With Chelsea having wrapped up the Premier League title and Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland already consigned to relegation, the race for Champions League football is the only major issue that remains undecided heading into the final day of the season – or so it appears.
With the exception of Liverpool hosting ‘Boro, Arsenal’s match with Everton and Manchester City’s trip to Watford, you could be forgiven for thinking there is fairly little at stake in Sunday’s season climax.
However, there are several reasons why the players at each of the top-flight’s 20 clubs should be donning their boots rather than flip-flops for one final 90 minutes prior to heading for the beach.
Although the league’s policy of equal distribution of its television income means each team – yes, even Sunderland – is guaranteed to bank at least £85m for their efforts over the last nine months, an additional ‘merit based’ payment means clubs stand to earn an additional £2m for every place higher they can finish in the table. This extra income has the potential to be decisive during summer negotiations for perspective signings or the renewing of contracts for existing players.
With only Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester United, Everton and the three relegated clubs kicking off the final day guaranteed to end the campaign in the position they currently occupy, there is a lot still up for grabs.
Leicester’s meeting with Bournemouth may appear every bit the end-of-season mid-table dead-rubber, but the match could actually be worth up to £14m for the Foxes. Should results go against Craig Shakespeare’s side on Sunday, last season’s champions could finish as low as 15th.
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On the other hand, should the King Power side beat the Cherries they could end the campaign in eighth – seven places and £14m better off than if the worst case scenario occurs. Bearing in mind that the combined signatures of N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez were secured for barely half that figure, the season finale against Eddie Howe’s team suddenly takes on great importance.
While all the focus will be on Manchester City’s efforts to secure Champions League football when they head to Vicarage Road, victory for the hosts could lift the Hornets – currently in 16th – as high as 11th, banking them an extra £10m in the process.
Similarly, Burnley could jump from 15th to 11th, while West Brom and Bournemouth start Sunday locked on 45 points. Southampton are one place above them on 46. Though Paul Clement’s Swansea and Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace will still be basking in the glory of their escape from relegation, good results in their respective clashes against the Baggies and Manchester United could see the two managers’ summer transfer kitties increased considerably.
Leicester could rise as high as eighth ()
Away from clubs’ desire to balance the books, Sunday’s results could also prove decisive in determining the futures of managers rumoured to be under pressure. Claude Puel, for instance, will have far a stronger case in persuading the Saints board to grant him a second season on the south coast if he were able to guide the club to an eighth-place finish rather than ending in the bottom half.
Though Stoke can no longer secure a fourth consecutive top-half finish under Mark Hughes, beating the Saints to finish 11th or 12th as opposed to 16th could prove pivotal in the Potters hierarchy’s decision as to whether to allow the Welsh boss the chance to make up for a season of stagnation.
David Moyes, meanwhile, will take his Sunderland side to Chelsea simply hoping his Black Cats can avoid one final humiliation in what has been an abject year. A respectable defeat, rather than a thrashing, could ensure the Scot gets the first opportunity to lead the Wearside club back up next term.
If Hull are struggling for motivation ahead of Sunday’s home clash with Spurs, they need only look 100 miles north at Newcastle. 12 months ago the Magpies found themselves in an identical scenario, hosting Mauricio Pochettino’s team on the final day knowing they were already down but hoping to persuade Rafa Benitez to stay at the helm. The Toon won 5-1, delivering a performance that convinced the Spaniard to remain at St James’ Park to lead the club back to the Premier League. If the Tigers can produce a similar display, perhaps their chances of keeping Marco Silva will improve ever so slightly.
Sunday’s fixtures will also be the final time we see certain players in action for their respective clubs. Alexis Sanchez will probably leave Arsenal after the Gunners’ Premier League game with Everton and FA Cup final with Chelsea, while Pablo Zabaleta has confirmed he will end his nine-year Manchester City stay once the trip to Watford is done and dusted.
The most high profile farewell will, of course, take place at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea captain John Terry makes his 492nd and final Premier League appearance for the Blues. Since debuting for the West London club in 1998, the 36-year-old has won every trophy possible during a glittering career working under managers such as Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and current boss Antonio Conte. Lifting the Premier League trophy in front of an adoring home crowd will be a fitting way for the former England skipper to bow out.