Paul Merson looks ahead to the climax of the Premier League campaign as Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester City all look to seal a top-four finish, but who has the former Arsenal and England forward tipped to qualify for next season’s Champions League?
The trio head into Super Sunday separated by just a single point, with fourth-placed Liverpool currently occupying the final Champions League berth only on goal difference from Leicester.
The Reds face 13th-placed Crystal Palace in front of 10,000 home fans at Anfield knowing that a win will almost certainly see them progress into Europe’s premier club competition next season. Having won seven of their last nine league games in an impressive recent unbeaten run, Jurgen Klopp’s side head into the clash as the most in-form team in the top flight.
There is so much still to play for at the top, meaning we are in store for an amazing final day
Brendan Rodgers’ FA Cup winners have spent longer in the top four than any other Premier League side this season, meanwhile, only to fall out of the Champions League places following a 2-1 loss at Chelsea on Tuesday.
All of which means the Foxes must beat Tottenham at the King Power on Sunday afternoon and hope either of their rivals drop points, with Chelsea taking on midtable Aston Villa at Villa Park knowing victory will see Thomas Tuchel’s men seal third place in the table.
So, there is plenty to play for on Sunday and this is how Merson sees things panning out…
‘It just depends on whether Palace turn up and if Liverpool score early’
“Liverpool are showing the form from the start of the season and when they were top at Christmas, before it all drifted away. They are back to winning ways again, but without Virgil van Dijk, and you can see there is a swagger about them again.
“Against Burnley, they did not play great and Burnley played well, but it just felt as though they were going to score goals. They went to Old Trafford and scored four.
“But if Palace turn up, and it is the final game of the season in front of Liverpool’s fans, they will cause Liverpool problems as Burnley caused them enough problems the other night. And if you have got Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke, they could cause havoc.
“But it just depends on whether Palace turn up and if Liverpool score an early goal. Palace have the ammunition to hurt them, but Liverpool have come so far and it is in their hands – they have a cup final now and they have been pulling up trees to get there in recent weeks.
“It is a massive advantage having home fans – if there was no crowd in there I would not be so sure about Liverpool, but with a crowd in, 100 per cent…
“Liverpool’s full-backs will bomb on and I’m sure Roy Hodgson will tell Zaha to stay up there and not worry about that, it is the last game of the season, ‘just go out and express yourselves’. And that is when they can become very dangerous.
“Seven wins and two draws in their last nine league games, it is now a cup final and if they get all the way to the final and blow it, that will be a nightmare for them. So I expect them to get the job done, but they need an early goal as I do see Palace scoring, especially as Liverpool do have to go for it.
“But I do expect Liverpool to win the game. They are not ripping it up, but they have found a bit of consistency – I saw them play Aston Villa at Anfield and Villa were much the better team, but they still won – and we saw that at the end of last season when they were not playing well, but were winning football matches.
“And the name of the game is to make sure you are winning when you are not playing well, as I saw Liverpool losing games when they were not playing well earlier in the season, but now they are grinding out results.”
‘Win the game and see where it takes Leicester’
“Leicester have to go out and win the game and then see where that takes them. It is a great game as both Leicester and Tottenham have to win, a draw probably won’t be any use to either team.
“Harry Kane will be going for the Golden Boot and it may be his last game for Tottenham, so this will not be a walk in the park and there is going to be drama, Leicester, Liverpool and Chelsea will not all be winning 3-0 at half-time. That is the way it happens on the final day.
“Spurs were shocking in losing to Villa in midweek, a Villa team you thought did not have much to play for. They score early and all of a sudden you think this is going to be a big win for them, and Villa were far from at their best.
“At the end of the day, if Leicester win and miss out on the top four on the final day for the second season in a row, that will be disappointing for them.
“But I see Leicester winning this game.”
‘Chelsea face a Villa Park banana skin’
“I think Chelsea have got the hardest game and this is the banana skin. Chelsea did play very well in midweek, they smothered Leicester, but they do not blow anybody away. And in the end, when Kelechi Iheanacho scored, Chelsea’s season was in danger of going up in flames.
“And that is Chelsea’s problem – they can play amazingly against Villa, but they will not blow them away. And the longer the game goes and Chelsea are only winning 1-0, all you need is a bit of magic from someone and then all of a sudden it is 1-1 and you are out of the Champions League.
“And when you are not blowing teams away, panic can set in, and this is a dangerous game, although I do think Chelsea will win as they have got quality players, and the way Mason Mount is playing is unbelievable.
“I do see them having enough quality, but it will be hard and one area where Villa are good is defensively.
“However, Chelsea defensively are also very good, but you have got to go for the jugular and that is my slight concern with them.
‘We are in store for an amazing final day’
“So while I see all three sides winning, there is going to be drama right to the end, I do not see everything being settled by half-time on Sunday.
“But it will not just be the battle for the last two Champions League places to focus on as Arsenal and Tottenham fans will be watching, which is massive as Arsenal could unbelievably finish above Spurs, which would be just amazing.
“Then West Ham have to just get a draw at home to Southampton to qualify for Europe – EUROPE!!! How unbelievable would that be?
“Meanwhile, how strong a line-up will Man City put out against Everton, who can still get into Europe?
“So there is so much still to play for at the top, meaning we are in store for an amazing final day.”
Pitch to Post Preview – The Premier League final day race for European football assessed
In the final Pitch to Post Preview Podcast of the Premier League season we look ahead to the final day and debate which sides will come out on top in the race for European football.
From the three-way battle for two top-four places and Champions League football between Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester, to West Ham, Tottenham and Everton vying for a Europa League place, and Arsenal’s chances of a Europa Conference League appearance, Sky Sports’ Nick Wright and Oli Yew join Peter Smith to assess the various permutations – and make their predictions!
The panel also reflect on another Premier League title win for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as they prepare to lift the trophy in front of their own fans on Sunday.
Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox