After 37 matches, it’s come down to this.
Matchday 38, the final day of the 2019-20 Premier League season, is scheduled for July 26th, with all 10 matches kicking off at 4pm BST (11am EST). After a three-month hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, the Premier League returned to action on June 17th, with all clubs set to play nine matches over five weeks to finish the season, with all but the top spot seemingly open for positioning.
Here’s a look at what the final matchday holds for the clubs of the Premier League:
Fates Are Settled
Liverpool claimed the title officially on June 25th, just over a week after play had resumed. It was their 19th title ever, and their first title in the top flight since the 1989-90 season, as well as their first title during the Premier League era. They set many records during the season, and though they had lost prior to the COVID-19 break, they have still only lost three times over their past 54 league matches, which is quite impressive. They conclude the season with a meaningless game against Newcastle United, who will likely finish in 13th position as they are five points behind Southampton in 12th.
Norwich City was the first club to be relegated, with last season’s Championship winners lasting only one season in their return to the Premier League. After a 4-0 loss to West Ham United on July 11th, their fate was sealed, but it seemed pretty inevitable regardless. They’ve been in 20th position since a loss on Boxing Day to Aston Villa, and haven’t won a match since February 28th. They’ve scored one goal since play resumed, and conclude the season in a meaningless match against runner-up Manchester City.
Playing For Pride (and a Couple Million)
Two other final day matches will have little impact on the clubs involved, other than final placing and prize money. Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion meet at Turf Moor with a match that can only improve the paycheck at the end of the season. The Clarets are four points back of seventh, so even a win will not place them in position for a potential Europa League berth (more on this in a moment). The Seagulls, on the other hand, are clear of the relegation spots by the same four points, and can climb no higher than 15th with points.
Also meaningless is the match that will take place at St Mary’s Stadium between hosts Southampton and Sheffield United. The Blades played much of the season like they could potentially reach European competition, but a stumble in the restart – and a revocation of Manchester City’s UEFA suspension – and they find themselves in eighth, also four points behind what could be that lucrative seventh position. The Saints, on the other hand, are 12th, and improvement over last season’s 16th place finish, their third straight season outside the top ten.
UEFA Competition “Playoffs”
There are five clubs trying to shore up position in four remaining spots in Europe next season: two in the group stage of Champions League, and two in the group stage of Europa League. And while both Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers can claim a Champions League berth by winning Europa League next month, they can ensure their positioning in Europe with a solid performance on the final day.
Three clubs are vying for spots in next season’s group stage of Champions League. Manchester United travels to Leicester City needing a point to clinch their place regardless of their Europa League finish next month. And Leicester City, who spent most of the season in prime Champions League position, looks to salvage a poor second half with a win to clinch a berth for themselves. Leicester can also clinch a spot with a draw, depending on the outcome in the next match.
After coming up short in its Matchday 37 tilt with the champions, Chelsea hosts Wolverhampton Wanderers in a match with dual implications. Chelsea has to hope that Manchester United beats the Foxes. It is their clearest path to the Top 4 and a berth in Champions League. It gets a little more complicated otherwise, thanks to a large goal differential discrepancy between the clubs. Both Manchester United and Leicester City are +28 in differential right now, while Chelsea checks in at +13, which means they lose the tiebreaker should they end up with the same point total as either club. A win obviously solves that dilemma, but the Wolves have their own positioning to worry about, as they could be passed by the club right behind them if they cannot secure a victory.
That club is Tottenham Hotspur, who has the easiest matchup (at Crystal Palace) of the five clubs vying for position in Europe. Though the Spurs cannot reach the Top 4, they trail the Wolves by a point for sixth, which is good enough for a spot in Europa League next season. As mentioned earlier, seventh position could come into play depending on the outcome of the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal, but sixth place is already guaranteed to reach the group stage of Europa League next season. After a disappointing season, the Spurs could end it on a high note by clinching that 6th spot and not hoping for a Chelsea win in the FA Cup final.
Fight to Avoid Relegation
At the bottom of the table, there are three clubs battling it out to not be joining Norwich City in the Championship next season.
I’m most disappointed in my Cherries, as AFC Bournemouth seems the most likely to go down among the three. They need to go on the road to Goodison Park and defeat Everton, while also hoping that one of the other clubs loses – albeit also on the road. Granted, when Bournemouth hosted Everton way back in September, they came away with a 3-1 victory, but there hasn’t been much to get excited about since. They’ve only managed 11 points in 2020, and lost six of eight matches since the restart (1-1-6). If they can’t get the full three points against Everton, they’ll be back in the Championship, ending a five season run in the Premier League.
Watford is next likely to be relegated, with a match against a disappointing Arsenal squad that is pinning its hopes for Europe on the aforementioned FA Cup final. The Hornets have gone 2-1-5 since the restart, not exactly lighting the world on fire, and bad enough to get their third different manager of the season sacked earlier this week. A win would likely be enough to save them, but a draw might not be enough.
Aston Villa has the easier match of the three, at least based on table position of opponent, travelling to London Stadium to face off against West Ham United. Villa is coming off a 1-0 victory against Arsenal in which the Gunners didn’t get a shot on goal. It also elevated them above Watford for the time being, and gave them a slight differential advantage as well, meaning they hold the tie breaker should the clubs finish with the same amount of points. Villa will likely be playing for the win in hopes of avoiding a quick return to the Championship, but all three clubs will likely keep an eye on the scoreboard throughout their matches.
An Exciting Final Day
For most of the clubs in the Premier League, the matches on this delayed final day will actually mean something, with the clubs jockeying for European qualification, or simply hoping to avoid relegation. Regardless of what club you support (go Cherries!), you will definitely be able to find some exciting football on Sunday afternoon (or morning/evening, depending on where you’re reading this from).
Until next time…