Big Weekend: Everton v Bournemouth, Big Sam, Leicester, EFL play-off finals, Dortmund
Everton, Leeds and Leicester are desperate not to pass Coventry or Luton on the way down. It’s a massive last day in Germany and for Harry Kane’s wave.
Game to watch – Everton v Bournemouth
For Everton, Leicester and Leeds, a shorts-soiling Sunday awaits. At least Everton have their fate in their own hands.
Leeds and Leicester fans praying to whatever gods they reckon might take an interest in these matters need their deity not only to raise their own team from the dead but to strike down Everton too. If the Toffees turn over Bournemouth at Goodison Park, then it matters not what Leeds and Leicester do against Tottenham and West Ham.
On paper, Everton have the simpler task. They face the lowest-ranking opponent, one that you might expect to arrive on Merseyside with beach towels and factor 30 while sipping something with a little umbrella in it rather than anything isotonic. But we can’t ignore Everton’s capacity for calamity, and their luck has to run out some time, right?
They’ve flirted with relegation too often for a club of their grandeur and for 69 years, they have swerved the second tier. Only Arsenal have stuck it out for longer. They learned f*** all from last season’s fright and that alone would see little sympathy sent their way if they cave in to the pressure on Sunday.
At least last season, they avoided a final-day fret after coming from 2-0 down to beat Palace in their last home game the midweek before. But many Evertonians remember the final day a quarter of a century ago when the Toffees tried their damnedest against Coventry to throw away a reprieve handed to them by Bolton. Or the 3-2 thriller against Wimbledon that did the trick in 1994.
Everton’s objective is simple. If and how they achieve it almost certainly won’t be.
Manager to watch – Sam Allardyce
Like Everton, Leeds would deserve the punishment of relegation for failing to learn the harsh lessons of last season, which ended with Raphinha crawling across Brentford on his knees after a final-day escape.
A year later, they are relying on Bournemouth to do them a favour. And even then, there is woefully little belief around Elland Road that the hosts would be capable of grabbing whatever opportunity may come their way.
Leeds had their chance last week. After Everton drew at Wolves the day before, they had the chance to seize the initiative on Sunday by beating a West Ham side possibly still hungover from their party in Alkmaar celebrating their first European final in 47 years.
They f***ed it. Leeds were absolutely wretched at the London Stadium, surrendering a lead to go down 3-1 with barely a whimper. It came as little surprise to the fans who’ve watched a meek squad go through three managers this season, but the latest of those bosses has to lift them somehow for Spurs. For Sam Allardyce there’s £2.5million on the line.
Big Sam was hired in a mad panic with four games to go for his motivational and organisational skills. So he must have been horrified at what unfolded before him at West Ham. His players looked resigned to their fate, despite the consequences, while ignoring the basic principles of team shape.
Mercifully, perhaps, Spurs are also in the midst of a massive funk. How does Allardyce lift Leeds out of theirs in the hope that it matters?
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Team to watch – Leicester
Leicester have t succeed where Leeds failed and beat West Ham. And hope.
They too had the chance to take control of their own destiny by beating Newcastle on Monday night. Dean Smith didn’t fancy their chances and he made no apologies for sitting in and playing for a point that means their superior goal difference could still be a factor come Sunday evening.
Given the paucity of Leicester’s defensive resilience this season, it was a ballsy move. But it paid off sufficiently to allow Smith to implement the next part of his masterplan.
James Maddison and Harvey Barnes will be back in the XI, perhaps for the final time, as the Foxes set about the Hammers in search of the win they need. They will create chances. That has rarely been a problem for Leicester. In four of Smith’s seven matches in charge, they have recorded a higher xG than their opponent. In one exception against Everton, they still had an xG of 3.06.
Can they be ruthless and finally capitalise on those chances? It probably won’t matter if they continue to shoot themselves in the foot defensively, but there certainly seems greater optimism around Leicester doing their bit than Leeds.
Player to watch – Harry Kane
It doesn’t bear thinking about how bad Tottenham might have been this season without Kane. But after Sunday, it could be a realistic prospect.
Kane has had a ridiculous season. He’s scored 28 goals across 25 games, and became the first player to achieve such a spread. Against a Leeds side who need to win but have lost the key to the back door, the Spurs striker could quite feasibly get to 30 and match his best-ever haul.
To do that in this Spurs team is a stunning achievement. Despite the flames lapping around his boots as the Spurs dumpster fire spreads, Kane has just got on with the business of scoring goals. Possibly with an escape plan in mind.
After the trip to Leeds, Kane will arrive at a crossroads as he approaches the final year of his contract at Spurs. He’s kept quiet so far on which direction he intends to take, but everyone will be looking for clues on what could be his last appearance for his boyhood club.
EFL games to watch – Play-off finals
The play-offs are brilliant, aren’t they? The semi-finals delivered yet again, as Sheffield Wednesday pulled off a comeback for the ages, while all the ties were settled either by a single goal or penalties that prompted wild celebrations and premature pitch invasions.
But jobs aren’t done yet. Getting to Wembley is a worthy achievement but it won’t mean much if it ends in defeat. For six teams, after 48 matches, it comes down to this Bank Holiday weekend.
The Championship final kicks us off on Saturday afternoon and this season, it’s the £170million game between Luton and Coventry. Sunday is Stockport and Carlisle’s turn under the arch as they scrap for a place in League One, before much of South Yorkshire descends on Wembley on Monday afternoon for Wednesday versus Barnsley.
European game to watch – Borussia Dortmund v Mainz
With titles sealed in England, Italy and Spain, and the French race all but run, it’s left to Germany to provide some final-day summit shenanigans.
Bayern b*llocksed it badly last weekend. Going into the penultimate weekend, they held a one-point lead over Dortmund, and stood to celebrate their 11th consecutive title if results went their way.
They did not. Bayern surrendered a lead to lose at home to RB Leipzig before Dortmund did a job on Augsburg. It means Dortmund head into the last day needing a win at home to ninth-placed Mainz to be sure of their first title since 2012. As long as they match Bayern’s result at 10th-placed Cologne, Edin Terzic’s side will be champions.
It promises to be a Bundesliga belter on Saturday afternoon, with European places up for grabs too, all the while four sides fret over following Hertha Berlin to Bundesliga 2.