Would you believe that the Premier League season wraps up this weekend? Well, following nine months of action and the usual international breaks in between, England’s top-flight draws to a conclusion on the 2014/15 campaign this Sunday.
All 20 Premiership sides will play simultaneously, but with Chelsea having long since clinched the title, the most intriguing storyline entering the final round concerns the last, unwanted relegation place.
With Queens Park Rangers and Burnley already destined for the drop, their respective matches against Leicester City and Aston Villa – both of whom have secured safety with 38 points – hold little consequences.
However, 18th-place Hull City will require a heroic last-round victory at home over Manchester United to avoid being sent down.
Even if Hull manages to pull out a win, 17th-place Newcastle would have to lose at home to West Ham for the Tigers to stay up another season. Should that transpire, Newcastle would plummet to the Championship amid 10 losses from their last 11 matches of this season.
On the opposite end of the table, the Premiership’s fifth-place Europa League qualification spot is still up for grabs heading into Sunday.
At the moment, Liverpool owns that position with 62 points ahead of their away trip to Stoke City, who have already set a club record with 51 points on the campaign.
However, just behind the Reds sits Tottenham on 61 points and Southampton on 60. As a result, their respective games at Everton and Manchester City could force a final weekend shake-up.
Looking to cement their third-place finish, Arsenal hosts West Brom, while the Gunners’ midweek opponents, Sunderland, travel to champions Chelsea having triumphantly sealed their top-flight fate on Wednesday.
Elsewhere in London, Crystal Palace will welcome Swansea City with sights on joining the Swans in the top half of this season’s final standings.
With the entirety of Sunday’s curtain-closing matches previewed, let’s raise a glass to the final Best XI of the 2014/15 Premier League season.
Presumably making his 333rd and final appearance since joining Chelsea in 2004, Cech will certainly hope to impress in his Stamford Bridge bow before heading elsewhere this summer. With the emergence of 23-year-old Thibaut Courtois
as Chelsea’s No. 1 goalkeeper this season, Cech has been limited to six starts, but has secured a clean sheet on five of those occasions. Last season, Cech tied for the league-lead among goalkeepers with 16 clean sheets, and he’ll now face Sunderland with Chelsea currently tied for the fewest goals allowed this season. Sunderland has also scored the second-fewest goals on the campaign, providing Cech a wonderful opportunity to close his Chelsea career on a high note.
Among one of the biggest fantasy surprises this season, Bellerin has enjoyed a breakout campaign at just 20 years old, as the Spaniard has totaled two goals, one assist and seven clean sheets in 16 Premier League starts. Along the way, the former Barcelona product has staked a strong claim to maintain Arsenal’s starting right back position, even when Mathieu Debuchy
regains full fitness next season. While Debuchy recently returned to training, Bellerin still figures to start Sunday’s home game versus West Brom, who have scored the second-fewest away goals all season.
A couple of months ago, the prospect of including a Leicester defender in the Best XI might have seemed outrageous, but with five clean sheets in their past six matches, the Foxes’ late-season surge to safety was built on solid defensive play. To close their successful campaign back in the Premiership, Leicester hosts last-place Queens Park Rangers, whose seven road points all season unsurprisingly rank last league-wide. A defense-eligible player, Schlupp has actually been stationed of the left wing of Leicester’s 3-4-1-2 formation lately, making him a more dynamic fantasy consideration this Sunday against hapless QPR.
Speaking of teams in disarray, Newcastle is verging on a historic collapse, so the Magpies figure to sharpen their focus for Sunday’s home match versus West Ham. Fortunately for Newcastle, their London opponents have been blanked four times from their past six road trips, and have gone winless in 15 of 18 Premier League matches in 2015. Combined, those developments bode well for Newcastle and their defense, a unit Janmaat has headlined this season. In fact, the Dutchman’s eight assists trail only Leighton Baines
for the highest tally among defenders, and Janmaat holds a decent chance of bringing his clean sheet figure to eight as well, provided Newcastle shape-up against West Ham on Sunday.
Another player seemingly destined to ply his trade elsewhere next season, Toure could very well make his last appearance at the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City on Sunday. While at times his commitment level has been questioned, the Ivorian’s brace last weekend gave him 10 goals on the season. Although that figure is merely half of the 20 goals he fantastically provided last term, Toure still seems to be finishing strong, as he’s scored in two of his past four starts. This weekend, Toure will go against a Southampton team that he scored on previously this season, perhaps providing confidence ahead of his Man City swan song.
In a week that saw his Liverpool teammates host a party to celebrate Coutinho’s selection to the Premier League team of the season, a non-attendee, Raheem Sterling
, stole the headlines with his continued contract saga. In wake of Sterling’s growing displeasure at Liverpool, it would be surprising if he starts the Reds’ quest for Europa League qualification Sunday at Stoke. With that in mind, Coutinho should be an even larger component of Liverpool’s attack, likely as their link between the midfield and the final third. With five goals and seven assists on the campaign, Coutinho has shown great creativity in such a role and could return the favor to his teammates with a rewarding performance to close the week.
Hot on Liverpool’s heels for fifth-place, Tottenham travels to Merseyside to play Everton on Sunday. In addition to having won consecutive matches against the Toffees, Spurs broke their two-game scoring funk with the help of Chadli last weekend. On the whole, Chadli has now notched 11 goals to go with six assists, surpassing teammate Christian Eriksen
as Tottenham’s most productive fantasy midfielder. The Belgian has also scored in three of his last five matches, setting up nicely as he prepares to face an Everton defense that leaked two unanswered goals to toothless Sunderland in their last appearance at Goodison Park.
After gradually working his way back from last season’s ACL tear and then falling out of favor in Arsenal’s first-team side, Walcott enjoyed an active cameo appearance Wednesday versus Sunderland. Although the Gunners went a third straight game without scoring, Walcott appeared more threatening than Olivier Giroud
, who has gone six games without a goal. Knowing that, Walcott could start Sunday against West Brom, whether on the right wing or in Giroud’s central position. Should that occur, Walcott might be able to utilize this week’s momentum to pester the Baggies’ usually well-organized defense and revive the Gunners’ attack as well.
Christian Benteke (C)
Like Walcott, Benteke entered this season coming off a nasty injury. While it took the big man some time to regain his form, nobody has been hotter than the Belgian lately. To that point, Benteke has struck for an astounding 11 goals over Aston Villa’s past 10 matches in the Premier League. Even as the Villains were pulverized 6-1 at Southampton last weekend, Benteke was able to provide their lone consolation goal. Now, he’ll aim to keep the ball rolling as Villa prepares to host relegation-bound Burnley. Although the Clarets have posted back-to-back clean sheets, still only four teams have conceded more goals than them this season. Overall, Benteke’s flying form and favorable matchup earn him the final Best XI captain’s armband of this season.
Benteke’s countryman, Lukaku, has also fared decently for himself recently, scoring in two of Everton’s last three games. In doing so, Lukaku has reached double-figures in goals for the third straight season, though this term’s 10 goals pale in comparison to his respective 15 and 17 from the previous two. Nonetheless, the 22-year-old should feel good about himself heading into Sunday’s home date with Tottenham, particularly when considering Spurs’ defense has shipped the fifth-most goals in the Premier League this season. Moreover, Everton has supplied two goals in three of their past five games against Tottenham at Goodison Park, lending further reason to like Lukaku’s chances of scoring Sunday.
Among the biggest difference-makers in the Premier League this season, Costa has scored 19 goals during his debut campaign in England’s top-flight. While nagging injuries have contributed toward Costa slowing down lately, the Spaniard returned Monday to make his first appearance since early April. With ample recovery time, Costa should start again against Sunderland on Sunday, when the Blues will be without Player of the Season Eden Hazard
. As a result, Costa seems to hold Chelsea’s best odds of finding the scoresheet, especially since he’ll be at Stamford Bridge. Of Costa’s 19 goals this season, a healthy 11 have come at home, where Chelsea’s championship-winning campaign will conclude Sunday.