Since the inaugural Premier League article (game week 14), this column has fluctuated between between spells of raging success and periods of dismal failure. Ultimately we have just about broken even, with a 0.3% loss over the journey. I always think breaking even like this is actually a good result, because we have effectively received good hours of extra interest and entertainment for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too!
Here is the final preview of the season. I’m actually jetting off to Newcastle this weekend to fulfill a life-long ambition and watch the Magpies at St James’ Park as a member of the Toon Army! As you can imagine, I am struggling to contain my excitement!
Ok, so the title race is done and dusted. As expected, United are champions, although the Red Devils made hard work of it last weekend and only just nicked a 1-1 draw with Blackburn. That point was enough to secure the title. There has been little discussion of how this Premier League season has rated, and how it will be remembered. My opinion on this is quite strong – this has been the best Premier League season I can remember. I concede that it certainly hasn’t been the best in terms of individual performances, outrageous goals (Rooney’s bicycle kick aside) or even final day title drama. But it has provided something more important, an even competition. If Manchester United win their match against Blackpool this weekend, their final points tally will be only 80, making it the lowest for any champion since United won the 2000-01 EPL season on the same tally. Not only that, the bottom sides have also been more competitive. No bottom team in the last ten seasons scored more points than West Ham will this season. So, this means that despite all the talk about the gap between the haves and the have-nots widening, the Premier League has never been more even. And I’ve loved it!
Final Day Drama – Who is involved? And what needs to happen?
Done – Manchester United
Done – Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal
Up for grabs – Tottenham will keep fifth spot and earn the Europa League berth for next season if they achieve an equal, or better, result than Liverpool this weekend. Tottenham are at home to Birmingham, so would be favourites to secure fifth spot.
Up for grabs
15th – Blackburn 40pts (-14 goal difference)
16th – Wolverhampton – 40pts (-19 gd)
17th – Birmingham – 39 pts (-20 gd)
18th – Blackpool – 39 pts (-21 gd)
19th – Wigan – 39 pts (-22 gd)
20th – West Ham – Relegated
With Wolves and Blackburn playing each other, and Birmingham going to Tottenham, Blackpool and Wigan will feel that they can climb out of the drop zone if they can get something out of their matches.
SUNDAY NIGHT (All matches kickoff at 0100 AEST)
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Given their league positions, you would expect a Liverpool win, but Villa have been in top form recently, tasting defeat only once in their last seven. Liverpool probably have a touch more to play for with the hint of a Europa League place on offer. Despite a slip up against Tottenham last week, the Reds actually have been in sparkling form. Their five previous games saw four victories by at least three goals, and a 1-1 draw at Arsenal. I think this will be a good match played between two form teams, with Liverpool ultimately breaking the home side’s resistance late on.
Andy’s Bet: Liverpool to win @ 2.36 (Betfair)
Andy’s Bet: Draw at half time and Liverpool to win at full time @ 5.50 (Sportsbet)
Bolton v Man City
This is a tale of two contrasting FA Cup semi final fortunes. Bolton were hammered on their big day by Stoke and have struggled in the month since then, while City have gone from strength to strength claiming the FA Cup trophy and also a Champions League berth for next year. A win here for the sky blues and they will finish third in the league, guaranteeing a group stage spot in next season’s Champions League. With Carlos Tevez back, and scoring, they will finish the season in style.
Andy’s Bet: Manchester City to win @ 1.74 (Betfair)
Everton v Chelsea
This will be a pretty meaningless final day kickabout. These type of games are very tricky to bet on, so I would suggest avoiding this one unless you’ve got a strong inkling. Chelsea won’t move from second spot, while Everton need only a draw to confirm a seventh placed finish. I reckon this will probably be a draw, with both sides giving some of their youngsters a go, but I’m not going to part with any cash.
Andy’s Bet: None
Fulham v Arsenal
Fulham received some unexpected good news during the week. The Europa League has awarded England an extra place in that competition as part of the fair play rankings. Fulham is currently favourite to earn that position due to their good disciplinary record this season. The Cottagers have not had a player sent off during the entire campaign. The odds on yellow and red cards for this match haven’t been posted yet, but when they do, I recommend putting a few quid on a very low number of yellow cards. Arsenal have been in freefall since that awful week in March when they were knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League within four days. Since those defeats the Gunners have won only two of eight Premier League fixtures. They can generally score, but can’t defend to save themselves right now. Expect a free-flowing game with a few goals.
Andy’s Bet: Over 2.5 goals @ 1.73 (Sportsbet)
Manchester United v Blackpool
Blackpool need at least a draw here to secure Premier League survival, maybe even a win. To demonstrate the enormity of this task I direct you to the current Premier League home and away table. Manchester United have played 18 matches at Old Trafford, winning 17 and drawing the other. Just how are little Blackpool expected to take something from this game against the giants? The only thing they’ve got going for them is that United have a Champions League final just three days after this match, meaning the Red Devils will field an almost reserve strength squad. Although their reserve squad is still pretty handy mind you! I hope Blackpool can survive, the Premier League needs them and boss Ian Holloway. Holloway has been a breath of fresh air in the league, which was exemplified last weekend, when, with his side 4-3 up and fighting for Premier League survival, he brought on not one, but two strikers! He wasn’t trying to save the 4-3 lead, he was going for 5-3! If ‘Pool can hang in for around half an hour, then results elsewhere may start going in their favour, giving extra impetus to the men on the pitch. I reckon they can get their draw, but will it be enough?
Andy’s Bet: Draw @ 4.40 (Pinnacle Sports)
Newcastle v West Brom
This is a mid-table match with, on paper, not much seemingly going for it. But both teams will be in a good mood, having exceeded expectations this campaign. The winner could even move up to ninth, securing a few extra million pounds in prize-money. Newcastle did well to earn a point at Chelsea last weekend and will be buoyed by a return home to St James’ Park, always a tough place for an opposition team to travel. The Geordies should sign off the season in style!
Andy’s Bet: Newcastle to win @ 2.10 (Betfair)
Andy’s Bet: Shola Ameobi to score anytime @ 2.50 (Sportsbet)
Stoke v Wigan
This match at the Brittania Stadium is the one that Blackburn, Wolves and Birmingham will be keeping the closest eye on. Wigan are the team they will all be looking over their shoulder at. The Latics will be full of confidence after an inspiring second half performance last weekend. They were effectively relegated at half time in that match against West Ham before storming home in the second period. Charles N”Zgobia is their key man, with the nippy winger keeping them single-handedly in the race for Premier League survival. I actually think Stoke will be keen to bounce back after a disappointing week of defeats to Man City, both in the FA Cup final and in the Premier League.
Andy’s Bet: Stoke to win @ 2.94 (Betfair)
Andy’s Bet: Jon Walters to score anytime @ 3.10 (Sportsbet)
Tottenham v Birmingham
Hanging by a thread. That is the description fitting Birmingham’s Premier League status. The Brummies have unexpectedly fallen into this position, and many of us are only just realising how serious their predicament is. They face a tough trip to Tottenham who will really be going for a win to secure a Europa League spot next season. If Birmingham don’t win, they will go down if Blackpool or Wigan manage at least a draw. If they all lose, it will come down to the margin of defeat. I think Tottenham will win and Birmingham will lose control of their destiny. Will they lose their spot in the League?
Andy’s Bet: Tottenham to be leading at half time and full time @ 2.25 (Sportsbet)
West Ham v Sunderland
Sadly the atmosphere for this match will be closer to a funeral than a football game. West Ham are going down. Their opponents on Sunday, Sunderland, are in awful form at the moment, so the Hammers might sneak a win as consolation for their suffering supporters.
Andy’s Bet: West Ham to win @ 2.06 (Betfair)
Wolverhampton v Blackburn
Relegation six pointer anyone? If sides below them lose, this match might not mean anything, but I don’t think either team will be taking that risk! With this fixture at Molineux, Wolves will be confident of success. The men in orange have won three of their six home games since the start of February, drawing two others and only losing once. During that period Blackburn have only won once, both home and away! Wolves should get the points in a tight struggle, meaning a nervous afternoon listening to results from other games for Blackburn’s fans.
Andy’s Bet: Wolves to win @ 2.23 (Pinnacle Sports)
Andy’s Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.91 (Sportsbet)
SNEAKY EUROPEAN MULTI
Andy’s Bet: Tottenham, Schalke (German Cup), Inter Milan, Barcelona and Marseille all to win @ 9.85 (Sportsbet)