BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
Finally, the last day of the frenetic English Premier League 2018/19 season is here!
And for the eighth time in the EPL history, the title will be decided on the last day. On the seven previous occasions, the team on top of the table going into the last Matchday won the league. Manchester City have a point advantage over Liverpool.
Liverpool themselves were the last team to blow an advantage on the last day of the league in the old English Football First Division era when Arsenal won 2-0 at Anfield to lift the title in 1989.
This has been an extraordinary season for Liverpool during which they reach the UEFA Champions League final for the second time in a row, and in contention for the EPL title.
With the least number of defeats – only one to Manchester City – in the nine-month-long campaign and the third highest points tally in EPL history, the Reds of Anfield would not have needed to fight from a point behind City but for a series of draw games at a point in the term.
The race has been fierce between both sides, City winning their last 13 domestic league fixtures and Liverpool successful in eight of their last games. They have both not lost in the league since January.
Disappointed by their ousting by Tottenham in the Champions League quarter-finals, Pep Guardiola’s squad have their fate in their hands to win the next most important trophy. They know that lifting the League Cup – and another crown through the FA Cup – will not be enough to please their fans at the end of the season.
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool also have all to play for. It will be so disappointing if such an impressive side end the season without a trophy, although they are 90 minutes away from Champions League glory and can still topple City at the finish line.
Liverpool have not won the EPL in its present format which started in 1992. They were last champions of England 29 years ago winning the then English Football League First Division beating Aston Villa to lift their 18th domestic league title.
The Reds came closest five seasons ago in the Luis Suárez era pushing Manchester City to the wire but finishing two points behind the Citizens. Then, Liverpool had led the league two weeks to the end but a loss and a draw in their last three matches, plus City claiming their final five matches gave the Manchester club a two-point advantage in the end.
Manchester City will remember the 2011/12 season, the last time the title was decided on the last day. By the final game on May 13, 2012, City and Manchester United of Sir Alex Ferguson were deadlocked on 86 points with the former having goal difference advantage – plus 63 against plus 55.
Roberto Mancini’s City played host to Queens Park Rangers, while United were away to Sunderland. Twenty minutes into the game at the Stadium of Light, Wayne Rooney had shot United ahead and on top of the league table. Twenty-nine minutes later, Pablo Zabaleta scored to get City back on the tabletop, only for Djibril Cisse to stun City nine minutes later and level scores, while United maintained their lead over Sunderland.
Despite going one man down with Joey Barton earning a red card, QPR shot ahead of City through Jamie Mackie in the 66th minutes. United fans went wild as their side maintained their one-nil result at Sunderland and were therefore three points clear of City going into the last 24 minutes of regulation time.
It was not until added time that City turned things around, first with Edin Dzeko levelling up in two minutes of added time. United’s match at the Stadium of Light ended ahead of City’s but their players and fans had to concentrate on the drama at the Etihad Stadium.
Sergio Leonel Agüero then pulled the trigger in five minutes of added time with perhaps the last kick of the match to deliver City’s first EPL as the club last won the then English Football League First Division in 1968.
For the other teams, the battle for Champions League places is virtually over. Whatever happens at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City, Chelsea are already in the top four, and even have the opportunity of returning to the elite European club competition through the Europa if they beat Arsenal in the final on May 29 in Baku.
It looks straightforward for Spurs as well ending up among the top four. But it’s not all over as their three points and plus eight goal advantage over fifth placed Arsenal can still be cancelled this last day. Should that seemingly impossible happen, Tottenham will only feature in the Champions League next season if they win it on June 1 in Madrid (versus Liverpool).
For Arsenal, a fifth placed finish is not even guaranteed as Manchester City are only a point behind. Only victory over Chelsea in Baku will return the Gunners to the Champions League since the 2016/17 season.
If they end up in fifth and fail to win the Europa Cup, Arsenal will feature in Europa League at the group stage only if Manchester City win the FA Cup, otherwise it will be Watford (City’s FA Cup final opponents) who will be in the group stage and Arsenal drop to the second qualifying round, which will be their starting point should they come sixth and not win Europa Cup.
United are guaranteed Europa League Football next season – either in the group stage (if they topple Arsenal at No 5 and City win the FA Cup) – or the second qualifying phase if they end up sixth or fifth plus Watford lifting the FA Cup.
Watford will only feature in the Europa League if they beat Manchester City at Wembley in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
The seventh place in the EPL, which goes to Wolves, is also significant. If City claim the FA Cup, the Hornets will start from the second round qualifying round but will be elevated to the group stage should honours go to Wolves with the sixth placed team dropping to the second round qualifiers.
This is one of the rare season closing day that there will be no relegation battle. Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City are all playing their last EPL fixtures having already been relegated.
- Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester City
- Burnley v Arsenal
- Crystal Palace v AFC Bournemouth
- Fulham v Newcastle United
- Leicester City v Chelsea
- Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Manchester United v Cardiff City
- Southampton v Huddersfield Town
- Tottenham v Everton
- Watford v West Ham United (all 3pm)