It’s coming towards that dreadful moment in the season where we all have to find alternative solutions to Saturday afternoon footy matches. The final relegation spot remains the one real area of contention still unresolved, and unless Steve Bruce can muster something from his side, that spot will be resolved sooner rather than later. Liverpool’s Champions League surge has effectively finished, rendering Steven Gerrard’s final home match doubly depressing. The match of the weekend pits United against Arsenal in what could be an early distillation of next season’s main title contenders. The game has the added edge of perhaps affecting the quest for automatic Champions League qualification. The penultimate weekend in English football’s season perhaps doesn’t have quite the level of thrill as seasons past but rest assured, the world’s most popular league will deliver some spills this weekend.
Southampton’s season has flagged off somewhat in the face of European pressures. They will also have to guard against losing some of their senior players in the post-season, much like last season. Schneiderlin has been heavily linked with Arsenal, Clyne with United, while Ryan Bertrand’s consistency must have caught the attention of larger clubs. Aston Villa’s surge towards survival was given a huge boost with a convincing win over West Ham. Tom Cleverley has been an excellent foil to Christian Benteke in a period without the services of Gabriel Agbonlahor. Get on the Double Chance with Villa to win or draw at 19/20.
With West Ham seemingly ambivalent on offering Sam Allardyce a new contract, it seems unsure what their exact goals are for the club. Surely a top half finish more than meets the current West Ham mandate? They have also been without Andy Carroll for much of the season, which essentially truncates one of their most effective strategies. Everton’s season has been similarly disappointing, with a protracted Europa League run no doubt impinging on their domestic success. I expect a highly physical game that may lack few clear cut chances, especially given West Ham’s lack of goals. It’s hard to see a clear winner here, so I’ll opt for a lack of pizzazz. Under 2.5 goals is the tip at 8/10.
Hull City’s torrid season stands on the brink as they head into two hugely critical games. They will probably need to win at least one of these games, while Mauricio Pochettino's side are currently lamenting upon a season that could have been. Harry Kane’s goal scoring exploits have probably distracted from what has been a very lacklustre season. They are going to have to do some major repair work in the off season for a top four finish to become even remotely possible. Spurs were soft last week against the physicality of Stoke and Hull’s added motivation should give them the impetus to get some kind of result here, but will it be enough? I’m backing Hull on the Double Chance at 19/20.
Sunderland’s smash and grab job at Goodison has left them in their most comfortable position since Dick Advocaat’s appointment at the club. That being said, the red-hot Leicester Foxes will be keen to guarantee their safety this weekend after a Herculean run of results. Nigel Pearson’s side have exemplified what can be achieved through 100% commitment and the right smattering of quality. Cambiasso has outshone record signing Kramaric, highlighting the importance of a calming midfield presence in a relegation scrap. I expect Leicester, through the likes of Schlupp and Vardy, to have too much pace for a Sunderland side always vulnerable to speed. Leicester at 17/10 looks a great bet this weekend.
QPR’s relegation woes were exacerbated by a possible economic crisis following their impending trip to the Championship. To think that QPR had a higher wage bill than Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund is rather astounding and illustrates the manner in which QPR have been mismanaged. Speaking of mismanagement, Newcastle’s late-season malaise was temporarily halted by a draw with West Brom last week. I see Hull picking up something at Spurs and can’t help but think Newcastle need something here. For some reason I can’t see Newcastle getting a result and expect QPR to reward their long suffering fans with a rousing send off. I expect Phillips to dominate the midfield and provide the thrust for QPR. Back QPR at a tantalising 19/10.
Burnley’s exit from the Premier League, though expected, was certainly not a result of diminished effort or drive. Burnley have done well to consistently compete despite their financial limitations. Stoke have become entrenched in the Premier League, a template for any side with ambitions of surviving the frenetic pace of England’s top division. Charlie Adam has proved an inspirational figure for the Potters and I can’t see Stoke just laying down for the departing Burnley side. Stoke City to win at 7/4 is the tip.
Liverpool’s disappointing season begins drawing to a close with the visit of the side that decimated their title chances last season with that incongruous 3-3 draw. Crystal Palace have been far more dynamic under Alan Pardew, freeing up speedsters Zaha and Bolasie to put pressure on opposition full-backs. Liverpool have practically nothing left to play for while Palace have comfortably regained their Premier League status ahead of time. However, Palace have lost some of the swagger that characterised their early weeks under Pardew, perhaps as a result of their easy survival, so I expect Liverpool’s class to shine through. Back the Reds at 5/10.
Garry Monk’s Swansea were resolute in achieving their highest ever Premier League points tally against Arsenal on Monday. However, I balk somewhat at what was dubbed a masterful defensive display. Arsenal absolutely outclassed Swansea and were just unable to finish the job. Manchester City were ruthless - almost cruel - in the manner in which they consigned Chris Ramsey’s QPR to relegation. City clearly want to send a late season message to Chelsea that not only are they going to be back next season, they are going to be the ones playing the more attractive football. I feel City will win this one comfortably at 7/10.
Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United are something of an oddity. While they have practically achieved their mandate by securing a top four finish, they have only really looked supreme against Spurs, City, and in the first half against Liverpool. Questions surrounding Falcao and Di Maria will need to be resolved before any new additions to the squad are made. Arsenal, despite their head-scratching loss to Swansea, look to be gathering significant momentum for a real push towards winning the Premier League title next season. I’m actually going to opt for a draw here at 23/10. I see both sides desperately keen to avoid defeat in what could be an early barometer of next season’s potential challengers.
Chelsea have earned the right to experiment with the makeup of their side for these final few games. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s debut last weekend exemplified the strength in depth that Chelsea’ youth set-up has. West Brom have done well under Tony Pulis, whose next challenge will be convincing Saido Berahino that West Brom is the best place for him to ply his trade next season. I expect Mourinho to adopt the same stringent approach for this game as he has done since winning the title. Chelsea should be able to win a very close encounter. Back them at even money.