what is at stake and how could it all play out?
The 2021-22 Premier League season is down to its final 90 minutes, and there are still several key issues to be resolved on what promises to be a dramatic day of highs and lows on Sunday.
Manchester City and Liverpool remain in the hunt for the title, with Jurgen Klopp’s team still pursuing an unprecedented quadruple, while European qualification continues to be undecided in the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League.
Down at the bottom of the table, Leeds United and Burnley are battling to avoid the relegation trapdoor and one of them will be joining Norwich and Watford in the EFL Championship next season.
And there is also the race to claim the individual awards with it still too close to call for the Golden Boot, Golden Glove and Playmaker of the Season prize.
So with one round of games to go, what needs to happen on the final day of the season?
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Manchester City opened a 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League in February, albeit having played two more games than Liverpool. But despite their significant advantage, Pep Guardiola and his team have stumbled in the run-in and allowed Jurgen Klopp’s side to go into the final day with hopes still alive of a second title in three years and the third leg of a quadruple.
But while Liverpool’s 2-1 midweek win at Southampton moved them to within one point of City, the odds strongly favour the reigning champions this weekend.
City are at home to Aston Villa, managed by former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, and a win will guarantee a fourth title in five seasons for Guardiola’s side.
Villa have lost their last eight games against City in all competitions and haven’t won a league game at the Etihad since 2007, so their form against City is poor. But if they can sneak a draw, Liverpool can then win the title with a victory against Wolves at Anfield.
If City lose and Liverpool draw, it then goes down to goal difference but it would require City to lose by seven goals for Liverpool to finish top.
There is, remarkably, the prospect of a title playoff if both City and Liverpool end the season level on points. If City lose 6-0 and Liverpool play out a 5-5 draw, then the two teams will be level on goals scored, goals conceded, goal difference and head to head. Such an outcome would require a playoff at a neutral venue, but if that happens, it really will have been an unforgettable final day.
Champions League qualification
Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal are separated by just four miles in North London, so their rivalry was already intense enough before the two clubs became locked in a battle for the final Champions League qualification spot this season.
Arsenal could have secured a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2017 by beating Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 12, but Mikel Arteta’s team suffered a 3-0 defeat and handed their bitter rivals a lifeline.
Tottenham’s subsequent home win against Burnley three days later meant Arsenal had to win at Newcastle on May 16 to climb back into the top four, but a 2-0 defeat saw them blow their chance to go into the final day with a one-point advantage.
So Spurs will start the day with a two-point lead over the Gunners and a goal difference of +24 — 15 better than Arsenal’s.
It means that if Spurs avoid defeat at relegated Norwich, they are effectively guaranteed fourth place and a Champions League spot. For Arsenal, they simply have to beat Everton at the Emirates and hope that Norwich can produce one of the shocks of the season by beating Antonio Conte’s team at Carrow Road.
Europa League positions and Europa Conference League spot
Arsenal or Spurs will take the first Europa League spot by finishing fifth, although it will be no more than a consolation prize with both clubs still chasing a Champions League berth on the final day.
The second spot is a two-way scrap between Manchester United and West Ham. Both teams are guaranteed European qualification, but results on Sunday will determine which plays in the Europa League next season and which ends up in the Europa Conference League.
– How European qualification in the Premier League works
United need a win at Crystal Palace to be certain of a sixth-place finish and the Europa League pass that comes with it. A draw or even defeat could still see Ralf Rangnick end his spell as interim manager with Europa League qualification, as long as West Ham do not win.
Due to their superior goal difference — West Ham are at +11 compared to United’s +1 — a win at Brighton will take the Hammers above United if Rangnick’s side fail to win at Selhurst Park. West Ham simply have to win and hope United drop points. A draw will not be enough for this season’s Europa League semifinalists.
Don Hutchison praises Everton’s comeback against Crystal Palace that secured the Toffees Premier League football next season.
Everton’s remarkable 3-2 win against Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on Thursday, when Frank Lampard’s team trailed 2-0 at half-time, was enough to banish the club’s relegation fears and ensure a stress-free final game of the season at Arsenal on Sunday.
So the battle to avoid the third relegation spot, and join Norwich and Watford in the Championship next season, is now down to just two teams — Burnley and Leeds.
Burnley’s 1-1 draw at Aston Villa on Thursday moved them out of the bottom three and gave them a crucial edge over Leeds going into the final day. Although the two clubs are level on 35 points, Burnley’s vastly superior goal difference — Burnley are on -18, Leeds on -38 — means that they will stay up if they at least match Leeds’ result at Brentford.
It’s a simple scenario for Burnley. If they beat Newcastle at Turf Moor they stay up and a draw or even defeat could be enough if Leeds get the same result.
Jesse Marsch’s Leeds simply need to better Burnley’s result. If Burnley draw, Leeds need to win, but if Burnley are beaten, a draw will be enough for Leeds.
If both Burnley and Leeds win on the final day, Leeds will be relegated just two seasons after being promoted back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence.
Mohamed Salah leads the scoring charts with 22 goals going into the final day, but the Liverpool forward could be overtaken by Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min who has 21 goals to date.
With Spurs playing relegated Norwich at Carrow Road, Son will be facing the team with the worst defensive record in the Premier League this season, with 79 goals conceded in 37 games, so the South Korea forward will be confident of getting on the scoresheet.
But with Liverpool needing a win to keep alive their title hopes, Jurgen Klopp’s team will almost certainly play all-out attack, so Salah — who is expected to have recovered from an injury suffered in the FA Cup final and missed Tuesday’s win at Southampton — will also have his chances.
Cristiano Ronaldo, with 18 goals for Manchester United this season, is third in the goal charts, but although the 37-year-old has proved time and again that he is capable of the improbable, a four-goal display against Crystal Palace may be pushing even Ronaldo’s capabilities.
Manchester City’s Ederson and Liverpool’s Alisson go into the final game having both kept 20 clean sheets in the Premier League this season. Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris is next on the list with 15 shutouts, so it will be Brazil‘s leading keepers who battle it out to win the Golden Glove this weekend.
Alisson has 20 from 35 games, while Ederson has managed 20 from 36, so the Liverpool No. 1 has a slight edge in terms of numbers, but if the two keepers end the season with the same number of clean sheets, the award is shared.
Playmaker of the Season
The Playmaker of the Season award was introduced in 2017-18 for the player with most assists. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne has won it twice (in 2017-18 and 2019-20) with Chelsea‘s Eden Hazard (2018-19) and Tottenham’s Harry Kane (2020-21) the other winners so far.
Barring a stunning individual performance by West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen or Chelsea’s Mason Mount on Sunday — both players have 10 assists this season — the Playmaker award will go to a Liverpool player.
Salah leads the way with 13 assists, while Trent Alexander-Arnold is one behind on 12. Andy Robertson is also in contention, but like Bowen and Mount, the Scotland defender is on 10 assists so he would need to create a hat trick of assists to tie with Salah.
Paul Pogba, whose six-year spell at Manchester United will end when he becomes a free agent this summer, is next on the line with nine this season.