With the Premier League in a strange kind of limbo with little to be decided at the top end of the table, attention seems to be turning more and more towards the battle for relegation, with all of the bottom ten teams all still under the magical 40 point mark.
While not technically safe, it is hard to imagine a scenario where any of Crystal Palace, Bournemouth or Watford, all sitting on 38 points and 6 points clear of 18th place, were caught by the stragglers. Brighton, with just a point less, will also be hoping that there are enough teams below them to mean that they will be safe and can look forward to a second season in the top flight.
At the very bottom of the table it feels very much as if West Brom’s relegation is all but confirmed, while it would take some miraculous results for Stoke to extend their current stay in the Premier League to an eleventh season; so we are left with five clubs desperately scrapping to avoid the final relegation place and to stay in the league and most crucially retain access to the staggering associated revenues.
West Ham’s 4-1 battering by new champions Manchester City last Sunday has caused their supporters to nervously start scanning the table to try to reassure themselves that a 3-point lead with 3 games to play over current occupants of the final place in the dropzone, Southampton, should provide just enough safety net. However with visits by Manchester United and Everton to the much-maligned Olympic Stadium representing their final two fixtures, Hammers’ fans will be hoping that they can secure a victory at the seemingly already on holiday Leicester this weekend to ensure their safety.
Level on points with David Moyes’ side but sitting a place lower in the table due to an inability to score enough goals are David Wagner’s plucky Huddersfield. As much as their promotion and maiden Premier League campaign have been a fairy tale, you can’t help but fear for them. With their remaining games encompassing trips to Manchester City then Chelsea before a final day hosting of Arsenal, it is hard to see how they might augment their points total, although Arsenal’s abysmal away form, the Gunners not having picked up a single Premier League point away from home in 2018 may provide a small glimmer of hope.
Huddersfield’s hopes of survival will be determined not only by their own efforts but also by how the two teams below them, Swansea and Southampton, fare in their remaining games.
After an initial new manager bounce, sparked by the arrival of the exuberant and highly entertaining Carlos Carvalhal, Swansea City have gone off the boil recently; whereas Southampton seem to have underwhelmed for the entire season. Both of these teams have previously been seen as the very epitome of modern-run, top-ten-capable Premier League outfits, yet their poor results through the campaign means they face a potential relegation showdown on Tuesday night at the Liberty Stadium. Assuming those above them do enough, then it really seems that if either of the sides can carry off the points in that game it will condemn the other to the dreaded drop.
However the relegation battle plays out and while it may be much more about grit and determination than glory, the scrap for survival at least offers some interest for the remainder of the league season.
Meanwhile this week in Europe, Real Madrid did what they always do and ‘found a way’ through to the Champions League Final for the third consecutive season and their fourth final in five years. Bayern will no doubt be kicking themselves for profligate finishing and some unforced errors that handed the momentum of the tie to the Spanish giants at crucial points over the course of the two legs.
In the final Real will face Jürgen Klopp’s thrilling Liverpool side who seem to be in equal parts ruthless and capable of establishing emphatic leads early in matches and also strangely vulnerable as the clock wears on. Given both teams’ undoubted attacking firepower as well as their often chaotic vulnerability at the back we could perhaps be in for an unusually exciting final. Cue goalless bore draw then!
Arsène Wenger’s dreams of departing Arsenal having won his first European trophy and secured the club’s return to the Champions League were cruelly dashed by an Atletico Madrid team that were as hard to beat and as defensively organised as they always are and carry such a potent threat on the counter attack that they are rightly regarded as one of the best teams in Europe. Diego Simeone’s charges are the very embodiment of a modern approach to the game, yet one that is strangely reminiscent for Arsenal supporters of days gone by in the seasons BA (Before Arsène). As my cousin noted in watching the match last night they are the masters of 1-0 just like we used to be.
The admiration that I hold for Atleti, having had the great privilege of watching them live on several occasions, places me in the midst of something of a dilemma for the final when they will face Olympique de Marseille. As a student living out his first year of university in Marseille I developed a real passion for L’OM, however my head dictates an Atleti win no matter what my heart might feel!
This coming weekend after a full season immersed in all matters National League, thanks to our growing obsession with Leyton Orient; Mrs Football Nerd and I will be anxiously watching my hometown team, Tranmere Rovers, take on Ebbsfleet United on Saturday lunchtime for a place at Wembley in the play-off final and a potential ticket back to the Football League. Should Rovers progress we will of course be following them to Wembley next week.
After my final trip to the Emirates of the season and Arsène’s last game in the stadium that he built; all eyes will be on El Classico and whether Barça can take a big step towards becoming the first side since Athletic Bilbao in 1929/30 to go through an entire La Liga season unbeaten. Although one suspects their perennially hated rivals Real Madrid may well resist the calls for them to form a guard of honour as the newly crowned champions take to the Camp Nou pitch.
Lurking on the horizon is the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, and while I find it incredibly hard to find any kind of affinity with either side, I remain a sucker for the tradition and emotion of Cup Final Day even if the commercial sponsors and TV companies continue to do their very best to rip the heart out of the occasion.
Reassuringly while it does feel that the season is winding down, there is still plenty for your hopeless football obsessive to immerse themselves in over the coming weeks…before of course we even start to focus our attention on Russia and the small matter of the World Cup!