As the curtain falls on yet another eventful English Premier League season tomorrow, it is time to look back at a campaign that has been far less dramatic than those that have preceded it. We go into the final round of matches with the champions already known and crowned and the relegation places all sealed, pardon the pun. We certainly have seen more exciting conclusions to a season.
Of course, there is one major battle—the fight for Uefa Champions League places. The Arsenal find themselves in a dual battle where they will be looking to escape the attentions of neighbours Tottenham Hotspur and hold on to position four while at the same time hoping to snatch position three from London rivals Chelsea and qualify automatically for the lucrative group stages of the elite competition.
The former battle is straight forward for Arsene Wenger’s men. Win against Newcastle United and position four is guaranteed regardless of what Spurs do in their own game. The other battle though is out of their hands as it depends on what happens at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea host Everton. There is even a possibility that the season could not be over for the two London giants.
If the Toffees manage a draw in London and Arsenal beat the Magpies by one goal, having scored two more goals than Rafael Benitez’s charges, position three will have to be settled by a play-off. The set of results we are talking about here is a goalless draw in London and 1-2 in the Northeast or 1-1 at the Bridge and 2-3 in Newcastle, etc. Now that could make for an interesting finale.
Neither Chelsea nor Arsenal would be looking forward to that play-off, but having played a record 69 games after tomorrow’s fixture, it is the Blues that will dread an additional fixture most. Their interest would surely be in seeing the back of yet another eventful season which ended in cup glory after Wednesday’s triumph in the Europa League in the Amsterdam Arena, the Netherlands.
Because of my well-documented love for Benitez, I have always been wishing Chelsea well since November, except when they came to Anfield. I was, therefore, very happy seeing him adding to his trophy collectionon Wednesday night especially given what he has gone through and also considering what this means to his future as a manager. He must be back in the frame for a big job.
After his anti-climatic departure from Anfield and his ill-advised stint at Inter Milan, Rafa needed a job that would help him reassert his credentials and, for me, the Chelsea job was simply the perfect fit. Here was a man who went where he was clearly not wanted, let alone loved, but remained focused on the job at hand and delivered beyond the minimum of what was required of him.
With the team going nowhere and facing Champions League elimination, the Spaniard got down to work immediately and managed to steady the ship. His greatest challenge was how to manage the squad without upsetting the balance of the team given the amount of games they have been required to play and, even without Wednesday’s triumph, he has passed that test more than admirably.
Blues fans will eventually get their wish in the off-season, but even the fiercest of Rafa’s haters will inwardly accept that the man has done a fantastic job and I hope that with the managerial merry-go-around that is expected in the off-season, the controversial tactician will find himself in the big time again.