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Final day frenzy in the EPL
With one round of games still to go in the English Premier League, there is still a lot to play for.
The Champions League places have been decided and Derby have long been relegated but many clubs still have unachieved targets.
Every place in the league is worth an extra £720,000 to each team so a last day win may make a difference to the bank account but there are genuine prizes still up for grabs.
Obviously, the title race has come down to the last day and this will grab most of the attention. A lot has been said about Chelsea and Manchester United so we shall focus on the other outstanding areas. Both of the top two look more than capable of winning their matches and if both hold their form, then Manchester United should win the league. The real battle between these two will be played out in Moscow but that is not the focus for this week.
Who Will Claim the Uefa Cup Spot?
The next big achievement left to play for is Uefa Cup qualification. Everton battled in vain to clinch fourth place from Liverpool but pulled up short near the end. They enter their last game knowing a point would secure their place in the Uefa Cup. Everton have managed some strong results in this tournament in recent years and will no doubt be looking at Rangers' passage to the final and think why shouldn’t they do the same? There is no doubt that Everton are a better football team than Rangers, they just perhaps need to become more ruthless.
Standing in the way of Everton and the vital point they need are Newcastle, who visit the Merseyside club on the final day. With something tangible to play for, the Toffees should be able to avoid defeat and ensure their fans are digging out their passports again for next season. David Moyes has done a tremendous job for the club but you wonder if he has reached his level? The two domestic cups this season have gone to teams outside of the big four, so perhaps Moyes needs to be adding some silverware to the Goodison Park trophy room or he may feel his team has reached as far as they can go.
If Everton do lose on Sunday, Aston Villa are waiting in the wings and a victory will see them leapfrog the Merseyside club into 5th place and that vital Uefa Cup slot.
Up until this past weekend's home reverse to Wigan, Aston Villa were showing great form and looked as though they would be pushing Everton all the way. Twice coming back to snatch a draw with Everton two weeks ago kept their dreams alive but they are now outsiders for the European qualification spot. The 2-0 victory ensured Wigan were safe from relegation and left Martin O’Neill’s team hoping for a favour.
There is no doubt that O’Neill has lifted Villa greatly but whether he can continue this next season, who knows? There appears to be a lot of speculation about some of Aston Villa’s key players for next season. Gareth Barry has been the attention of Liverpool's advances, Abonglahor and Young are being courted by many players, Olaf Mellberg is off Juventus and the rumours linking Shaun Maloney with a return to Celtic won’t die down. If Stillian Petrov can maintain his end of season form, he may become a key man next season but there appears to be a lot of rebuilding required from Aston Villa next season.
Those Going Down
Away from the top end of the table, the relegation battle is also going to the final day. Aside from Derby’s pathetic efforts, four teams enter the final day with the threat of relegation hanging over them. Reading and Birmingham are in relegation position at the moment with Fulham and Bolton perched nervously just above it.
In all honesty, it would take a big swing of results to send Bolton down as their goal difference is vastly superior to Readings. However, Bolton are away to a Chelsea side who will be looking to win the title. Meanwhile, Reading will be away to a Derby side that have collected the lowest amount of points in Premier League history. A few early goals for Chelsea and Reading and Bolton fans will be getting pretty nervous as the game continues. Birmingham are unable to catch Bolton so Bolton know if they can finish above Reading, they will be safe.
Fulham’s Fantastic Revival Story
With Bolton near enough safe, Fulham are the team that the other teams will be looking to overturn in the battle against the drop. This scenario may have seemed unlikely in recent weeks but Roy Hodgson has performed wonders and potentially transformed the London club. This revival has been helped by the return from injury of Brian McBride and Jimmy Bullard, two key players for the club of late. Fulham travel to play Portsmouth, a tricky tie but as Pompey are in the FA Cup final the following week, they may not be fully focused on this match. Fulham know if they can win their safety is guaranteed and this looked extremely unlikely in recent months.
If Fulham guarantee safety, it will mean there has been an unprecedented fall from grace for Birmingham and their manager Alex McLeish. Big Eck, as he is referred to in Scotland, walked out on his nation to return to club football and there may be Scottish fans having a chuckle if they do go down. It will be ironic as McLeish is a lucky manager as opposed to a good manager and usually his arrival sees a club having good fortune. Admittedly, he joined Hibernian too late to keep them from the drop but characteristically, McLeish has always had a strong start with his teams only to falter badly after a while.
Either way, the board of directors and fans seem to love him so there is unlikely to be any talk of his job being on the line. Birmingham come up against Blackburn and require a win and for Fulham to drop points.
Promotion From The Championship - Not Easy
The Championship is possibly the hardest league to get promotion from and there is no guarantee that a team who is relegated will be able to bounce back immediately in the following season. The parachute payment from the Premier League provides some level of additional financial support for teams to plot their comeback but it is not that easy.
The Premier League is the Holy Grail for many clubs and there are at least 10 clubs in the Championship each year that start with genuine intentions of gaining promotion. You only have to consider the current whereabouts of Leeds, Barnsley, Swindon, Leicester, Nottingham Forest and Southampton to realize that dropping down from the top league isn’t always easy to recover from.
There is no doubt that going into the last day that Manchester United look like being champions, Everton look like being Uefa Cup qualifiers and Reading and Birmingham look like joining Derby for the drop. With so many things still up for grabs though, there may still be a twist or two left in the English Premier League for 2007/08.
By Andrew Reilly
for The Silver Circle at www.footballtip.co.uk
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