The last day of the Barclays Premier League goes Sunday and the permutations are rather simple.
If Manchester City wins or draws against West Ham at the Etihad, they win the title. A draw would mean the league would be decided by goal differential if Liverpool beats Newcastle; a gleeful sight for Manchester United supporters if City were to win both of their two titles based on goal difference. After a frustrating year at Old Trafford, this is all they have.
The only way Liverpool are crowned champions is a win Sunday at Anfield combined with a Man City loss. Seems improbable, but not impossible. The dream of ending the title drought since 1990 will most likely carry on another year, along with the pain, anguish and yearning. This is the most compelling storyline heading in to Super Sunday with all eyes on Man City (TSN Radio Network, 10am ET) and Liverpool (TSN) and who will reign supreme.
At the bottom of the table, Fulham and Cardiff City have already been relegated. Norwich City is all but relegated, needing a miracle of biblical proportions, facing a 17-goal gap in goal differential. Bye, bye, Canaries. So we will not to be treated to a topsy-turvy day of who stays and who goes from Premier League football. The casual fan is worse off for it not having the drama at the death.
Tottenham and Manchester United are the only other teams playing for anything come Sunday. Spurs can wrap up Europa League qualification with a win or a draw at home against Aston Villa. If Spurs lose, a Manchester United win at Southampton would see them qualify for Europe. Europa League is hardly the prize either team envisioned. Again, blasé.
An exciting season may be coming to an end in unspectacular fashion, however talking points continue to swirl. Here are this week's musings:
- Hardly Vintage: The 2013/14 season will hardly go down as a vintage Premier League campaign. There were plenty of memorable moments (more on the flash points next week), good and bad, but the prevailing sentiment over the season was sub-par play. The league lacked a true frontrunner and parity was more a product of mediocre play and change, rather than top quality football. The Premier League spends millions in transfers on a bi-annual basis. It can hardly be said teams are paying for value. The Premier League is rich with sponsors and earnings for surpassing any of their contemporaries. The wealth is exposed by lesser lights, with Premier League teams paying out the nose for marginal talent. It makes development that much more important for British clubs, avoiding the pitfalls of fool's gold. It's a double-edged sword, as young players failing to get first team opportunity leave for green pastures (Paul Pogba, anyone?) or attempt to catch on elsewhere in a maze lacking identity or true direction. Although the entire ‘B-team' model has been approached by cynicism by many in high-ranking positions and influential pundits, alternative opportunity to develop is paramount for competitiveness and business.
- Super Sunday: North American professional sports need take notice of the Premier League's final day of games. All matches start at 10am et, meaning all-important results cannot be manipulated to the benefit of self or detriment to another. The NBA became a farce down the stretch of its regular season, with teams purposely losing to jockey for position. Professional basketball is not the only culprit. It's understood scheduling decisions are made based upon broadcasting revenue. But for the good of the sport and the fans, integrity must be taken into account. And the excitement of the final day of the Premier League more years than not trumps the spectacle of all others based upon set-up and importance. The drama is unmatched.
- Suarez doubts: The pictures of Luis Suarez after Liverpool's late collapse in a dramatic 3-3 tie at Selhurst Park will be replayed for ages. Burying his head in his shirt, visibly inconsolable speaks volumes. There is no doubt Suarez loves Liverpool. And Champions League football next season brings the assumption he will remain at Anfield. But that's all it is - an assumption. If Real Madrid comes calling, which continues to be rumoured, will Suarez be able to resist? And is the Uruguayan to be trusted by anything he says? This was a player who cast a line and was headed to Arsenal before the season. He's a player suspended twice for biting and once for racist gestures. His actions on and off the field don't speak of a reliable, stable, predictable player. There is a lot to like about Suarez. Manchester City's Yaya Toure and the Liverpool striker have been a cut above on the season. Liverpool need be wary heading into the summer, bringing in requisite players to compete in Europe, also keeping in mind cover for Suarez may be needed. It's a big summer ahead for Brendan Rodgers making sure he makes the right moves so his team doesn't regress after this ultimately successful campaign. Suarez is a big part of that. And if he goes, question marks will remain above the sustainability of success at Liverpool in an ultimately competitive Premier League.
- Poor Stevie G: Contrary to belief, Liverpool's title chances didn't go out the window after Monday's draw; it came through Steven Gerrard's infamous ‘slip-up' leading to the game winning goal in a 2-0 home loss to an weakened Chelsea. It's incredible a player as decorated as Gerrard may end his career without a Premier League title. He's been one of the top midfielders of his generation, yet hasn't been able to inspire his team to consistent greatness aside from that one night in Istanbul. This doesn't fall solely on Gerrard's shoulders. And his loyalty to Liverpool is one that should be applauded. The riches of Chelsea tempted him, yet he remained on the Merseyside. Seeing Gerrard ‘rally the troops' in his now infamous team huddle with the title in his sights, paired with his ‘slip' against Chelsea makes for an undeserving snippet of how harsh the game truly his. As his career fades into memories, how will he be remembered? The last month provides material he, perhaps, would want stricken from the record.
- City's Dynamic Duo: Manchester City has a roster among the best money can buy. Yaya Toure is the pulse and Vincent Kompany, despite some hiccups this season, remains the anchor at the back. But it's hard to see City having the success they have without right back Pablo Zabaleta and attacking midfielder David Silva; in my opinion, the best two at their respective positions in the Premier League. On Wednesday, in a game Aston Villa proved a difficult team to breakdown, it was Zabaleta and Silva with top rate passing and movement that broke Villa down leading to the first two goals. It must be appreciated how these two see the game and can provide a variance in attack. In a Premier League predicated on speed and strength, the Argentine and Spaniard bring elements of intelligence and understanding seldom properly utilized. Their respective importance to team success cannot be understated.
- Mourinho's self-fulfilling prophecy: Looking back on Jose Mourinho's first season back at Chelsea, it's hard not to wonder what could have been. The Portuguese tactician was clear throughout the year his team was an underdog in the title race - the ‘little horse', if you will. It was hard to buy it back when he started spewing the nonsense and it makes little sense now. It may have not been a squad Mourinho was entirely comfortable with. And the group will continue to be cut in the mold to what Mourinho desires. Money is no object, but the past season cannot be deemed a success. He wasn't managing a team of lesser lights. The squad was as good as any in the league, but losses to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland in the last two months were the fatal blow. It must be asked whether Mourinho's open pessimism about his team played a role in the team psyche. When you repeatedly downplay your team's chances, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A more positive Mourinho doesn't mean less realistic. When he sits back and reflects on the season that was, he should rue the outcome as a year of what could have been, rather than what was.
- Wenger success?: Arsenal finishes fourth place in the league - another successful year for the club? That seems to be the mentality at Arsenal and it's backwards, but lifting the FA Cup in just over a week from now would soften the blow. The lack of silverware over the last decade is astonishing for a marquee club. Wenger will blame injuries and anything else he can grasp hold of. It's all nonsense. Arsenal's positive start masked continual holes in this team. A striker and a goalkeeper remain atop the checklist at Arsenal and further squad upgrades are essential. Arsenal's policy of fiscal restraint and development of unknown commodities is a honourable one and Champions League football is great to keep the wheel spinning, but at some point, it must be decided whether fourth place constitutes a victory because at present time it is accepted as good enough...which is really isn't.
- Giggs's future: With Louis van Gaal seeming like Manchester United's manager of the future, the debate continues to swirl about a role for Ryan Giggs. The Welshman is a club legend and that will never change. The insistence he remains part of the new United backroom staff is a romantic one, but it may be flawed. United's links to their past are never really far away, but now, we're speaking of a new-look United, in need of turning the page, moving on to the next chapter. If van Gaal wants to bring Danny Blind, Patrick Kluivert or whomever he wants to fill out important assistant roles, then so it shall be. Holding Giggs over his head would be a mistake. The class of '92 brought incredible success to the team. They, along with a solid group of veteran leadership, were be able to become the most successful team in English football and it wasn't even close. Sir Alex Ferguson steered that ship. If van Gaal is to do his job properly, he needs full autonomy. If he doesn't have it, who knows what kind of mish-mashed vision will come of it and a mish-mash of results will predictably follow. It may sound harsh, even unfair, but Giggs may have to go for the restructure to properly take place. If you're going to hand over the keys to van Gaal, then do it. No restrictions.