Premier League: 10 things to look out for on the final day

Liverpool seek another miracle as relentless City close on title, changing of the guard at Leicester and a Zaha swansong?

1) A Brighton miracle would prove Premier League’s strength

Brighton are the 17th best team in the league, are already safe and can at best move up one place; Manchester City are the best team in the land and desperately need victory to seal the title. There is a massive disparity both of ability and motivation here. “They’re fighting for the Premier League and are going to do their utmost to do it,” said Lewis Dunk. “We’re just going out as professional footballers to win a game as you would do every week.” This should make this the single most predictable game of the week, and in all likelihood it will be, but still there must be some doubt. People have argued that the profusion of English clubs in major European finals this season proves that this, as many have always insisted, is the greatest league in the world, but Brighton would produce an argument much more compelling than the achievements of the elite if this limited team, a couple of hours from an extended holiday and with no obvious motivation, could nevertheless produce a performance good enough to change the destination of the title. SB

2) Liverpool’s belief sky-high but Wolves will not roll over

This is the era of fake news. So fans at Anfield must choose wisely when it comes to deciding how to keep track of Manchester City’s game at Brighton. Because it would be terribly embarrassing if someone started celebrating a goal by, say, Shane Duffy, only to find out it never happened. Having said that, Jürgen Klopp’s task this week is to encourage something close to false hope. He must convince his players that Brighton can sabotage Manchester City. After this week’s events in the Champions League, it won’t be very difficult to keep players believing that a late twist is possible in the Premier League too. So Liverpool must rally their forces, ignore their knocks and niggles and overcome opponents that Klopp would not have chosen. Wolves are a very tidy team who are looking to finish a successful season on a high and who, what is more, are built to defy top opponents. Nuno Espírito Santo’s men have already won at Tottenham this season and taken points away to Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Liverpool have a mighty job on their hands, but the potential prize is a deliverance even sweeter than that win over Barcelona. They won’t win it, will they? PD

3) Tottenham keeping one eye on events at Turf Moor

Following their heroics against Ajax on Wednesday, Tottenham’s players could be forgiven for being both physically and mentally bottomed out when they host Everton, and given their recent Premier League form it would be no great shock if they were to lose to a Marco Silva side that are signing off for the season with a flourish. There would be no shame in that whatsoever, as long as they don’t lose too heavily. Arsenal travel to Burnley knowing they need an implausible eight-goal swing to steal fourth place from their north London rivals, but as events this week have served to remind us, “implausible” and “impossible” are two very different words. BG

4) Leicester look confidently to future as past stars depart

Danny Simpson last played for Leicester in January, and has not even made the bench since February. Shinji Okazaki has made 20 Premier League appearances this season, all but one off the bench, spending an average of 12 minutes 15 seconds on the pitch on each occasion. Both will leave the club when their contracts run out at the end of the season, leaving the number of 2015-16 title-winners still at Leicester at eight, of whom only four – Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton – were involved in most games both that season and this. The link between that achievement and the current team continues to weaken, even if under Brendan Rodgers the Foxes seem again to have a bright future (if not quite that bright). Five wins in their past eight demonstrate the scale of Leicester’s transformation since Rodgers arrived, and their display in losing 1-0 at Manchester City on Monday added further encouragement. As Simpson and Okazaki wave farewell against Chelsea on Sunday it will be a time to cherish memories of the recent past, before turning to the future. SB

Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki and Danny Simpson in happier times, back in September 2016.
Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki and Danny Simpson in happier times, back in September 2016. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

5) A last hurrah for Zaha at Palace?

Julian Speroni will leave Crystal Palace after this match, ending a 15-year spell during which he was a popular and influential performer, though he only made one league appearance in this campaign. “A Palace hero for sure,” said Wilfried Zaha, adding that the goalkeeper has been a mentor to him. “Obviously we play in different positions but whatever I was going through he would be someone I could speak to about anything,” said Zaha. One wonders whether he has spoken to him about this summer’s transfer activity and whether this could also be Zaha’s last game at Palace? The winger has had ups and downs this season but overall he has been thrilling and effective and reached double-digits in league goals for the first time. He is sure to attract interest from clubs higher up the table. And there’s a good chance of him signing off with a goal or two against Bournemouth, who could score a few themselves, having suddenly found form on their travels and struck eight goals in their last two away matches. PD

6) Burnley have chance to capitalise on Arsenal’s frailty

Arsenal have won their final league game of the season in each of the past seven years, and need to do so again to prevent a depressing conclusion to their domestic campaign. Since April Fool’s Day they have won one (an extremely unconvincing 1-0 victory over 10-man Watford), drawn one and lost four league games, surrendering a place in next season’s Champions League. They will still earn a spot in that competition if they win the Europa League at the end of the month, which might lead them to take a disappointingly sober approach to this game instead of chasing the unlikely result that might still allow them to leapfrog Tottenham into fourth place – which adds up to victory by a minimum of six goals while hoping that Everton do them a favour at White Hart Lane. Burnley could do with taking advantage of the Gunners’ current frailty: the last time they beat Arsenal in the league was in 1974, and in the Premier League they have taken one of a possible 27 points from the north London side. SB

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

7) A cloud of uncertainty over Craven Cottage

For all their commendable huffing and puffing against Liverpool last Saturday, sloppy defending ultimately cost Newcastle at least a point and let an uncharacteristically below-par Liverpool off the hook. “You play against a very good team and you concede three goals from set-pieces, so you’re disappointed,” said Rafael Benítez, while the Newcastle forward Ayoze Pérez said he and his teammates “should be ashamed”. With nothing to play for, it’s difficult to envisage what will happen on the pitch when Newcastle travel to Craven Cottage to take on relegated Fulham, but in the stands there will be much to discuss. Engulfed by uncertainty, neither set of fans are any closer to knowing who’ll be in charge of their respective teams next season, while the future of the Newcastle striker Salomón Róndón remains up in the air. Following their ill-advised summer trolley dash last summer, Fulham can expect to wave goodbye to a lot of expensive acquisitions, many of whom might secretly prefer to sit out what could be an intriguing lap of “appreciation” following Sunday’s game. BG

8) Cardiff could be ideal opponents for Solskjær’s strugglers

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first match as Manchester United manager was at Cardiff in December, where his new charges stormed to a 5-1 victory and launched themselves upon a run of 10 wins in 12 unbeaten league games. Those were happy days, innocent days, days ripe with possibility and optimism, days left very firmly in the past since Arsenal ended that run with a 2-0 win in March. United have now won two of eight matches in the league, and should on the balance of play have lost both of those as well. So huzzah, then, for Cardiff, Solskjær’s former employers, whose team came closer to securing a second successive top-flight season than anyone was predicting in August, even if they still did not come very close. Another goal glut would launch United into the summer on if not a wave of optimism then at least a gentle ripple, but consecutive failures against relegated sides – following last week’s draw at Huddersfield – would ensure optimism remains in exceedingly short supply. SB

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer points the way during his first game as Manchester United’s Interim Manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer points the way during his first game as Manchester United’s Interim Manager. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

9) Watford eye top-10 finish but FA Cup means more

Watford beat West Ham 2-0 at the London Stadium in December and a home win here, or even a draw, would earn them their first top-half finish in the top flight since 1987. But if beaten, they would fall to 11th and be leapfrogged by West Ham. Are those stakes high enough to convince Javi Gracia and his players to go all out for the points when they have an FA Cup final showdown with Manchester City six days later? Not likely. PD

10) Not a huge amount to see at St Mary’s

There is an argument to be made the open training session (followed by a Q&A) staged by Southampton on Wednesday night, throughout which the mic-ed up head coach, Ralph Hassenhüttl, talked all present through proceedings was probably a more intriguing eye-opener than anything likely to be served up when his side entertain Huddersfield. Southampton will be hoping for the win so they can round off an up-and-down campaign in front of their home fans with their heads held high, while Huddersfield will take anything they can get before a return to the Championship with no one quite knowing what the future has in store. Their manager, Jan Siewert, has yet to convince, while their owner Dean Hoyle last week agreed the sale of his beloved club. BG