By Preye Campbell
The English Premier League is known for its trademark footballing drama which is in turn characterized by nervy moments, unexpected plot twists and last gasp revelations.
Such has been the tradition and it becomes a little wonder why it is the most followed league on the globe.
The race for the 2019/2020 Premier League crown though brought less tension as we would have wanted, largely thanks to the utter dominance of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. Their beastly performance on the field (and at such a consistent rate too) gave a no brainer feeling to where the crown will go in the end- this is in contrast to last season’s final day battle between the Reds and Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola’s side coming victorious to seal a memorable campaign.
What we have instead witnessed this season and what will go down to the last round of the campaign is the race for the league’s top four-and what a race that has been!
At 4:00 pm on Sunday, the fate of Manchester United, Chelsea and East Midland side Leicester City will be sealed. Nothing has been absolutely more dramatic than what we have seen since the league restart. It should be brought to your attention that before the Premier league halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, we had a seven-horse race for Champions League qualification on our hands. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea side were pitted alongside United, Leicester, Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal.
The last four teams have since left the scene in the past weeks, leaving a tense finale between Chelsea, United and Leicester.
United’s weekday draw against West Ham saw them leapfrog Leicester and Chelsea into third spot with 63 points. Leicester had lost 3-0 to Spurs on Sunday to drop down to fourth and then fifth with 62 points. Chelsea, who had spent weeks in the third spot and who looked the more likely team to qualify for next season’s Champions League of the triumvirate, needed to avoid defeat against champions Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday. Given the circumstances between both teams, it was expected that Chelsea would grab their chances firmly in both hands and reclaim the third spot-something they failed to do. A 5-3 defeat at the hands of the league champions was the final detail for Sunday’s exciting script.
What does this mean?
Interestingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will travel to the King Power stadium to take on Leicester City. The Red Devils know that anything other than a win or a draw on Sunday will take them out of Champions League qualification- at least on the league route. Solskjaer’s men still have their UEFA Europa League campaign in August firmly in sights. If they win the Europa league, they will seal automatic passage to next season’s Champions league.
And whether it is done through the league or through Europa, Solskjaer knows the importance of making it to the Champions league spot, something the club has prioritized over the FA Cup. United are also on the brink of losing £70 million if they fail to qualify for the Champions league and they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to lure their summer transfer targets, especially Borussia Dortmund’s ace Jadon Sancho, if Champions League football is not in the offering. So, it is safe to say that Champions league qualification will make or mar Solskjaer’s first full season in the Old Trafford dugout, leaving Sunday’s acidic test a necessity.
In terms of summer transfer acquisitions, there is considerably less tension for Frank Lampard and his Chelsea team, given that they have already acquired the services of Moroccan sensation Hakim Ziyech and RB Leipzig’s target man Timo Werner. Such transfer masterpiece can be made even better with a spot for next season’s Champions league appearance in the bag. Chelsea are still hot on the heels of Bayer Leverkusen attacker Kai Havertz while being linked with Leicester City’s centre-back Ben Chilwell. Going into Sunday’s nervy game against Europa league candidate Wolves, Chelsea are level on points with United on 63 points but far the inferior side on goals difference. To climb back to third spot, Chelsea must beat Wolves and then hope for Leicester to pick all three points or draw against United. Certainly, Lampard will be more worried about his team’s performance against Wolves as Nuno Espirito Santos’ side are in need of a win to fend off Tottenham Hotspur for sixth place.
On their part, Leicester City have less pressure on their shoulders compared to the other two teams. But for a team that has spent the major part of the season in the top four, it will be natural for fans of the 2015/2016 league champions to expect the sounds of the Champions league anthem at King Power next season. Only a win against United will make that happen.