It’s commonly agreed upon that the Premier League is ‘The Best League in the World’. And while Ligue 1 has PSG, Serie A has Ronaldo and Juve and La Liga has plenty to boast about (including a certain Lionel Messi), the EPL takes the prize. Weirdly, while not a top league, a lot of football fans across the globe rank the second tier of English football pretty highly too. Many think of it as the ‘most competitive’ league going.
The 2018/19 season has shown just why. With three places at the big boys’ table on offer, competition for promotion places has been even more fierce and entertaining than usual this year. There’s been plenty happening at the other end of the table too. And with just one remaining fixture left this Sunday, it’s still all to play for for a lot of clubs.
Here’s how it those last games could affect the standings, play-offs and relegation spots…
Aston Villa vs. Norwich City
Few people expected Daniel Farke’s Norwich City side – assembled on a relatively shoestring budget – to pull up many trees this year. As it is, they’ve torn up forests. True, the Norfolk boys slowed down just as the finishing line appeared in sight, but they’ve easily been the best team in the division this year by a country mile (somewhat ironically). Free flowing football, bags full of goals and and an indefatigable spirit has put them in a position to win the title in the Midlands this weekend. A point is enough to do just that.
The Canaries face a Villa side in imperious form, however. Dean Smith’s men are on a storming spell that’s already seen them confirm their place in the top six. They’ll finish fifth no matter what the result here, but will want to go into the play-offs in good form. And thee’s no better way to carry on that form than by winning against Teemu Pukki & Co.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Swansea City
There’s not much at stake for either of these two sides on the final day. Swansea have shown themselves to be a quality outfit on occasion this term, but a lack of consistency means they’ve never truly put on a real promotion bid. Win here and they’ll secure 9th. Lose and they could slip as low as 12th.
Blackburn, for their part, will be happy enough with a mid-table spot. They can finish as high as 12th or as low as 15th.
Brentford vs. Preston North End
Both clubs here will have had ambitions of a play-off spot at various times in the season, with Preston going on a particularly good run a few months ago. But things fizzled out for both sides and whatever happens on Sunday, they’ll both be in the middle of table. Alex Neil’s Preston could snatch 9th with a win, while the best The Bees can hope for is 12th.
Derby County vs. West Bromwich Albion
Now things are starting to get interesting… The play-offs offer up plenty of intrigue at the end of the footballing year and with the last day proving pivotal as to who finishes in those all-important spots, this game is huge.
West Brom are guaranteed their spot and will finish fourth with a defeat or draw here away to Derby. Win however – and Leeds lose – and they could nab 3rd, giving them an arguably better draw and route to promotion.
Frank Lampard dropped points against Sheffield Wednesday recently and saw his chance to confirm a top 6 place disappear. The Rams currently sit in 6th and have a better goal difference than their rivals, so are well placed. A draw could be enough for them here, depending on how the Boro and Bristol City games go, but Derby really need to win here. Do so and they’re in the play-offs.
Hull City vs. Bristol City
This is quite a complicated one… Hull have nowt but pride to play for, really. They’re finishing mid-table no matter what. Bristol City can snatch an unlikely play-off spot, but it’ll need to see them wining and – preferably – Derby and Boro losing too. A point for Boro may not matter if City win and Derby lose. But should Lampard’s lot get a draw, City need to hammer Hull to leapfrog them because of goal difference (as well as hope Boro flop). They’re 12/1 to get a play-off place.
Ipswich Town vs. Leeds United
Paul Lambert’s rather pathetic Ipswich Town have been down for some time now. Heading up, it appeared all season, were Leeds United. But Leeds have done what Leeds (and all Marcelo Bielsa teams) do and have wobbled at the end of the season. The top two is no longer possible, so the play-offs are the South Yorkshire lot’s route to promotion. A point or more here guarantees them third spot.
Nottingham Forest vs. Bolton Wanderers
Forest can finished 9th, 13th or anywhere in between, depending on what happens on Sunday afternoon. Woeful Bolton, teetering sadly on the brink of financial collapse, can do nothing here but – in all likelihood – lose and regroup. They’re already down and, with their players unpaid and unmotivated, are a wreck. Here’s hoping they can regroup next year in League One.
Reading vs. Birmingham City
Both of these sides have flirted with relegation this year. Reading because of their poor away form and Brum because of a heavy points deduction. With all three relegation spots already decided, neither side here has much to play for except the odd ‘shop window’ opportunity. Each side could finish a place higher than their current position with a win or a place lower with a defeat.
Rotherham United vs. Middlesbrough
They fought almost to the bitter end and never rolled over, but Rotherham never quite had the class to survive in this league. Already down, they’ll be thinking about winning League One next year soon. This game means little to the club, but does give the players one last chance to shine at this level in a Millers’ shirt.
Boro need to win, though. Do so and they could take sixth spot, providing Derby don’t win. It’s 2/1 with most bookies they make it.
Sheffield Wednesday vs. QPR
QPR can consider themselves lucky to have avoided a real relegation dogfight this year. Without star man Luke Freeman, they’d have been fighting it out with Millwall, Rotherham, Bolton and Ipswich, no doubt. They’ve nothing but 19th spot to aim for here.
Wednesday have had a season not unlike Swansea’s. In fact, they’re got similar stats and it’s a scrap with the Welsh outfit for a ninth place that neither club really cares about.
Stoke City vs. Sheffield United
This is a tale of two cities and two seasons. Most folk expected Stoke to dominate the league this year, given their squad. But they haven’t. Even with Nathan Jones at the helm, they’ve done nothing. Sheffield United, on the other hand, have been a joy all season and have already booked their spot at the top table for next year.
A win here for The Blades could see them win the league. For that to happen, they’ll also need Villa to beat Norwich and their slight goal disadvantage to turn around.
Wigan Athletic vs. Millwall
Both mobs here have had poor seasons, but – due to so many other teams being rubbish – can go into this last game assured of being able to play Championship football again next year. Lucky them.
So there’s still all to play for… For a few teams, at least. It all goes down on Sunday from 12.30pm. Come and join us for all of the action. We’ll be showing it all live down at your nearest Rileys, of course.