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Previewing the End of a Golden Premier League Season

The 2011-2012 English Premier League season has been one for the ages and certainly one of the craziest roller coaster rides for many of the clubs’ fervent supporters. Whether it be Manchester City seemingly blowing the number one spot at the top of the table just one month ago to their fierce rivals on the other side of town, Arsenal coming from the depths of the second side of the table to reclaim their usual spot in the Top 4 or long-time Premier League clubs like Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers fighting relegation, this season has put many a supporter through the wringer and then back again, often within the span of just one week.

We here at appreciate football — on both sides of the pond — and we also appreciate a good dogfight right down to the end of a season, which this Sunday promises to be. With five clubs fighting for the coveted Top 4 spots in the Premiership and two clubs fighting to stave off relegation — Wolverhampton and Blackburn have already clinched the other two unwanted spots at the bottom of the table — we are looking at what could possibly be an historic Sunday in English football. The beautiful thing about this last week of the season is that all the matches start at the same time — 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. It’s 0-0 in every stadium, and every club knows exactly what they’re fighting for.

Making it all the more interesting are which clubs are fighting for the Top 4 spots; all long-time rivals and all within shouting distance — some literally — of each other’s home stadiums. Not only are positions at the top of the table at stake here, but the reputations of each club’s supporters are neck-and-neck, face-to-face, right down to the wire. You have two teams in one city duking it out for the number one spot at the top of the table in Manchester and you have two teams from North London — Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur — long-time hated rivals fighting it out for the all important third and fourth spots, which clinch European Champions’ League spots for next season’s UEFA tournament.

Making the third spot all the more important this season is that sixth-place Chelsea — already eliminated from any chance of finishing in the Top 4 — are squaring off versus German powerhouse Bayern Munich in next week’s Champions’ League Final. A win by the Blues in next week’s clash would automatically clinch a spot in next year’s Champions League for Chelsea, thereby eliminating any chance for the fourth placed Premier League team to qualify for the UEFA tournament. Need I get into the finances these qualified Champions’ League teams receive on top of the adulation of playing in the biggest club tournament in the world? I need not.

So without further ado, and without getting into a review of this season’s madness — it would take me a week alone to sum up this season’s highs and lows — I’m going to try to predict who’s sitting in a chair at the end of this craziest game of musical chairs by Sunday evening.

Manchester City v. Queens Park Rangers

Manchester City goes into this match with only one thing on their mind: hardware. QPR also go into this match with one thing on their mind: survival. A team with survival on its mind is a tough team to play against and QPR have proven veterans like Bobby Zamora and Adel Taarabt to put the ball in the net and leaders like mid-fielder Joey Barton and fullback Anton Ferdinand to lean on, but it’s City’s time to shine and after YaYa Toure’s tour-de-force, two goal performance last week versus Newcastle, it seems as though the title is theirs to lose. Expect City to score early — Sergio Aguero perhaps — and expect the celebrating at the Etihad to kick off not too soon afterward. City lifts their first Premier League Title and their first top flight win since the ’67-’68 season.

Manchester City 3 — Queens Park Rangers 0

Sunderland v. Manchester United

Manchester United go into this season’s last match in the unfamiliar position of second place and unable to control their own destiny because of goal differential. Sunderland, on a bit of a downward trend toward season’s end after the loss of striker Darren Bent last month, are basically playing out the string. After surging earlier in ’12 after the sacking of former manager Steve Bruce and the subsequent appointment of Martin O’Neill, the loss of one of the Premier League’s best strikers was too much to overcome and any hopes to finish in the top half of the table were dashed for Sunderland. United, behind the fine front line of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, and the more than capable midfield led by Ashley Young, Nani and the ageless Paul Scholes, still smell the hardware and will come out guns blazing. Too bad their Manchester neighbors will snuff out any chance at title number 20.

Sunderland 1 — Manchester United 4

West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal

The home side go into this match with not much to play for but pride, but West Brom have shown all season, especially at the Hawthorns, that they do not go down easily, sitting right at the middle of the table in tenth place. The Baggies have two dangerous strikers, the dynamic Peter Odemwingie and Irish international Simon Cox, and a solid if unspectacular lineup to fill out their starting eleven. Captain Chris Brunt has been declared out though, and the Gunners are shooting for third place with everything on the line. Striker Robin van Persie has been on fire lately, netting two more goals last week in their surprising draw versus Norwich City at the Emirates. The Arsenal defense has been subpar lately and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has been very ordinary himself of late, but with van Persie staring Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer’s shared Premier League record of 31 goals right in the face — he has 30 — I expect the Dutchman to not only eclipse the record, I expect him to lead the Gunners to the Champions’ League spot.

Arsenal 2—West Bromwich Albion 1

Tottenham Hotspur v. Fulham

Spurs, falling right in with the rest of the club’s history, have had their usual roller coaster ride right from day one this season. Big losses to both Manchester clubs to start off the season led into a four month campaign that was amongst the best in the club’s history — not to mention best in the league over that span — followed by a dramatic free fall which started by blowing a 2-0 first half lead against their North London rivals at the Emirates. Harry Redknapp’s club has righted the ship a bit in the last month, and playing at White Hart Lane this Sunday the ship should stay nice and upright. Clint Dempsey has led Fulham with 17 goals—the most ever by an American born player in Premier League history — but they really have nothing to play for but pride, while Spurs have everything to play for. It may be too little, too late, but expect the Spurs midfield led by the lighting quick Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, the mercucial Luka Modric and precise Rafael van der Vaart to dominate the pitch. Spurs fans better get brushed up on their Bayern Munich chants for next Saturday, though, if they want to play Champions League football next season.

Tottenham Hotspur 3—Fulham 1

Everton v. Newcastle United

The Magpies, holding on to the faintest of hopes for the Top 4 go into one of the toughest stadiums in the Premier League in which to secure three points, Goodison Park, and have to take on a team that has really found its footing lately, Everton. The Toffees, led by Premier League player of the month of April Nikica Jelavic and the reborn Steven Pienaar, on loan from Tottenham after an underwhelming campaign there, are a tough team to face and although Everton is playing primarily for pride, they are also playing before the home supporters for the final time until August. Newcastle have been led by the transfer pickup of the year Papiss Cisse and fellow striker Demba Ba to bring back the glory to St. James Park that had been missing for some time. Although the Magpies’ roller coaster season will see them end up with fifth place, this is a team on the rise and a club that should be proud of their season.

Everton 2 — Newcastle United 2

Stoke City v. Bolton Wanderers

Bolton go in with one aim, plain and simple: get the win on the road and hope Queens Park Rangers lose at the Etihad. Bolton blew a huge opportunity last week when relinquishing a two-goal lead with less than 20 minutes to go at the Reebok and losing what could prove to be a crushing two points. The good news for Bolton, though, is that Stoke come in winless in its last five matches and are seemingly playing out the string. With a starting eleven that could look vastly different next season and a very banged up backline the Potters are coming into this match very vulnerable, although they do still have the dangerous 6-foot-7 Peter Crouch up front who always gives defenders headaches in the air. Bolton come into this match very desperate and with trusted veterans like midfielders Martin Petrov and Nigel Reo-Coker as well as strikers Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic, I’m going to pick desperate over uninterested, even on the road. Bolton supporters, breathe easy.

Stoke City 0 — Bolton Wanderers 1

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