As football fans across the globe wait for 2022/2023 season English Premier League to wrap up, here are things to look out for on the final day of the season
1. Defining afternoon awaits Toffees
For the third time in 29 years, Everton’s Premier League status is on the line on the final day at Goodison Park although, unlike against Wimbledon in 1994 or Coventry in 1998, survival is in their own hands. The task sounds straightforward enough: beat a Bournemouth team with nothing to play for and a 70th consecutive season in the top flight is guaranteed. Everton, though, have an aversion to the straightforward. Sean Dyche does not have a decent striker available with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has been integral to the team’s recent improvement, hamstrung again. Unless Vitaliy Mykolenko recovers from a thigh injury, he will not have a recognised full-back (left or right) available either. Everton have not won at home since 11 March and were soundly beaten twice in five days by Gary O’Neil’s team just before the World Cup break, 4-1 in the Carabao Cup and 3-0 in the Premier League. A defining afternoon, laden with consequence on and off the pitch, awaits.
2. Last roll of dice for Smith and Foxes
Leicester could scarcely have asked for kinder opposition than West Ham in a match they must win to have even a puncher’s chance of avoiding relegation on the final day. David Moyes’s side have the distraction of a looming Europa Conference League final and are likely to field a weakened side. In the final game before his contract expires, Dean Smith must decide whether to stick with the belt-and-braces back five that kept a rare clean sheet at Newcastle or recall one or both of James Maddison or Harvey Barnes, his most creative sparks who started that game on the bench. It seems inconceivable that a player as gifted as Maddison won’t line up for what may well be his final game for the club, and his selection would mean Harry Souttar or Wout Faes dropping out. Smith has some big and potentially unpopular decisions to make, albeit ones that will be rendered moot if the result at Goodison Park doesn’t go his side’s way.
3. Rutter to emerge from obscurity?
While Harry Kane looks well placed to end his Tottenham career with at least one goal at Elland Road – if indeed the England striker really is leaving Spurs this summer – Leeds lack a fit natural goalscorer. With Patrick Bamford hamstrung and Rodrigo nursing a troublesome foot injury – although there is a chance the latter could feature at some point – what does Sam Allardyce do? Like his predecessor, Javi Gracia, it is clear the latest Leeds interim manager does not believe that Georginio Rutter, the France Under-21 forward signed from Hoffenheim in January, is remotely ready for Premier League combat. Yet in a match where even a win for Leeds may not avert relegation while Spurs aim to secure a Europa Conference League place by leapfrogging Aston Villa, Allardyce may have no option but to hurl Rutter in at the deep end. Right here, right now, luck surely matters more than tactical ingenuity. Deploying Robin Koch as an out-of-position midfield enforcer is all very well but on what appears poised to be a day of farewells, Big Sam can realistically do little more than hope for the best.
4. A European dilemma for Villa fans
Aston Villa can finish no higher than seventh and Brighton in no more exalted a position than sixth whatever the outcome at Villa Park on Sunday. The home side do have something more than pride to play for, as anything less than a win for Unai Emery’s side could cost them qualification for the Europa Conference League. A four-times Europa League winner with Villarreal (one) and Sevilla (three), Emery knows what it takes to triumph in Europe and the prospect of seeing their team play in continental competition for the first time since 2010 will have many fans excited. But given the transformation in Villa’s fortunes since the Spaniard’s appointment, some might happily forego the prospect of the Thursday-Sunday grind in favour of a far less hectic schedule that could conceivably end with them knocking on the top-four door next season.
5. Can United launch title bid next term?
With Champions League football secured there could be something of a party atmosphere inside Old Trafford against Fulham but the same Groundhog Day of a question nags at Manchester United: will next season finally be the one when England’s record title-winners become true challengers again? The smart money has to be on “no” as United remain a club in flux, an operation that may or may not be partly or fully taken over this summer, depending on the deal the Glazers agree to. Factor in Manchester City, who have just completed a three-peat championship triumph and are gunning for a treble, and the scale of Erik ten Hag’s challenge seems close to insurmountable. But this is sport, so who knows…
6. Bees still in hunt for European place
Manchester City’s victory parade moves on from one lower-budget success story to another. Brighton gave them a tremendous game on Wednesday night and now it is the turn of Brentford, who can still qualify for the Conference League. Thomas Frank’s side need a lot to go their way, including the small matter of a first defeat for the champions since 5 February, but they have confounded enough predictions to ensure nobody should dismiss them out of hand. Few teams mix things up more effectively and among the keys to that has been David Raya, their goalkeeper, whose long and short distribution are up there with the best. He will probably leave this summer, with Brentford asking for £40m, and Spurs are among those with a long-term interest. It would speak volumes for the strides made by player and club if the Spaniard says farewell by helping Brentford leapfrog his potential new employers into the European spots.
7. Ward-Prowse to wave goodbye?
There will probably be a muted atmosphere at St Mary’s on Sunday as relegated Southampton take on a Liverpool side who have seen Champions League qualification slip away. Saints are at least showing signs of planning early for next season, with the well-regarded Russell Martin set to take over as manager. How much of the current squad he will get to work with is harder to gauge, and this could well be James Ward-Prowse’s final appearance in a Southampton shirt after 342 Premier League appearances and 48 – frequently stunning – goals for the club. The midfielder offered little clarity about his future this week, with Spurs and West Ham among his possible suitors. Liverpool too will be saying goodbye to a clutch of stalwarts but are well placed to at least end a season of underachievement on a high, having lost only to Manchester City in the past 11 weeks.