CHAPMAN: Champions League spots still in play on final EPL matchday

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The great irony in this English Premier League season is that the Super League debacle that Liverpool were a part of would eliminate the only drama we have had to enjoy this season. The relegation races were all but settled a month ago. Manchester City slowly pulled away from everyone and it has been apparent they were champions at least six weeks ago.

But if Liverpool were already granted a spot in the sacred Super League, the chase for the final Champions League spot would mean nothing.  Liverpool’s desperate scramble to get back into Europe’s supreme, cash-laden competition has given us two months of drama. In trying to catch either Chelsea or Leicester we have been treated to some amazing storylines in the last week alone. Last Saturday’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester, and their Premier League rematch on Tuesday, would not have had the same intrigue.

We would not have had the once-in-a-lifetime highlight of a staggering Liverpool, needing a goal to squeak by relegated West Brom, sending goalie Alisson up for a corner on Sunday, and scoring in the 95th minute in what is a top-10 Premier League moment. We wouldn’t have had the tension-filled match of Liverpool v. Burnley on Wednesday, with goal difference being so key that even at 2-0 the game was hanging in the balance until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s capper to make it finish 3-0.

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So now, instead of a final day of the season on Sunday that is meaningless, we have Liverpool, tied on points with Leicester for the final Champions League spot but four goals ahead in goal difference, needing to beat Crystal Palace while Leicester will try to erase that four goal-gap with a massive win against Tottenham. Chelsea play Aston Villa, one point up in third, should they draw or lose and Leicester and Liverpool win, then Chelsea would then need to beat Manchester City in the Champions League final to qualify as defending champs.

There’s also Europa League spots on the line for West Ham, Tottenham and Everton.

All the games are played at the same time, exclusively on DAZN, and it’s going to be wild, tense and brilliant. https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer

I recognize that American ownership of European teams wants to regularize spots in the top tournaments. But the tradition and ramifications of promotion, relegation and qualification for the various tournaments add so much tension and intensity to the sport it would be criminal to remove it.

Put all of the above in context versus the meaningless NHL games we saw the Flames and Canucks play this week, and how on earth could you prefer the North American sport model? Name the last regular season hockey moment that came close to Alisson’s last-gasp header in terms of importance and drama. I cannot wait until Sunday morning. Simply put, this is why we are fans of our teams, moments like this that fill you with anticipation, dread, excitement. For Leicester fans, the agony of a collapse two years in a row will be crippling. But if they get up two goals against Tottenham, or if they find out Crystal Palace takes a lead at Liverpool or if Villa are up on Chelsea, the emotions will explode.

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SUNDAY: Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion; Aston Villa v. Chelsea; Fulham v. Newcastle United; Leeds United v. West Bromwich Albion; Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Liverpool v. Crystal Palace; Manchester City v. Everton; Sheffield United v. Burnley; West Ham United v. Southampton; Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester United.

SERIE A

Much like England, Italy goes into the final round of games full of intrigue over Champions League qualification. The stakes are massive. Juventus won the league title nine years in a row. With one game left, to go Juventus currently sit in fifth, one point behind Napoli and AC Milan, three behind Atalanta in second. Their vastly-inferior goal difference to all three means Juve have no chance of catching Atalanta. They will need to beat Bologna, and hope that Napoli lose or draw with Verona or that Atalanta beat or draw with AC Milan.

There’s so much at stake. Two of the biggest names at Juventus are striker Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Andrea Pirlo. Failure to land in the Top Four all but means both of them are gone.

Pirlo might be done regardless as rumours persist Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane will take the helm. Ronaldo made headlines last week skipping practice to go pick up a new Ferrari. This week the drama was CR7 shipping his seven super cars (Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the like) from Turin to Lisbon at 3 a.m.

Again, irony in the fact that Juve are one of three teams still holding on to the Super League concept, but it’s hard to see just Juve, Barcelona and Real Madrid playing a credible tournament by themselves. All the drama in Italy this week can be seen on DAZN. https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer

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SATURDAY: Cagliari v. Genoa; Crotone v. Fiorentina; Sampdoria v. Parma.
SUNDAY: Inter Milan v. Udinese; Atalanta v. AC Milan; Bologna v. Juventus; Napoli v. Hellas Verona; Sassuolo v. Lazio; Spezia v. Roma; Torino v. Benevento.

LA LIGA

While the title is still to be decided on the last day, there likely will be little drama. Atletico Madrid sit two points ahead of Real Madrid and with their superior goal difference really need just a draw against 19th-place Real Valladolid. Technically if Atletico draw and Real beat seventh-place Villareal then Atletico could have thrown it away, but that would be supremely unlikely.

It’s nice to see Atletico break the duopoly at the top of La Liga. The offseason could be the most dramatic we’ve seen in Spain with Real Madrid and Barcelona both potentially looking for new managers, and both wanting to revamp their squad with the cash complications of COVID looming.

FRIDAY: Levante v. Cádiz.
SATURDAY: Celta Vigo v. Real Betis; Eibar v. Barcelona; Elche v. Athletic Bilbao; Huesca v. Valencia; Osasuna v. Real Sociedad; Real Madrid v. Villarreal; Real Valladolid v. Atlético Madrid.
SUNDAY: Granada v. Getafe; Sevilla v. Alavés.

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