The Premier League’s most thrilling race finishes this weekend. It’s not who wins the title or who is the fourth team to plunge into the Champions League treasure bath. It’s relegation, the most fundamental human drama. One point separates five teams. Three teams stay at the feast, latching to the Sky TV teat and surviving to stave off relegation next season. Two are cast out with West Ham to labor with the more modest earners. To keep things honest and heighten the drama, every match kicks off at the same time, 11:00am ET.
Here is how the table stands after 37 matches. Goal difference (1st tiebreaker) and aggregate goals (2nd tiebreaker) are in brackets.
15. Blackburn 40 [-14, 43] at Wolves
16. Wolves 40 [-19, 44] Blackburn
17. Birmingham 39 [-20, 36] at Tottenham
18. Blackpool 39 [-22, 53] at Manchester United
19. Wigan 39 [-22, 49] at Stoke
20. West Ham 33 [Relegated]
Blackburn and Wolves play each other and control their own outcomes. Whoever wins is in. They could draw and both be relegated. Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan could each win and still be relegated. I tried to work out the precise scenarios for each team. It made by brain hurt once I got past Wolves, but using ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, here are the relegation odds: Blackburn (6.8 percent), Wolves (5.7 percent), Birmingham (57.8), Blackpool (64.6 percent), Wigan (65.1 percent).
Who to root for? If you have no horses, root for Blackpool. They are a tiny team with no business in the Premier League. They went for it this season and played an attacking, positive brand of soccer. Their manager Ian Holloway is a character. How can you not love someone who asked if the league’s governors were from the Planet Zarf?
Who to root against? Blackburn. They shouldn’t be in the relegation battle. But, they got bought. Their new Indian owners know nothing about soccer. They floated fantastical notions about Brazilians coming to Lancashire. They fired steady Sam Allardyce (the best English manager) who would have kept them in the league. Their plight should have a fitting end.
Interesting Fact: From The Guardian’s Football Weekly, “Proper” Englishmen are overrated. Only one foreign manager, Avram Grant the last two seasons, has ever relegated a Premier League club. Maybe this bodes well for Roberto Martinez (worked with ESPN for WC2010) at Wigan.
Prediction: Wolves (43) beat Blackburn (40) at home to stay up. Wigan (42) beat an exhausted Stoke on the road to stay up. Blackpool (40) draws with Man U’s partial reserve team. This is where you would expect Tottenham to choke, so they beat Birmingham (39) rather comfortably. Blackburn and Blackpool are tied for points, giving Blackburn the edge on goal difference.
[Photo via Getty]