Last Day of the Premiership

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© Canada.com

By Cressida Smart

It all comes down to the last day. After nine months, 37 rounds of Premier League
matches and 1,034 goals scored, the 2011-12 season will reach its crescendo on ‘Survival Sunday’. There could barely be more at stake. The results of the 10 games will determine who wins the title, who qualifies for Europe, caveats to follow, and who becomes the third and final team to be relegated. All 10 matches will kick off simultaneously at 3 p.m.

The notion that tomorrow is ‘Survival Sunday’ is misleading and only applies to one of
three things to be decided – the relegation battle. By far the biggest issue to be resolved
is who will be crowned Premier League champions. As it stands, Manchester City and
Manchester United are level on 86 points at the top. City, however, have a superior goal
difference (+63 compared to United’s +55), and thus are in pole position to win their first
championship since 1968.

If City beat QPR, the title is theirs, unless United go on a prolific scoring spree to even
up the goal difference, which in all honesty is not going to happen – this coming from an
optimistic United supporter. To entertain the thought though, we’d be talking about City
winning 1-0 and United winning 9-0; United would then trump City on goals scored this
season. If City draw against QPR, United would need to beat Sunderland to win a 20th
league title. If City lose to QPR, United would need only a draw against Sunderland.

Still fancy United’s chances? When you consider QPR have won just three times on the
road this season, while City are unbeaten at home – winning 17 and drawing one of their
18 games at the Etihad – it’s no surprise City are odds-on to complete the job.

Whatever happens though, City and United are guaranteed the top two spots in the
Premier League and qualification for the Champions League next season. Who joins
them in Europe’s premier competition will be decided not just by what happens on
Sunday, but also by how Chelsea fare in the Champions League final.

England will have four teams in the Champions League next season, so Arsenal would
in theory need only a draw at West Brom to finish third or fourth, and thus be sure, for
now, of qualification, such is their superior goal difference to Newcastle. They could also
afford to finish level on points and goal difference with Spurs, because the next decisive
factor is goals scored. Arsenal have scored more than Spurs this season.

To stand any chance of making the Champions League, Newcastle must beat Everton and hope other results go their way. If Spurs and Arsenal lose, Alan Pardew’s team jump up to third with a victory. If one of the London clubs lose, Newcastle would have to make
do with fourth. If Newcastle win, Spurs must do the same to hold onto fourth. Their only
hope of finishing third is a victory coupled with a loss for Arsenal.

In any normal season, finishing fourth would be good enough for a Champions League
spot. However, if Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May
19, they will automatically earn entry into the Champions League next season, despite
being out of the running for Champions League qualification via the Premier League.
Therefore, given that England is only allotted four teams in the competition, whichever
team finishes fourth in the Premier League, most likely Spurs or Newcastle, will have to
make do with the Europa League.

If Chelsea lose the Champions League final, they’ll at least be guaranteed a spot in
the Europa League as FA Cup winners; Liverpool will also be in the Europa League,
courtesy of their Carling Cup success. There is also a Europa League spot open to
the team that finishes fifth in the Premier League, which will go to one of Arsenal,
Tottenham and Newcastle. Should Chelsea win the Champions League, the team who
finishes fourth will go into the Europa League too.

Returning to the idea of survival is just what QPR and Bolton are desperate to achieve
this Sunday. Blackburn and Wolves are already relegated; there’s nothing either team can
do on Sunday, but accept their fate and watch their best players advertise their services to
teams more fortunate. Bolton must beat Stoke to have any chance of survival. Anything
less and they’ll be relegated to the Championship. QPR can afford to lose at Manchester
City if Bolton fail to get three points. If Bolton win, however, QPR would need a draw
or better against City to stay up. It’s QPR’s desperate need for a result that will keep
Manchester United fans believing something extraordinary could happen at the Etihad on
Sunday.

The final day of the Premier League will also confirm the prize money each of the 20
teams will receive based on their ultimate position in the table. Exact amounts are hard
to come by, but each place should be worth around £800,000 to the team concerned. For
example, Stoke could potentially pick up an extra £2.4 million if they win on Sunday,
should three points lift them from 11th to eighth in the table. Rumour has it that,
Manchester United picked up just over £15 million in ‘merit money’ for winning the title
last season.

There are more accolades to achieve though, notably the golden boot, given for most
goals scored by a player in the Premier League season. Arsenal’s Robin van Persie has
scored 30, four more than his closest rival, Wayne Rooney. It would take something
remarkable from Rooney to stop Van Persie finishing on top. In addition, Van Persie still
has a record to play for this Sunday. If he scores he’ll match the Premier League record of
31 goals in a 38-game season shared by Cristiano Ronaldo (2007-08) and Alan Shearer
(1994-95). If he scores twice or more, he’ll set his own.

Overall, the goals record for a Premier League season stands at last season’s total of
1,063. So far this season, 1,034 have been racked up, so a return of 30 or more across the 10 games on Sunday would see a new record set.

In terms of bragging rights, Liverpool will be desperate to avoid finishing below their
Merseyside neighbors Everton. Carling Cup win aside, it’s not been a great season for
Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool and the Reds go into the last game of the season resigned to
mid-table mediocrity.

However, not everything will be decided on Sunday. Along with the fourth-placed team
having to wait on Chelsea’s fate in the Champions League, there’s also the matter of
who’ll be coming up to the Premier League next season. Reading and Southampton have
already been promoted from the Championship. The third spot will go to the winners of
next weekend’s playoff final, between West Ham and Blackpool.

Tomorrow, settle down with a tipple of your choice, mine is always a Jack on the rocks,
and prepare for 90 minutes of nail-biting and heart-stopping moments. Ever the optimist,
I will be hoping for a City draw and a United win.

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