It’s the final weekend of the Premier League season and, as we attempt to tackle the estimated £35,000+ Rollover Pick 8, I think it’s a case of ‘go big or go home’. There are some tricky fixtures ahead of us this week which means added difficulty but, also, extra opportunity. So let’s try and go out with a bang in my final domestic weekend football preview of the season. Read on and please join my Syndicate.
Chelsea vs. Wolves (Sunday, 16:00)
Chelsea are fighting for a place in the Champions League in the first of two fascinating head-to-heads between the sides ranked third to sixth in this weekend football preview.
The Blues need to match the result of Leicester, who are a point behind but with a vastly superior goal difference, to qualify. Wolves have secured Europa League football regardless and can move up a place in a table if results go for them, which would mean going straight to the group stages rather than the qualification rounds.
In honesty I’m not convinced they’ll be too bothered and will have a far greater interest in bypassing the entire competition and entering the Champions League instead, by landing the Europa League which resumes on the August 6th. They will host Olympiacos with the tie in the balance after a 1-1 draw in the first leg, so I suspect that Nuno Espirito Santo will take it easy in this one, possibly even resting key players.
Chelsea’s form has been patchy but their need is greater so I want them onside. Wolves have drawn a lot of matches and, in case they exploit Chelsea’s desperation to get a result, I’ll take the draw as well.
Selections: Chelsea & Draw
Leicester vs. Manchester United (Sunday, 16:00)
Of course Chelsea will qualify regardless if Manchester United beat Leicester but it’s a huge ‘if’.
The in-form Premier League team since Project Restart have just begun to run out of steam in the last couple of weeks as the inevitable onset of fatigue after playing a game every three days begins to take a toll. Following a run of five straight victories, United have now won just once in their last four, against a Crystal Palace side who are on the beach but still could have got a result had VAR not been typically shambolic.
After such a wonderful first half to their season, in which they looked guaranteed for Champions League football, Leicester’s decline has been astonishing to watch. They have allowed a huge points advantage over the likes of United and Chelsea to slip and, should they fail to win this one, Brendan Rodgers will wonder what on earth went wrong.
Leicester’s season is spluttering to a finish, they have lost four of their previous seven and the three goal defeats to Tottenham and Bournemouth will be of particular concern. It’s a fascinating encounter with so many permutations. A win for either could eliminate the other, while a draw could qualify both or eliminate Leicester depending on the result at Stamford Bridge.
It looks impossible to call so I’ll take the easy way out, covering all three outcomes and just enjoy the drama unfolding.
Selections: Manchester United & Draw & Leicester
West Ham vs. Aston Villa (Sunday, 16:00)
After flirting with danger the entire season, West Ham can relax heading into the final day knowing that they are safe from relegation for another year. David Moyes has done an underrated job in steadying the ship and should be commended.
Villa have no such luxury with Watford level on points and just one goal worse off in terms of goal difference. Watford also face an incredibly flaky Arsenal side who are only concentrating on the FA Cup final now. As such Villa will surely need some sort of result here.
Two of the league’s in-form strikers could go head to head in Trézéguet, who has netted three in three, as well as winger-turned-striker Michail Antonio who is finishing the season in devastating form, scoring six goals in his last three matches including four against Norwich.
My suspicion is that Antonio could be given a rest here after effectively keeping the Hammers up and, if that occurs, it’s massive advantage to Villa. There must be a real temptation for West Ham to take their foot off the gas and, looking at Palace in recent weeks, it’s easy to see how a 5% drop in effort and concentration can equal a huge downturn in form. I’ll take Villa for the win to complete an unlikely escape job.
Selection: Aston Villa
Everton vs. Bournemouth (Sunday, 16:00)
The fifth leg of the weekend football preview and nothing but a win will do for Bournemouth, who are three points behind Villa and Watford so would need both to lose to stand a chance.
Everton have nothing to play for, a fact that could play into Bournemouth’s hands, yet they also know that The Cherries have no choice but to be aggressive and go for the win. A wily tactician such as Carlo Ancelotti will surely realise this and will be preparing a gameplan to counteract such an approach.
If Everton don’t show up then Bournemouth could nick it but, on the other hand, if The Toffees frustrate their opponents we will see Eddie Howe’s push more and more men forward, potentially leaving themselves open. We could even witness one of my favourite footballing spectacles, the goalkeeper coming up for a corner, if Bournemouth need a late goal.
A draw is no good for Bournemouth and that’s why I don’t think we’ll see one, we’ll either see them live or die by a gung ho approach. Hopefully by picking both sides to win we should get through Saturday’s fixtures unscathed.
Selections: Everton & Bournemouth
Swansea vs. Brentford (Sunday, 18:30)
The playoffs are here! Owing to how much is at stake, Championship playoff first legs are notoriously cagey affairs. Indeed, in the six matches played over the last three seasons, no side has won by more than a single goal and Aston Villa are the only side to have scored twice (beating West Brom 2-1 last year).
Although it was Brentford who finished higher up in the league, ending up third to Swansea’s sixth, the manner in which the two sides entered the playoffs is hugely significant as far as I’m concerned.
Brentford will be absolutely devastated to be here after losing their final two league games to 15th-placed Stoke and 21st-placed Barnsley. A win over either and they would already be in the Premier League instead of this end of season lottery.
Swansea, on the other hand, will be absolutely elated after winning their final two games against Bristol City and Reading to sneak in at Forest’s expense. The Swans needed to overturn a goal difference deficit of five on the last day to qualify and they will have felt as though they won promotion themselves at the final whistle when they realised they’d done it.
In a format like the playoffs momentum is everything and Swansea have it. They also have home advantage and, with Brentford deflated following their defeat, I’m taking Swansea to edge it.
Roma vs. Fiorentina (Sunday, 18:30)
A bit of an open and shut case for me. Both sides are on decent runs and unbeaten in six. However, whereas Roma have won five of those (including a 6-1 demolition of bottom side SPAL last time out), Fiorentina have drawn three.
Fiorentina’s season is completely over whereas Roma still need to hold off AC Milan to avoid having to enter the Europa League at the qualification round. Roma are in great form and I’ll take them to win.
Cardiff vs. Fulhum (Monday, 19:45)
A very tricky one between two sides in good form. If either of the playoff encounters could be a goalfest, my money would be on this one.
Cardiff reached the playoffs with three straight wins against Derby, Middlesbrough and Hull, scoring at least twice in each of them. Fulham, on the other hand, are unbeaten in seven, since falling to league champions Leeds, winning five of them.
If Fulham were at home in the first leg I’d have them as marginal favourites but because they have to travel to Cardiff it’s harder to call.
Having only picked one selection in each of the previous legs, I wanted to leave some perms live in the later stages of my ticket to potentially increase any Cash Out offers should we be lucky enough to get this far, so I’m going to back all three outcomes again.
Selections: Cardiff & Draw & Fulham
Inter Milan vs. Napoli (Tuesday, 20:45)
Both of these sides have been drawing more than they’d like recently.
Inter have drawn each of their last two as well as three of their previous five. Napoli have tied two of their last four and only won one of them, so neither outfit is in superb form.
Inter are actually unbeaten in five though and, coupled with their home advantage, will be the favourites for this one. However, due to both sides’ propensity for stalemates I’ll incorporate the draw as well to finish the weekend football preview.
Selections: Inter Milan & Draw
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