A day for sentiment, stats and hard cash
The title may have been won weeks ago and the relegation issues settled seven days back but there are serious financial issues to be settled as well as “so longs” to be said this weekend.
Sunday’s 38th and last round of Barclays Premier League games will bring emotional send-offs for three modern-day greats of the English game: Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher. Enjoy your last look at the first-mentioned, especially as he most certainly will not be following the other two into high-profile media careers. Much has already been written and said about these three and they will be missed.
Elsewhere, it will be a poignant occasion for Newcastle United’s Steve Harper who will end his 20-year playing career at the club with 90-odd minutes of action (provided he doesn’t get injured) against Arsenal. Injuries have meant Harper is the main ‘keeper at St James’ Park right now – that hasn’t always been the case in his two decades at the club which have seen him make just 198 appearances.
In what is fast turning into the Season of the Send-Off, four clubs will bid farewell to their managers (or caretakers) upon the final whistle, while I personally feel as many as three other clubs may begin next season with a different man in the dugout.
Of the departing gaffers, one might expect Sir Alex Ferguson to sign off with a win in the 1 500th game of his 26-year reign, but his successor, David Moyes, will be hard-pressed to do likewise at Chelsea – Everton haven’t won away from home since January 2.
That game at Stamford Bridge actually has a number of sub-plots beyond the serious business of Chelsea striving to cement a third-place finish. There will be farewells to Rafa Benitez and Moyes, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata could both make a remarkable 60th appearance of the season, and the latter will most likely end the season with the most assists: he currently has 17 and looks likely to hold off his nearest challengers.
Provided Everton’s Leighton Baines starts (and finishes), it will see him go through the season having played every minute of every game. He is the only outfield player to have done so, now that Steven Gerrard and Villa’s Matt Lowton have fallen by the wayside.
Robin van Persie will win the Golden Boot, barring a five- or six-goal haul for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale against Sunderland and a goalless return for the Dutchman at the Hawthorns. RVP currently has 25 goals to his name.
The Spurs game could see a milestone for Brad Friedel, who turns 42 on Saturday, in that he is currently on 449 Premier League appearances. Another goalkeeper, Joe Hart is on 199 and he will also go into City’s encounter with Norwich knowing he has won the Golden Glove – his 18 clean sheets cannot be bettered as the nearest challenger is Chelsea’s Petr Cech with 14 shutouts.
City’s game could in fact turn out to be a busy one for Hart’s opposite number John Ruddy. Norwich have lost their last five games against City, conceding 19 goals in the process, and Brian Kidd’s team will be keen to win for the 15th time at home in the league.
QPR could also be on the receiving end if Daniel Sturridge keeps up the form that has made the start of his Liverpool career the best ever by an Anfield new boy. Liverpool may have drawn their last three at home but QPR have taken only two points from their last eight matches.
If Arsenal are to hold off the Champions League challenge of Tottenham, they will look to their all-round scoring potential at Newcastle. When Lukas Podolski scored his first against Wigan on Tuesday, he became Arsenal’s fourth player to reach double figures (the others are Theo Walcott on 14, Santi Cazorla on 12 and Olivier Giroud with 11). No other team in the league can match this and it is only the fourth time in the history of the Premier League that this has happened. So, have Arsenal replaced van Persie’s goals? Well, yes they have.
Lastly, and crucially, those of this weekend’s games that at face value appear meaningless actually have plenty of relevance to clubs’ finances. Every side from tenth-placed West Ham to Sunderland in 17th can alter their final position and financial position with a win or loss.
The Black Cats, for instance, could move up to 11th if they beat Spurs and other results go their way. It could also mean an extra four or five million pounds in earnings.
Aston Villa could have gone into their clash with Wigan fearing relegation. Now, they could move up to 11th with a win and also net close to four million extra in prize money. On the flipside, if West Ham slip to as low as 15th, it could cost them four million pounds.
So, as tempting as it may be to say this weekend is only about third and fourth places, there are plenty of angles for us and you to enjoy.