With Leicester City confirmed Premier League champions on Monday the attention on England’s top-flight league turned to the ongoing battle for the lucrative Champions League places and Premier League survival this weekend.
Prior to this weekend Newcastle’s reversal in fortunes under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez looked to be heading in the right direction after two wins against Swansea and Palace and two draws against Liverpool and Manchester City. However, their survival hopes took a major blow on Saturday when they became the first team in the last eleven Premier League games not to beat already relegated Aston Villa.
Sunderland fans would have not been holding out much hope for their beloved team on Saturday, knowing Newcastle faced Villa and they had the arduous task of facing last season’s Premier League Champions Chelsea at the Stadium of Light. After a run of six draws in their last eight league games and only one defeat against Champions Leicester in that spell, it’s safe to say the Blackcats were due a bit of good luck and it could not have come at a more suitable time.
It was never going to be easy or plain sailing for the Sunderland fans or players and not surprisingly they found themselves 2-1 down at half-time thanks to strikes from Costa and Matic, either side of Khazri’s equaliser on 41 minutes. However, the second half was a totally different story and the Sunderland players buoyed by a rocking Stadium of light came out and performed as if their lives depended on it.
Understandably they proved to be far more hungry and passionate than their more illustrious rivals, who had nothing left to play for, after expending most of their energy and pride halting Spurs title challenge on Monday. Chelsea held their lead for about 20 minutes of the second half before a brilliant spell involving top-scorer Defoe, who grabbed the equalizer on 67 minutes, and then two minutes later the tireless Borini fittingly grabbed the winner.
The win was a major turning point in Sunderland’s season as it lifted them out of the relegation zone one point ahead of bitter rivals Newcastle. More importantly Sunderland still have a game in hand over their nearest challengers for survival, which they play at home on Wednesday against mid-table Everton, who have nothing left to play for this season apart from pride.
Newcastle’s survival is now out of their hands with only one game left to play at home to Spurs next weekend, as if Sunderland beat Everton midweek their survival is guaranteed regardless of their result against Watford on Sunday, as they’ll be four points ahead and out of reach of Newcastle.
However, Sunderland’s survival is still not guaranteed as Norwich, who did not play at the weekend, also still have two games to play at home to Watford on Wednesday and away against Everton on Sunday.
Norwich, who are a point behind Newcastle and four behind Sunderland, really have to win their game against Watford midweek and hope that Sunderland lose or draw against Everton. If this transpires it will set up a pulsating final Premier League weekend relegation battle with Sunderland on 35 or 36 points and Newcastle and Norwich tied on 34 points.
At the top of the table it looks like Manchester City’s dreams of challenging for the Champions league again next season might be over after they could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal. City did lead after top-scorer Aguero and De Bruyne twice put them ahead, but strikes from Giroud and Sanchez insured the Gunners left with a valuable point.
This meant the Gunners held on to third place and the Champions League qualification spot, but failed to draw level with their bitter North London rivals Spurs. However, Arsenal are still in with a realistic chance of securing second place ahead of Spurs and the automatic Champions League spot, as if they beat Villa at home on Sunday and Spurs lose against Newcastle, they will leapfrog them, which would be a cruel blow for Spurs after such an impressive season.
Manchester United also have an outside chance of stealing third place as they’ve a game in hand over City and Arsenal. If they beat West Ham at Old Trafford tomorrow night, then beat Bournemouth at home on Sunday and City and Arsenal both lose their final games of the season against Villa and Swansea respectively, they will leapfrog them and go third on 69 points.
However, United will have their work cut out beating West Ham as they’re still in the hunt for a Europa League spot on 59 points and if they beat United tomorrow night, then Stoke away at the weekend and Southampton, United and Manchester City all lose at the weekend they will go level on 65 points with City, and nick the final Europa League spot ahead of United.