal the title from Manchester United.

With 10 games all kicking off at 3 pm English time/9 am here in Chicago, there's plenty at stake besides the destination of the championship trophy. Here's a preview.

The Battle for First
The scenario is quite simple. Tied at 84 points and with Manchester United's goal differential lead untouchable, Chelsea will have to better ManU's result Sunday. The Red Devils are away to Wigan, and the Latics are tricky enough to make an upset a possibility. Wigan drew at Stamford Bridge in mid-April, a result that seemed to apply the death blow to Chelsea's title hopes, and posted a 2-0 win at Aston Villa last week. Conspiracy theorists will point to Wigan being managed by former United captain Steve Bruce, but there's no reason to suspect anything but a fair fight.

Chelsea fans will have one eye on the field and one eye on the scoreboard. The Blues will host a Bolton side that essentially secured saftey from the relegation zone last week.

The Battle for Fifth
With Arsenal and Liverpool locked into third and fourth, the remaining slot in Europe next season involves the race for fifth. Everton have held down the position most of the season and currently sit three points ahead of Aston Villa. With the teams even on goal differential (+20), an Everton loss coupled with an Aston Villa win would give Villa the UEFA Cup spot. Any other scenario sees Everton through. Everton will be home to Newcastle, while Aston Villa travels to West Ham.

The Battle for Seventeenth
Seventeenth place means avoiding the bottom three and a ticket to relegation. We know Derby, owners of the worst record in Premier League history, are headed down. Who among Fulham, Reading and Birmingham will join them? Here's where we stand heading into Sunday:

Bolton: 36 points, -18 goal differential
Fulham 33 points, -23
Reading 33 points, -29
Birmingham 32 points, -19
Derby 11 points, -65

Officaly Bolton are not safe, but their 11 goal lead over Reading is nearly untouchable. The match-ups for Sunday are Fulham at Portsmouth, Reading at Derby and Birmingham home to Blackburn. With that schedule, it's advantage Reading, who should avoid the relegation sword on the final day.

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