London (AFP) – The Premier League is set for a dramatic finish on Sunday as Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester battle for Champions League places and a clutch of teams fight for survival at the bottom.
At a time of year when players are usually jetting off for lucrative pre-season tours, the 2019/20 top-flight campaign will finally come to an end following a season extended by the three-month coronavirus shutdown.
Liverpool have already been presented with the Premier League trophy, second-placed Manchester City are guaranteed a Champions League spot and Norwich have been relegated.
But in a thrilling conclusion, top-four places, Europa League berths, relegation spots and the Golden Boot have to be settled in the final round of matches, all kicking off at 1500 GMT.
The spotlight will be on the King Power Stadium, where fifth-placed Leicester host third-placed Manchester United in a shootout to qualify for the Champions League.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will return to Europe’s elite club competition after a one-year absence if they avoid defeat, but a Leicester win would take Brendan Rodgers’ side back into the Champions League for the first time since 2016/17.
United have looked jaded in recent matches but Solskjaer urged his young team to learn from the club’s past glories after they climbed into the top four for the first time since September.
“We want them to learn about the traditions and history of the club and what the players before them have done,” the former United striker told Sky Sports.
“And of course we want to be in amongst the elite in Europe and play in the Champions League but the old Winston Churchill quote is, ‘success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal — then what you need is the courage to continue’.”
United have a fall-back plan, as they would also qualify for the Champions League if they win this season’s Europa League, which resumes next month.
– Chelsea nerves –
Despite holding a top-four spot for most of the season, Leicester boss Rodgers insisted it would not be a failure if his stuttering side missed out.
“There’ll be disappointment if we don’t make it but that would whet the appetite for next season,” he said.
“We were in a good position but you’ve got to sustain it. It also shows you the big improvements this team still has to make.”
Fourth-placed Chelsea need a point at home to Wolves to seal a top-four finish, but should Frank Lampard’s men lose, then a draw between Leicester and United would see those two qualify for the Champions League at the expense of the Londoners.
It could be a nervous afternoon for Lampard, but he is staying positive: “We’re aware of the situation, but we try and win. I don’t think there’s any other way to approach the game.”
Whoever misses out on the Champions League between United, Chelsea and Leicester will have to settle for fifth place and Europa League qualification next season.
Sixth-placed Wolves would be certain of the other Europa League berth if they beat Chelsea.
However, a slip from Nuno Espirito Santo’s men would give Tottenham the chance to climb above them if they won at Crystal Palace, who have lost their past seven games.
At the other end of the table, fourth-bottom Villa go to West Ham knowing they should be safe if they match third-bottom Watford’s result at Arsenal.
However, Villa are only just ahead of Watford on goal difference, with Dean Smith’s men on -26 and the Hornets -27.
Even if both teams win, Watford, without a permanent manager after Nigel Pearson’s sacking, could still survive if their margin of victory is two better than Villa’s.
If Villa and Watford lose, then second-bottom Bournemouth, currently three points adrift, could stay up on goal difference if they win at Everton.
In the race to finish as the league’s top scorer, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy leads the way with 23 goals, two ahead of Southampton’s Danny Ings and three clear of Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.