Premier League braces for dramatic final day

LONDON • The Premier League’s longest season is set for a dramatic finish as Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester battle for Champions League places, with a desperate scrap to avoid relegation at the bottom.

At a time of year when Premier League clubs are usually jetting off for lucrative pre-season tours, the 2019/2020 top-flight campaign will finally come to an end following a season extended by the three- month coronavirus delay.

Much has already been decided in the English top-flight, which resumed in mid-June.

Liverpool has been presented with the Premier League trophy, second-placed Manchester City is guaranteed a Champions League spot and Norwich has been relegated.

But in a thrilling conclusion, top- four places, Europa League berths, relegation spots and the Golden Boot have to be settled in the final round of matches.

The spotlight will be firmly on the King Power Stadium, where fifth-placed Leicester host third-placed Manchester United in what is effectively a shootout to qualify for the Champions League.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will return to Europe’s elite club competition after a one-year absence if they avoid defeat, but a Leicester win would take Brendan Rodgers’ side back into the Champions League for the first time since 2016/2017.

United, unbeaten in the league since the restart, has looked jaded in recent matches, but Solskjaer urged his team to finish the job after they climbed into the top four for the first time since September.

“We’re looking forward to the game,” he said. “We’ve given ourselves a good chance of being in the Champions League next year.

“We want to go there and dominate. We’re not going to change our approach.”

United has a fall-back plan as they would also qualify for the Champions League if they win this season’s Europa League, which resumes next month.

Despite holding a top-four spot for most of the season, Leicester boss Rodgers insisted it would not be a failure if his stuttering side missed out.

Fourth-placed Chelsea needs a point at home to Wolves to seal a top-four finish, but should Frank Lampard’s men lose, then a draw between Leicester and United would see those two qualify for the Champions League at the expense of the west Londoners.

It could be a nervous afternoon for Lampard, but he is staying positive.

Whoever misses out on the Champions League between United, Chelsea and Leicester will have to settle for fifth place and Europa League qualification next season.

Sixth-placed Wolves would be certain of the other Europa League berth if they beat Chelsea.

However, a slip from Nuno Espirito Santo’s men would give Tottenham the chance to climb above them if they won at Crystal Palace, who has lost their past seven games.

At the other end of the table, fourth-bottom Villa went to West Ham knowing they should be safe if they match third-bottom Watford’s result at Arsenal.

However, Villa is only just ahead of Watford on goal difference, with Dean Smith’s men on -26 and the Hornets -27.

Even if both teams win, Watford, without a permanent manager after Nigel Pearson’s sacking, could still survive if their margin of victory is two better than Villa’s.

If Villa and Watford lose, then second-bottom Bournemouth, currently three points adrift, could stay up on goal difference if they win at Everton.

“The next game is the biggest game of all our careers,” said Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.

In the race to finish as the league’s top scorer, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy leads the way with 23 goals, two ahead of Southampton’s Danny Ings and three clear of Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. — AFP