Saturday 7th May
12.45 Norwich v Manchester United
Did you hear the news? Burnley have secured promotion back to the BPL at the first time of asking! Oh and Leicester have been crowned league champions. Miracles do happen or so the rolling 24 hour news networks have been constantly reminding us all week. One team who could do with a serious amount of positive supernatural intervention is Norwich. The Canaries are battling with Sunderland and Newcastle for the one safe place left – 17th place. Oh the humanity.
There is a finite amount of human breath in the universe. Each one of us will eventually reach our own final one, life being measured in ever-decreasing amounts of the inhale/exhale mechanism. This is the position that Norwich now face, if in a slightly less existential way but not far from terminal, either. They sit in 19th, one point behind Sunderland and two behind Newcastle. The only thing in their favour is that they have a game in hand over Newcastle. Sadly, though, this ‘advantage’ with Sunderland who, as we’ve just noted, are a point ahead – in other words, Norwich no longer have their destiny in their own hands.
The visiting side are in a better position as a) they’re not battling relegation (which is always helpful) and b) they are in with a decent shout of grabbing the last Champions League place for next season. It has been a weirdly amusing season for non-Utd fans – Louis van Gaal’s recent “sex masochism” quote was grade A Dutch comedy – but their long-suffering/somewhat entitled fans haven’t found it so funny and yet, they are in with a decent shot of elite European club competition next year.
As was argued above, Norwich are in a dicey and precarious place. Much has been made of the injury to defensive lynchpin, Timm Klose. His arrival in January heralded an upswing in their defensive fortunes but his absence has been felt keenly since their slightly surprising loss to a woeful Crystal Palace. Following that loss, they have been beaten twice but crucially one of those games was against Sunderland which effected a six-point swing against Norwich. Poor timing on their part, you’d have to argue.
So what happens in this match? Probably very little. Neither team has regularly produced scintillating football or even moderately interesting football but it would be difficult to bet against Utd in this tie. Even though a loss here would likely be fatal to any hope Norwich retain but they’ve been fairly poor recently and Utd haven’t been. The best price for a Utd win comes from ToteSport amongst others at 10/11.
17.30 Leicester v Everton
At the risk of coming across like a bitter old curmudgeon, this column is already relatively sick of Leicester City. It’s not that they have done anything to annoy us, their achievement this season is a joyous expression of the improbable over established grind and hats off to them for that. It’s just the overblown media toss-fest that has wrung the simple joy from it. On some Sky channel during the week, they showed a graphic of the world which tracked the re-tweeting of a Vardy (or someone to do with the club) tweet via a bloody heat map! Still, one can sleep well knowing the comfort that the poor and oppressed of the planet will get from such information. Remember internally displaced people the world over, dreams do come true.
But enough of this jaded drag, let’s kick Captain Comedown and the Buzzkills to touch. With a bit of luck, there’s some money to be made from this tie for those bold enough to try. The new champions will receive their trophy this weekend and the whole afternoon should be little above party time. It’s possible, indeed, that many of the players have been on cloud 9 for most of the week and, with the job done, they might not be putting their best forward this weekend. Why risk injury at this point in the season, when they’ve already extracted the very maximum from the season?
In such extraordinary circumstances, this column would back nearly any team to visit and cause an ‘upset’. However, the visiting team on this occasion is Everton and not all is well on the blue side of Liverpool. There have been fan protests against their manager, small plane’s have been commissioned to fly over Goodison park with what we’re sure are very witty slogans of dissent. It’s true that Everton won their last match but it’s also true that this win was only their second in the last ten games and only three teams have a worse record than that over the same period.
So what is it to be, will Leicester show up just because they have to thus affording Everton a decent chance of getting the win or will the visiting team do what they’ve done for most of the season and fail to deliver? It’s a toss of a coin but if we were to jump on this weeks bandwagon improbable, we’re going to back Everton for the win. BetFred and others have that outcome at 10/3. If that’s a bit of a stretch for you, a number of bookies have the draw at a similar price.
Sunday 8th May
16.00 Manchester City v Arsenal
If Leicester’s season has been the tale of wonder and enduring hope, the flip side of the coin is these two teams. Back in January, this column remarked that if neither of the two managed to win the league, they should hang their head in shame. If ever there was a weird season to take advantage of, this was it. And yet both these teams failed utterly in their attempts to shape any type of success this season.
City splurged money over the summer and are presently nine points worse off than they were at this point last season. Arsenal thought it prudent to forgo purchasing a single outfield player over the summer and were naturally hit by a spate of injuries to key players. Who could have seen that coming? In European football, the Gunners pulled their usual trick of finishing second in the group stages thereby setting themselves up for a last 16 tie against a really good team and were consequently knocked out at that stage for the fourth year in a row. City, somehow, managed to reach the last four of the Champions League and were utterly abysmal in their defeat to a relatively poor Real Madrid team. So, while most clubs beneath them would happily settle for that lot this year, for teams of their wealth and stature it has been nothing short of embarrassing.
All that aside, there is something on the line in this match and is of interest as a result. Arsenal are three points ahead of City and only three points behind a likely punch-drunk Spurs – local bragging rights in that regard are a major inducement to win. City are four points clear of Man Utd but the Manchester side have a game in hand over their city rivals and, should City lose, it’s all to play for in the race for the CL place. Of the two sides, it seems Arsenal have the stronger hand.
Anyone who watched City’s mid-week shambles in Madrid would have witnessed a soulless performance. As simplistic as it is to say, if they can’t get themselves up for CL smei-final with all the glory that would come with a win, then it is difficult to imagine them doing so in the race for 4th place, especially as a good number of these same players know that they will be moving elsewhere come the summer.
Arsenal’s players don’t share that sense of pointlessness as they can be fairly confident that Wenger won’t be buying a huge amount of players over the summer and their status should be secure. Still, though, professional pride if nothing else will see them desperately want to win so that they can effect another last 16 knock-out against Barcelona next season.
As alluded to above, Arsenal will likely be the better team of the two and should have the wherewithal to win against a broken and disinterested City side. Bet365 amongst a host of others have City as favourites for this tie but this column honestly can’t see why. The aforementioned turf accountant have a price of 19/10 for an Arsenal win. Seems like a good bet to us.