City's quest, race for Golden Boot top EPL Survival Sunday storylines
The final 10 matches of the Premier League season all kick off at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday. You'll be able to follow what's going on from 9:45 a.m.,
Will organizers be tying red or blue ribbons to the handles of the Premier League trophy? Manchester United and Manchester City are currently level at 86 points, though City's goal difference is 63, compared to United's 55. It means that a home win for City against Queens Park Rangers will secure the title unless United rack up a cricket-like score away against Sunderland. It would be a fittingly surreal end to this unusual season if Carlos Tevez were to end the day with a winner's medal around his neck.
(Subplot: Sir Alex Ferguson's team was in a not altogether dissimilar position a couple of years ago -- still able to catch Chelsea but requiring a considerable goal-differential swing to swipe the title. In the end, United beat Stoke 4-0 on the final day, but Chelsea thumped Wigan Athletic 8-0 to comfortably win the trophy.)
Mark Hughes will be very keen to avoid QPR suffering a similar fate at the hands of Manchester City, the club that dispensed of his services in the middle of the 2009-10 season after already arranging to replace him with Roberto Mancini. Now, since joining and leaving Fulham -- citing the club's lack of ambition -- Hughes is in danger of being relegated with QPR. With Wolves and Blackburn already down, one of Bolton Wanderers (35 points) and Rangers (37 points) will join them. It seems unlikely that QPR will get a result at the Etihad; City has dropped only two points there all season. Mark Hughes's side would still avoid relegation to the second tier, however -- even if beaten 8-0 by City -- if Bolton fails to beat Stoke.
(Subplot: The best of Bolton's 10 wins this season was a 5-0 thrashing of Stoke in November. Chris Eagles, in particular, was superb.)
Champions League money has precipitated a fetishization of fourth place, but this year third place is the Holy Grail. With Chelsea reaching the Champions League final while languishing in sixth, England's fourth-place spot in next season's competition will have to be given to John Terry and Co. if they beat Bayern Munich, with the fourth-placed Premier League side forced to make do with the Europa League. Arsenal (away to West Bromwich Albion) starts the day in third, on 67 points, with Tottenham Hotspur (home to Fulham) in fourth on 66. Newcastle (away to Everton) sits fifth, on 65 points. Third place is in Arsenal's hands, but West Brom's home form has improved recently; if the Gunners slip up, Spurs must make the most of a home fixture that they haven't lost since 2003. And if both north London clubs make a hash of it, Newcastle needs to beat Everton to take advantage. Because of goal difference, a draw is not enough -- unless Tottenham gets beaten a whopping 17-0.
(Subplot: West Brom will be bidding farewell to the manager, Roy Hodgson, taking charge of his final club game before announcing his England squad for Euro 2012.)
Last season, Kenny Dalglish defended then-Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier's decision to field a weakened team in the FA Cup as a no-brainer. "For most clubs, winning two league games and collecting six points is considered a far greater success than winning two cup ties." This season, with Liverpool winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, he's changed his tune a bit. "There is an obsession [with league standings] in the Premier League," he said recently. "There's satisfaction from winning a cup that you don't get from finishing fifth or sixth in the league." A good thing, too, because Liverpool won't be finishing fifth or sixth in the league; the best they can hope for is to defeat Swansea while Everton loses to Newcastle and Fulham fails to beat Tottenham, leaving the Anfield club in seventh and its neighbor in eighth.
(Subplot: How robust is FSG's patience? Will this turn out to be Dalglish's final game in charge of Liverpool?)
Unless Wayne Rooney scores four on Sunday (it has happened before, in January 2010, against Hull City), Robin van Persie will claim this season's Golden Boot, having already scored 30 goals for Arsenal this season. If he adds to that tally against West Brom, he will at least match the record for a 38-game Premier League season held by Alan Shearer (1995-96) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2007-08), which currently sits at 31.
(Subplot: If the day's fixtures average three goals each, this will be the highest scoring Premier League season yet.)
This weekend could be the last we see of Chelsea striker Didier Drogba in the Premier League, as he has yet to come to an agreement on a new contract at Stamford Bridge and has been linked to a move to China, where Nicolas Anelka is offering large sums of money to join Shanghai Shenhua. In eight years at Chelsea, Drogba has scored 156 goals, including some of the most important in recent history -- this year's FA Cup was won by a Drogba goal, and his strike set up the two-legged Champions League win over Barcelona.
The loss of Dimitar Berbatov would be less detrimental to Manchester United -- this season he has played only 12 times in the Premier League, seven of them starting on the bench. But if he does end up abroad (the latest rumors suggest a summer move to Lazio could be in the cards), he will be missed by the fans of all clubs who have enjoyed his effortless skill in front of goal, and who have already mourned the waste of such a talent on the United bench.