Premier League Preview

Even though it was Manchester City who romped to the title, the Premier League’s only unbeaten home record for 2017/18 is held by Liverpool, who face one final Anfield assignment on Sunday. If the Reds can go the distance and complete the season without a home defeat in the league, they will fulfil their pre-season target of a Champions League finish and begin preparing for the final of that competition on a high note. Jurgen Klopp’s men swamped this weekend’s opponents Brighton 5-1 in the reverse fixture five months ago, but the Merseysiders have looked weary of late as their marathon European campaign took its toll domestically. However, with the Seagulls already safe and Huddersfield doing what Liverpool couldn’t by stalling Chelsea’s momentum, the odds are heavily weighted towards the Reds finishing in the top four again. Also, the rarity of a full week’s rest should hopefully replenish the players’ tired bodies to ideal levels. Will a re-energised Liverpool take out recent frustrations on Chris Hughton’s team once more?

Those on the Kop will also be hoping for a helping hand from former idol Rafael Benitez, whose Newcastle team take on a Chelsea side still aiming to usurp Liverpool for fourth on the final day, just as they did 15 years ago before Roman Abramovich rocked into town. The Blues’ unexpected slip against Huddersfield in midweek ended a run of four successive league wins and means that they have to beat the Geordies to harbour any hope of breaking into the top four. Even then, they would need Brighton to win at Anfield, a combination of results that’s not unthinkable but would raise a few eyebrows. Newcastle come into this off the back of four straight defeats but they gave a decent account of themselves against Tottenham on Wednesday and Benitez might relish the prospect of helping the former club who revere him to thwart the former club which never took to him. The Spaniard’s name will be amply mentioned by Liverpool fans in the next two weeks as tales of Istanbul 2005 are recalled. Can Rafa do the Reds a turn in the present day also?

While Liverpool’s priority for the day will be to retain fourth place, they could still end the season in third if they beat Brighton and Tottenham fail to defeat Leicester in what is likely to be the last Premier League game at Wembley for the time being. It’s also the last chance for Harry Kane to grab the hat-trick that he would need to draw level with Mohamed Salah in the scoring charts, and that’s only if the Egyptian doesn’t net at Anfield on Sunday. Mind you, the England marksman did precisely that against the Foxes this time last year in a 6-1 romp. Claude Puel’s side arose from their late-season slumber to beat Arsenal in midweek, so can they finish off a satisfactory if unspectacular campaign by frustrating another north London outfit on Sunday, now that Spurs have guaranteed their place in next season’s Champions League?

A home defeat to Southampton, followed by Huddersfield’s draw at Chelsea 24 hours later, has left Swansea with only a mathematical chance of survival. The Liberty Stadium is almost certainly staging its last top flight fixture for the foreseeable future on Sunday and it’s one that is likely to be repeated in next season’s Championship, with relegated Stoke visiting south Wales. Only a win will do for Carlos Carvalhal’s side if they wish to secure an eighth successive Premier League campaign, and even then it would have to be a sizeable one. Even against bottom club Stoke, that looks a mountain too high for the Swans, who have been firing blanks in front of goal in recent weeks. It is that profligacy which has taken them to the brink of the Premier League precipice and the mood from both camps on Sunday looks set to be one of mutual mourning.

Were Swansea to make up for lost time and go goal crazy, though, that might just stir a little unease in Southampton, who are three points and nine goals better off than the Swans. Mark Hughes’ men have probably saved themselves after their win at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday and they finish a turbulent year with a home clash against runaway champions Manchester City. Of course, the billionaires from the north-west once employed Hughes, turfing him out on a whim in 2009, so ‘Sparky’ wouldn’t mind taking his old club down a peg and getting Southampton over the line in the process. So long as the Saints defence doesn’t go completely walkabout, they should be fine; the hard part was completed in Swansea the other night.

Cue the opening lines of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ on Sunday as Arsene Wenger takes charge of Arsenal for the very last time, having come to the club in October 1996. A legendary era in Gunners history will come to a close at Huddersfield this weekend and while the away fans salute their departing manager, the home crowd will be in full party mode after securing their Premier League safety in midweek. It was very hard to foresee the Terriers claiming draws at Manchester City and Chelsea, so they will fancy their chances at home to an Arsenal side on an away losing streak of seven league matches dating back to the last day of 2017. Will the jubilant hosts ruin Wenger’s special day or can the Frenchman end an iconic era on a high note?

That West Brom held out some hope of surviving relegation until the sixth last day of the season is astonishing, but the trapdoor finally shut on the Baggies thanks to Southampton beating Swansea. Despite being unable to prevent their unfortunate fate, the fight they have shown under Darren Moore gives them encouragement going into next season, so long as the club shows faith in the caretaker boss for their promotion attempt. They end a mostly dreadful campaign against Crystal Palace, who had looked doomed after losing their first seven games before staging a superb recovery under Roy Hodgson. If the Eagles win on Sunday and Newcastle don’t, they will finish in the top half of the table, which would represent a monumental achievement given where they were two months into the season.

It has been a turbulent season for both Manchester United and Watford, although both could end up in relatively satisfactory positions following their clash at Old Trafford. United appear to be keeping their powder dry for the FA Cup final, judging by their performances at Brighton and West Ham, although the former display in particular has drawn the ire of Jose Mourinho. He will want a good performance and result to take into next weekend’s Wembley showpiece, while the Hornets will end the campaign comfortably free of the drop zone but with their manager facing an uncertain future. Is this to be Javi Gracia’s last game in charge at Watford before the managerial revolving door welcomes its next short-term visitor?

West Ham and Everton will both want to consign a less than merry season to the memory bank as they meet at London Stadium, with both managers facing former clubs. David Moyes has had to ride out a few storms in his six months in charge of the Hammers, but their win at Leicester last week made sure that the final couple of games could be enjoyed without the spectre of potential relegation hanging over them. Everton overcame a terrible start to the campaign to possibly finish eighth, but Toffees supporters have followed the West Ham faithful in never warming to Sam Allardyce during his tenure at their club. The ex-England boss will justifiably stand over his record at Goodison Park, but if even that couldn’t win over the fans, he is never going to be accepted by the Everton fanbase.

Burnley and Bournemouth both operate off miniscule budgets by Premier League standards, yet both clubs can reflect on a fine season as they come face to face at Turf Moor on Sunday. It has been an exceptional campaign for the Clarets, who will finish in seventh and can look forward to a rare foray into the Europa League. Meanwhile, the Cherries have again enjoyed a largely trouble-free season as wealthier, ‘bigger’ clubs bit the relegation dust or narrowly came out the right side of an almighty survival scrap. Both Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe have worked wonders and can be forgiven for just enjoying their final outing of 2017/18.

This time last year, Liverpool needed a win on the final day to clinch fourth place and they got it against Middlesbrough. On Sunday, even a draw will do to claim another season of Champions League football. They should be more than capable of getting it at home to Brighton, although a draw would have sufficed at Chelsea last week and they couldn’t manage that. It seems a straightforward mission but Klopp’s Liverpool, wonderful as they can be, specialise in putting their fans through the wringer. Let’s hope they give the drama a skip this weekend and just take care of business without any hitches!