Saturday 9th May
15.00 Hull V Burnley
This column had thought that its days of previewing Burnley games were effectively over but this tie has scuppered that notion. Rock bottom and eight points from safety, Burnley are as good as gone. There’s an important lesson to be learnt here: sometimes when you work as hard as you can to achieve your dream, it still isn’t enough. A lesson, presumably, that might not be taught to children in class but one which adults will have taken note of along the way.
Their (presumably) ultimately futile efforts to stay in the league might be given as an example of the gross financial unevenness in the ‘greatest league in the world ever’ whereby their entire yearly budget could sit beside the lint in Angel di Maria’s tracksuit pocket but the truth is that although an invitation to dine at the top table is wonderful, a suitably sized stool will not be forthcoming and a carelessly dropped fork will, from that height, effectively impale the dreamer scurrying about below for crumbs.
In their favour, if they are relegated, they should benefit from the much ballyhooed parachute payments that the Premier League has seen fit to bestow upon those wretched souls whom it casts from heaven. It is a comfort of the coldest kind (roughly -273 C, since you ask) and must leave them feeling a bit like the man who got one chance to spin the wheel for the $1,000,000 prize but left with $5,000, a cutlery set and a lovely photo to perch above the mantelpiece at home.
One point outside of the drop zone and were it not for some overly generous displays from both Liverpool and Palace in recent matches, Hull would be sitting a point below 18th place Sunderland at best. Of course, the flip side to that coin is that they grabbed six points at a vital stage of the season thus displaying the necessary testicular fortitude to stay in the top flight. Incidentally, those six points represent a quarter of the points they’ve garnered from wins this season.
They have been largely awful the whole year through and few would shed a tear if they departed stage left. The only thing this column can find in their favour is the amount of Irish players in their ranks (which might form part of their story…) and so, from a purely selfish point of view, this completely unbiased report hopes they stay up but not at the expense of backing Burnley for the win one last time. They may be going down but they’ve never given up and if they can just figure out how to persuade the ball to get by the ‘keeper and into the net, they’ll be laughing. Betvictor is the spot for that outcome, 7/2 is the price.
15.00 Newcastle v West Bromwich Albion
This column is cursing itself for not putting some pennies on Newcastle getting relegated a few weeks back when bookies were offering a price of 80/1 for that outcome. It would have been worth it for the cash-out value alone. They have gained a whopping twelve points from their last twenty games; it seems the institutionalized chaos has become complete and infects every atom of their miserable existence. Like them or laugh at them and regardless of the league they’re in, this club is a venerable institution and beloved by many; surely there should be safeguards in place robust enough to stop the kind of predatory behaviour which they are being subjected to by the very person who should, in theory, have the club’s best interests at heart.
Of course, the history of football is littered with rapacious and morally reprehensible owners, so is Newcastle owner Mike Ashley any different? To give that question the time it deserves is beyond what can be offered here today but suffice it to say, the man ranked as the 12th richest in Britain (as of 2012) surely knows what he’s doing and sadly for Newcastle fans, it isn’t what they would consider is best for them and the club.
Insofar as Newcastle are a daily recurring nightmare, they are a treasure trove for every team that’s been lucky enough to play them in the last two months and West Brom really should make hay here. After a slight wobble themselves that was only righted after boss Pulis managed to convince his charges to put thoughts of flip-flop shopping out of their heads until safety was assured, West Brom have been on a tidy run, capped by a rather unexpected and quite fortunate victory over Manchester United last week. There is nothing in the ramshackle collection of men posing as Newcastle United football club that should hold any fear for them and all three points are expected. As close to nailed-on as you’re likely to get, Boylesports are offering 2/1 for the West Brom win.
Sunday 10th May
16.00 Chelsea v Liverpool
The newly-crowned champions (and deserved, at that) take on last season’s nearly men, Liverpool, at home and it is the visitors who have the great pleasure of giving Chelsea the traditional guard of honour. One wonders what Brendan Rodgers would have made of that had Marty McFly whispered it in his ear back in September. Although we can’t ever know, doubtless it would have been something deeply insightful and particular to the man himself.
Chelsea have shown the rest of the league what can happen when a world class manager has excellent players, a clear plan carried out to a tee by said players and little in the way of sustained pressure from competitors. In fact, it’s this latter point which raises questions about how long Jose Mourinho will hang around in England for. There is talk of him signing a contract to keep him there until 2019, which will please most people associated with the club but what of the man himself? It’s not just the winning that’s important to Mourinho, he also needs to feel like he’s putting cigarettes out in the eyes of the unsuspecting, that he’s pissing in their well. If the other teams can’t come close enough for him to feel threatened, he will eventually bore of his Blair/Bush tactic of declaring bogus wars and move to waters unsullied to continue this madcap, one-man-against-the-world campaign. Germany, perhaps. That would be a clash of cultures worth celebrating.
As it is, tomorrow he will have to sustain himself on the ebbing life force of a Liverpool side unable to bring the Champions League bacon home for departing hero, Steven Gerard. There is no denying that he is not the player of yesteryear nor even yester-season but it will feel odd to see a Liverpool squad without his name on it. He has had many detractors over the years but as far as Liverpool fans go, he has gained a permanent place in the pantheon of their greats and that is something that money can’t buy.
If nothing else comforts a man that has always put so much pressure on himself, that knowledge can be the pillow upon which he rests his head as his body lies sore upon his mattress of cash. It’s difficult to say if Rodgers will start him now that there is a slight chance of pipping Manchester United to fourth place but it would be wonderful to see him dispatch a trademark thunderbolt to the top corner to gain all three points for the club of his heart. But if nothing else, one hopes that this column has shown that dreams and reality are only occasional bedfellows. On that note, it’s a Chelsea win at 11/10 from Paddypower amongst others.