Battle for Europe goes to the wire, while top bosses bid farewell
North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will battle it out for the final UEFA Champions League place on the last day of the 2012/13 campaign.
With the destination of the Premier League title and the fate of three relegated clubs already confirmed, the only issue left to resolve is who will finish inside the top four - and in what order.
One club will have to make do with the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League, while there remains the possibility that a play-off will be required to determine who finishes in third spot.
Arsenal enter the final round of fixtures with their fate in their own hands, with a positive result away at Newcastle United all that is required to secure them a seat at European football's top table. Magpies boss Alan Pardew has been quick to point out that comments in which he suggested he did not care what the outcome is at St James' Park were intended as a joke, so the Gunners might not have things all their own way. Arsene Wenger's men could, though, finish the campaign in third spot, with two points separating them from Chelsea and an automatic passage to the group stage of the Champions League. They could also force the aforementioned play-off, as a draw for Chelsea and a victory for Arsenal in which they score one more goal than the Blues and prevail by a one-goal margin would leave the capital giants locked together on points, goal difference and goals scored.
Tottenham currently find themselves on the outside looking in, and will be hoping to see the door to Europe's premier club competition swing open this weekend. Given that Arsenal's goal difference is far superior to that of Spurs, they will require a victory at home to Sunderland to see them gate-crash the top-four party. The good news for Andre Villas-Boas and his troops is that they have come out on top in 10 of their last 12 meetings with the Black Cats at White Hart Lane in all competitions. It could be that another success on Sunday is not enough to see them edge out their fiercest rivals, but they must ensure that they fulfil their half of the bargain and are not left to contemplate what could have been. A defeat for Wigan in midweek means Sunderland have avoided any final day drama, with their top flight status secured for another year, so there is a chance that they will take their eye off the ball during a long trip to the capital.
Chelsea are already assured of a top-four finish, but could be dragged into a play-off with Arsenal if events conspire against them. The Blues sit third and know victory at home to Everton will see them avoid the need to qualify for next season's Champions League. A meeting with the Toffees at Stamford Bridge will see interim coach Rafa Benitez take in his final game at the helm - as he prepares to step aside, possibly making way for the return of Jose Mourinho. Benitez's opposite number, David Moyes, will also be bidding farewell to his current employers on Sunday, with the Scot set to succeed the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United this summer. Everton are destined to finish in sixth spot, and have nothing more to play for, but can take heart from the fact that they will once again end a campaign ahead of Merseyside rivals Liverpool. Chelsea, meanwhile, should be in buoyant mood this weekend after landing the Europa League crown in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.
Sir Alex Ferguson has already said his goodbyes to the Old Trafford faithful, but he will take to the dugout for the 1,500th and last time as Manchester United manager at West Bromwich Albion. With the curtain set to come down on the most illustrious of managerial careers, the Red Devils will be determined to send their legendary coach into retirement with a win. The Premier League title was wrapped up by United some time ago, but they will be eager to avoid stumbling into the summer. The Baggies will, however, be looking to play party-poopers on Sunday and spoil Ferguson's big day. A top-half finish is already in the bag for Steve Clarke's side, but they have suffered three straight defeats and require a positive result on the final day to guarantee themselves eighth place.
Manchester City, assured of second place, will be under the guidance of caretaker coach Brian Kidd once again when they welcome Norwich City to the Etihad Stadium. With Roberto Mancini having been relieved of his duties a year to the day after guiding City to the Premier League title, it promises to be an intriguing summer on the blue half of Manchester. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Kidd, but he oversaw a comfortable 2-0 victory over Reading in midweek and will want to end the season with back-to-back successes on his CV. Norwich were able to breathe a sigh of relief last weekend as a 4-0 mauling of West Brom saw them to top flight safety, and they have already started making plans for next term - with the permanent signing of Javier Garrido wrapped up and a deal for highly-rated Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel now in a position to be pushed through.
It has been another season of transition at Liverpool, with Brendan Rodgers about to bring his debut campaign in the Anfield hot-seat to a close. The Reds will finish cemented inside the top seven, but well short of the top four and a return to the Champions League. Bridging that gap will the target in 2013/14, with Rodgers expected to dip into the transfer market once the window re-opens. For now, though, he will be calling on his troops - including the retiring Jamie Carragher, who will take to the field for the last time - to put the final nail in Queens Park Rangers' coffin. The Loftus Road outfit have tumbled out of the top flight with a whimper this term, with it likely that they will end the campaign bottom of the pile. Rebuilding is the name of the game for Harry Redknapp now, with there a distinct possibility that a number of those to figure in the Rs matchday squad on Merseyside will not be at the club when they attempt to piece together a Championship promotion push.
Swansea City will look back fondly on the 2012/13 campaign when they depart for their summer break, with the Welsh outfit having kicked on again under the tutelage of Michael Laudrup. Their Capital One Cup final success will live long in the memory, while a top-half finish in the Premier League suggests the Swans have plenty to look forward to. Rather inevitably, given how long the club had waited for major silverware, Swansea's form has dipped since a day out at Wembley, with only one win taken from their last nine outings. They will attempt to address that slump against a similarly out-of-sorts side at the Liberty Stadium this weekend, with Fulham heading out on the road in the knowledge that they have suffered five straight defeats and six setbacks in their last seven. In many ways, Martin Jol can consider himself fortunate that the Cottagers reached the 40-point mark when they did - as they could have been in trouble were it not for a productive run in February and March.
Mauricio Pochettino could add his name to the list of managers preparing to walk away from their current posts this weekend, with the Argentine having threatened to quit Southampton if executive chairman Nicola Cortese is ushered through the exits. With the South American having helped to turn the Saints' season around, they will be desperate to avoid such an event. After taking the decision to part with Nigel Adkins' services, Southampton have ended up beating the drop with room to spare. A run of five games without a win has seen them stumble towards the finishing post, but it is very much a case of job done at St Mary's in their first season back among English football's elite. The final fixture on their calendar will see Stoke City travel to the South Coast looking to edge their way into the top 10 in the final game of Michael Owen's professional career.
For the Potters to finish inside the top half, West Ham United will have to come unstuck at home to relegated Reading. The Hammers have fared admirably upon their return to the Premier League ranks and would be full value for a top-10 standing were they to get over that particular line. Sam Allardyce has enhanced his reputation as a manager who knows how to get the job done, and has earned himself a new contract at Upton Park in the process. The 2012/13 campaign has also seen the Hammers confirmed as the new tenants of the Olympic Stadium, with a move to the home of the London Games set to be made in 2016. For Reading, their only target is avoiding the ignominy of finishing in last place. A point would be enough to ensure that they go down in 19th, which would be a crumb of consolation for Nigel Adkins as he prepares to try and work his promotion magic again at the Madejski Stadium.
The final fixture on Sunday will see Wigan Athletic bow out of the Premier League after an eight-year stay. Just three days after lifting the FA Cup in dramatic fashion at Wembley Stadium, the Latics saw their fate sealed with a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal on Tuesday. There was to be no miraculous escape for Roberto Martinez's men this season, but they remain a club on a sound financial footing and a favourite among the neutrals for their footballing philosophy. Whether Martinez will be around next season to oversee a bid to bounce straight back into the big time remains to be seen, with the Spaniard's services likely to be in high demand. If Sunday is to be his final hurrah, he will want to sign off in style with a win over Aston Villa at the DW Stadium. A late surge in form by Villa contributed to Wigan going down, with Paul Lambert's persistence with an exciting young side and a passing approach finally paying dividends. He and Villa will be back in 2013/14 with the promise of much more to come, with a season of scrapping towards the foot of the table likely to serve manager and squad well heading forward.