Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More Midweek Premier League Madness: Relegation battle over as Sunderland escapes drop

Sunderland 3-0 Everton
Sunderland could wrap up the relegation battle quite neatly with a win at home against Everton. This would render the final day utterly meaningless as far as the bottom of the table is concerned, but don't expect anyone around the Stadium of Light to care about that. The boost the Black Cats needed, and Norwich and Newcastle were dreading, came at the stroke of 28 minutes with a glorious free kick from Patrick Van Aanholt. they would double the lead in the 42nd minute off a corner that Everton failed to clear. Lamine Kone latched onto a forward header for his first ever Sunderland goal and one that could all but ensure Sunderland's survival. Kone's double would come in a 55th minute corner that almost went in as an olimpico, but instead fell to the defender's feet for the easiest goal in his small collection. That would be that for this match and the race to avoid relegation. Sunderland would survive while Norwich, despite their result against Watford, and Newcastle would join Aston Villa in the Championship next season.

This brings up some questions regarding Newcastle's future, specifically that of manager Rafa Benitez. Benitez was brought in specifically to help the club avoid the drop, but he has failed that mission. Now that Newcastle are a second tier club, the popular opinion is that Rafa Benitez will exercise that opt-out clause that would result in him leaving the club. It would make sense. With several top tier English clubs likely in need of a manager, he would surly find a job somewhere.

Everton are very good candidates for him. Although he gained fame for leading Liverpool to European glory, Everton is the type of club that would require his services. They will fire Roberto Martinez after this weekend for their disastrous finish to the season, but would they consider giving Rafa a call?

As far as Sunderland is concerned, they need to be really sick of celebrating survival. This is the third year in a row that the Black Cats have only secured their top flight status with one game to spare. One would have to think their luck would run out eventually without drastic changes to how this team operates.

Norwich City 4-2 Watford
Norwich would need a win and Sunderland to drop points in order to keep their slim hopes of survival alive. Else, they would be one and done in the Premier League and have to ply their trade in the Championship next season. This match was pretty crazy early on. Troy Deeney started the party nice and early. Watford's primary goal scorer put them ahead in the 11th minute. It would take Nathan Redmond only four minutes to equalize and Dieumerci Mbokani only three more to give Norwich the lead. The match was off to a blazing 2-1 start within 20 minutes. It became three to to the home team in the 37th minute with an own goal off Watford's Craig Cathcart. Watford still showed some fight in the second half, Their other main goal man, Odion Ighalo, cut into the lead in the 51st minute. That glimmer of hope was short lived. Mbokani redoubled the advantage with his second goal of the game six minutes after. The rest of the match was simply played out. Norwich knew their fate wasn't going to change regardless of what they did today. They were going down anyway thanks to Sunderland's emphatic win at home.

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea
In any other season, this might be the most important match of the day. These two normal giants were,instead, simply playing out the string in a most uninteresting way. Chelsea had nothing left to play for, and Liverpool might be more concerned with the Europa League final in one week's time. Eden Hazard gave Chelsea the game's first goal in the 32nd minute. It took quite some time, but Liverpool would get themselves an equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time to give them a share of the points in this season's Anfield finale.

After today, the stage is set for a mostly meaningless final day of the season. With the relegation fight concluded and Leicester having won the title with two matches to spare, the only thing at stake will be the final place in the top four. Manchester City currently holds a two point advantage for fourth place over their rivals Manchester United. A win for City agaisnt Swansea in Wales would give them the spot. United would need a City loss coupled with them beating Bournemouth at home. 

There are minor positional battles to resolve as well. A City win and Arsenal defeat at home against Aston Villa would lift the Citizens to third over the Gunners. Arsenal can also keep up their streak of consecutive finishes above Tottenham if they beat Villa and Spurs fall to relegated Newcastle at St. James Park.

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