21 May 2021

European deciders and farewell to Kane? – A big Premier League weekend ahead

21 May 2021

Fans will be in attendance at each of Sunday’s 10 Premier League fixtures as a unprecedented campaign played almost exclusively behind closed doors comes to a conclusion.

While the destination of the title and relegation were settled with two weekends to spare, there are still plenty of talking points going into the season’s finale.

Race for Europe

Fifth-placed Leicester are in danger of suffering deja vu. Brendan Rodgers’ side were in the top four for most of last season before missing out on Champions League qualification on the final day and a repeat looms. The Foxes’ costly midweek defeat at Stamford Bridge has left Chelsea, who travel to Aston Villa, and Liverpool, who host Crystal Palace, favourites for the final two top-four spots. Leicester must get a result against Tottenham and cross their fingers for help from elsewhere. West Ham host Southampton in pole position for Europa League football, while Spurs and Everton could still snatch sixth. A spot in the new Europa Conference League is the best Arsenal can hope for.

Kane’s last Spurs game?

Harry Kane file photo (PA Wire)

Harry Kane’s uncertain future is a hot topic. The striker is reported to have told Tottenham he wishes to be sold after becoming frustrated at the lack of progress at the north London club, coupled with his desire to lift silverware. Kane still has three years left on his contract but said this week he needs a conversation with club chairman Daniel Levy, with Manchester City seemingly the 27-year-old’s favoured destination. Kane has hit 220 goals in 335 Tottenham games and goes into the weekend locked on 22 goals with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the battle for the golden boot.

Farewell to former England managers

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is one of two former England managers preparing to leave the Premier League (PA Wire)

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson has confirmed that Sunday’s trip to Anfield will be his final game in charge. The farewell fixture will be Hodgson’s 364th in the Premier League, a journey which began at Blackburn in 1997 and continued with spells at Fulham, weekend opponents Liverpool and West Brom. Hodgson, appointed by the Eagles in September 2017, was given an emotional send-off at Selhurst Park in midweek, describing it as a moment he will “never forget”.  Sam Allardyce, who briefly replaced Hodgson as national team manager after Euro 2016, will also step down from his role with Championship-bound West Brom following their trip to Leeds.

Champions League final on the horizon

Manchester City’s canter to a third title in four seasons was confirmed on May 11, while the identities of the relegated trio – Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – were known the previous day. Champions City will lift the trophy in front of 10,000 fans at the Etihad Stadium following their clash with Everton. With the all-English Champions League final against Chelsea six days later, Pep Guardiola’s selection will be interesting. Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Kyle Walker have each had recent fitness issues. While City have the luxury of being able to rest players if required, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has tough decisions to make ahead of his team’s trip to Villa Park. The German must balance the desire for a top-four finish with preparing for the biggest game in European club football.

Brighter days ahead

Fans were permitted to return to Premier League matches this week, including for Brighton's dramatic 3-2 win over champions Manchester City (PA Wire)

As a bizarre season played almost exclusively behind closed doors draws to a close, there will be the welcome sight of fans in attendance at every game for the first and only weekend in 2020-21. An unprecedented campaign kicked off in September following last term’s late finish and has been devoid of atmosphere for the most part due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Liverpool fans waited 30 years to be top-flight champions again but have had scant opportunity to see their team play as such, while followers of Leeds will finally be able to watch their club in the Premier League for the first time since 2004. Capacity crowds still seem a distant prospect but small numbers of supporters through the turnstiles is a step towards normality and a sign of brighter days to come.

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