The Premier League in Review: To The Victors, The Spoils
There was ticker tape, there were tears of joy, there was champagne and even opera. Surely even the most stone-hearted amongst us must have felt the smallest tugging at our heartstrings as Leicester City lifted the Premier League trophy on Saturday evening. For all the studiously cool cynicism concerning the behaviour of one of their players and the reservations of some people – some warranted, others less so – over the club’s previous financial dealings, this was a time to accentuate only the positive, to buy into the stories of fairy tales. The most unlikely league title win in the history of English football was punctuated on Saturday evening, and everything else could wait for another day.
Leicester City couldn’t have had more accommodating opponents for the occasion than Everton, who only turned up at The King Power Stadium in the most cursory of senses and never looked in any danger of upsetting the celebratory atmosphere hanging over the place. Two goals from Jamie Vardy – who also missed a penalty, an ominous moment for those amongst us with one eye on England’s prospects a the European Championships this summer – and another from Andy King, one of the stalwart players who has now been with the club since it emerged from League One not so long ago. were enough to secure another Leicester win, and there was even enough left in the tank for Jamie Vardy to balloon a penalty kick high into the stand behind the goal when on a hat-trick.
Below the champions, the chasing pack continue to wheeze their way towards the finishing line. Tottenham Hotspur continued their end of season mini-implosion with a home defeat at the hands of Southampton, another tale of lost points from a mildly winning position, but Arsenal could only take advantage of this to the minimum possible extent in drawing against a Manchester City team still nursing their Champions League hangovers from last week. Arsenal are now two points behind Spurs with a game left to play each. In the overall scheme of things it’s kind of irrelevant who finishes second and who finishes third in the Premier League this season, but further nerviness from Spurs at Newcastle on the last day of the season may yet ensure that Arsenal overhaul them in the league again.
Manchester City’s aforementioned Champions League hangover is now threatening their involvement in the competition next season. Their failure to take three points from Arsenal yesterday afternoon takes this out of their hands. Manchester United’s one-nil win at Norwich City may have been as moribund as they come, but it took United to just two points from City with a game in hand, to be played at West Ham United this week. It’s likely that this particular crawl will be the primary focus of the broadcasters’ attention this weekend, of course. For Norwich City, meanwhile, the Premier League continues to slip from view. Norwich could win their two remaining matches and still be relegated, and those two wins will be necessary if the club is to avoid sliding through the trapdoor. We’ll find out more on Wednesday, when they play Watford at Carrow Road.
Of the three clubs jostling to avoid joining Aston Villa in the Football League Championship next season, Sunderland are now the clear favourites to steer clear following an unlikely and entertaining win against Chelsea on Saturday, a match also punctuated by what might yet to be the last act of John Terry’s career following his sending off, an incident that means that he will be absent for their last game of the season against Leicester on Sunday, a match which was expected to be his send-off after eighteen years with the club.
Of considerably greater significance than the trials and tribulations of John Terry was the effect that this result had at the bottom of the Premier League table. Newcastle United went into the weekend as firm favourites to avoid relegation from the Premier League, but a tepid goalless draw at Aston Villa has suddenly made their prospects of surviving the drop look rather bleak. Sunderland are now a point above Newcastle, and they also have the benefit of a game in hand, to be played on Wednesday night. In addition to this, that match is against the aforementioned ghosts of Everton, a match from which virtually anybody in the Premier League – Aston Villa are excused from this exercise, for what should be obvious reasons – would be optimistic of taking three points. A Sunderland win will relegate both Newcastle and Norwich, and even a failure to do so would leave Newcastle needing to beat Spurs on Sunday in order to save themselves.
The rest of the weekend’s matches were of little to no consequence. Liverpool’s Europa League win against Villareal on Thursday night gave them enough get up and go to overcome Watford, whose season is effectively over amid considerable conjecture concerning whether they will retain the services of Quique Sanchez Flores beyond the end of this season, whilst Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion cancelled each other and Crystal Palace edged their way past Stoke City. The strongest performance of the weekend, however, came from Swansea City, whose four-one win away to West Ham United came from a team that was more motivated than many people anticipated. It wasn’t a surprise to rank alongside that which Leicester City have managed over the course of the season, of course, but it was an eyebrow-raiser, and that, perhaps, is as much as anyone can expect when all that’s left for an increasing number of Premier League clubs is to play for diminishing returns of pride.