English Premiership

Heated battle for final two UEFA spots

Chelsea’s manager Antonio Conte is lifted into the air by his players after winning the league championship. Picture: Matt Dunham / ap
Chelsea’s manager Antonio Conte is lifted into the air by his players after winning the league championship. Picture: Matt Dunham / ap

Johannesburg - With Chelsea effectively having won the Premier League when they switched to a back three in September; Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed second place; Manchester United assured of sixth spot; plus Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City already relegated, it appears the majority of today’s games in the English top flight are dead rubbers.

Crystal Palace’s trip to United seems as meaningless as can be – José Mourinho’s men are cemented in sixth and looking ahead to the Europa League final, while the 13th-placed Eagles could be forgiven for focusing on their holidays. However, it is the battle for the final two UEFA Champions League places that prevents today from being a wasted exercise.

It will be interesting should demoralised Watford somehow beat third-placed Manchester City, or if Liverpool drops points at home to relegated Middlesbrough.

Walter Mazzarri confirmed he was leaving the Hornets, so it’s unlikely that players will die for the cause, and Boro have the worst scoring record in the division.

The Citizens are currently in command of third, which avoids the aggravation of having to report back early to take part in the Champions League qualifying rounds.

For Arsenal, in fifth, to make it 21 years in a row of finishing in the top four with Arsène Wenger in charge, he may need the luck he had in 2006 when Tottenham needed only to match their rival’s result to finish above them. Yet they failed to beat West Ham United amid rumours of the players getting food poisoning from some dodgy lasagne.

There are other intriguing side stories: Harry Kane’s four-goal blitz in the stunning 6-1 demolition of Leicester City sees him go to the top of the scoring charts, a brace ahead of Romelu Lukaku. Kane has as many top-flight hat-tricks as Cristiano Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola, Diego Costa and Eric Cantona combined. Heroics from Alexis Sánchez today could also see him close in on the leaders as he has 23 goals.

City need just a draw at Vicarage Road to secure third, and goal difference is in their favour. Even a narrow defeat could see Pep Guardiola’s men pip Liverpool or Arsenal to the position. Wenger has guided his team to 20 successive league victories in north London over Everton, who they face at the Emirates.

Fourth-placed Liverpool need a victory at Anfield to keep daylight between themselves and the Gunners. Failure to collect three points, when coupled with Arsenal beating Everton, would see the Reds drop to fifth. Arsenal would also eclipse them via a draw, should Jürgen Klopp’s men lose by more than two goals.

In more dead rubber reality, champions Chelsea face hapless Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. A win for the Blues would see Antonio Conte’s side accrue the second highest points tally in EPL history, behind Mourinho’s Chelsea class of 2004/05.

Meanwhile, Swansea City take on West Bromwich Albion, while Southampton face Stoke City. Burnley are at home to West Ham and previous champions Leicester host Bournemouth. Relegated Hull say farewell as they take on Spurs.

Leicester and West Ham still have seven places and millions of pounds to contest.

Besides Mazzarri, it seems the only managers leaving their jobs will likely be Boro’s interim boss Steve Agnew and Hull’s Marco Silva, who is well regarded in Europe. TEAMtalk Media

Sun 12 Jul 20 13:00 PM (SAST)
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Molineux Stadium
Sun 12 Jul 20 15:15 PM (SAST)
Aston Villa
Crystal Palace
Villa Park
Sun 12 Jul 20 17:30 PM (SAST)
Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Sat 11 Jul 20
Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Manchester City 5
Sat 11 Jul 20
Sheffield United 3
Chelsea 0
Sat 11 Jul 20
Liverpool 1
Burnley 1
1. Liverpool
2. Manchester City
3. Chelsea
4. Leicester City