Despite the league winners and the relegated sides confirmed long before the final matchday of the season, with the way things conspired with the teams battling for the remaining European spots, we ended up with one of the most exciting final Premier League matchdays in recent years.
Going into the final weekend, where all ten Premier League matches kicked off simultaneously, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester City were playing for securing one of the final two UEFA Champions League slots. Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United were eyeing victories to secure a European slot and hopefully make it into the UEFA Europa League. Arsenal, Leeds United and Everton had an outside shot at the seventh place, which would have qualified them for the new UEFA Europa Conference League should any team above them slipped up.
Liverpool were to face Crystal Palace at home, Leicester City were hosts to Spurs, Chelsea were away at Aston Villa, Everton served as the appetiser for Manchester City’s title celebrations, West Ham faced Southampton in London, Leeds welcomed West Bromwich Albion, and Arsenal faced Brighton & Hove Albion.
It was, however, the trio of the Champions League contenders that produced most of the drama. Over the course of the two hours, at least at one point or another, each of Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea sat outside the top four.
Leicester City made the first run for a Top 4 finish when Jamie Vardy converted a penalty in the 18th minute, immediately calming the nerves of the home fans. In Liverpool, Sadio Mané converted from a corner in the 36th minute to set Liverpool on their way to a remarkable end to the season. Back at the King Power, Harry Kane scored one in the 41st minute to get his side back in the game, but things took an interesting turn at roughly the same time at Villa Park when Bertrand Traoré, a former Chelsea player, scored for the Villans in the 43rd minute to add some spice to the mix.
In the second half, Time itself decided to play a little when in the 52nd minute both Jamie Vardy and Anwar El-Ghazi converted penalties for their respective sides – Leicester City and Aston Villa – in their respective matches. At this point, Villa taking a two-goal lead over Chelsea meant that even if Leicester were to draw the game, the deficit would render their Goal Difference equal to Chelsea’s, in which case Leicester would take the lead in the table on Goals Scored and qualify for the Champions League.
That luxury, however, was eradicated soon enough. Ben Chilwell converted for Chelsea from a Christian Pulisic cross in the 70th minute to swing the Goal Difference back in his side’s favour. Back at Anfield, Mané scored again – in the 74th minute – to double his side’s lead and steer them firmly and well into next season’s Champions League with a third-place finish.
As it turned out, Goal Difference was not required in the end to choose between Chelsea and Leicester for the final UCL spot because of what transpired in the final quarter-hour at the King Power.
In the 76th minute, Spurs levelled the game 2-2 when Kasper Schmeichel failed at punching the ball away from a Son Heung-min corner, deflecting it into his own net instead. With Chelsea losing 2-1, a draw was no longer enough for Leicester. Further misery was added on the Foxes in the 87th minute, when Gareth Bale, who came off the bench in the 68th minute, slotted one in from a counterattack as Leicester tried to re-take the lead. Nine minutes later, deep into injury time, Bale converted another one – his second and his side’s fourth – to put the final nail in Leicester’s Champions League coffin, in what might turn out to be his final appearance in his second stint at the club.
As Tottenham sank Leicester with their comeback win, they also secured the seventh place and earned themselves a spot in next year’s debut season of the Europa Conference League. In doing so, they also ended Arsenal’s fleeting hope for a European spot, ending their 25-year run of playing in Europe every season. The Gunners soundly beat Brighton 2-0 at home thanks to a second-half brace from Nicolas Pépé. Had Spurs lost – as looked likely for most of their match – Arsenal could have clinched the seventh place at the 11th hour, hence confirming Europe for yet another season in what would have been a miraculous turn of events.
Elsewhere, West Ham secured a place in next season’s Europa League with a 3-0 win over Southampton, capping off what has been a tremendous year for themselves and David Moyes. Leeds United’s 3-1 victory over West Brom might not have resulted in European qualification, but it certainly ended the season on a high note for the Whites in their first year back in the Big Time. Everton, on the other hand, were soundly beaten 5-0 by Manchester City as they looked eager to lift the sky blue-ribboned Premier League trophy, with last two goals coming from Sergio Agüero (71’ and 76’), who came off the bench in the 65th minute for his final Premier League appearance for the Cityzens, ending a decorated ten-year period with the club and also becoming the player with most goals in the league for any one side with 184 goals, overtaking Wayne Rooney.
Second-place Manchester United ended the season with 74 points as they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 with a second-string side in what was Nuno Espírito Santo’s last game for the Wolves, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s eyes set on the midweek’s Europa League final. Relegated sides Fulham (beaten 0-2 by Newcastle United), West Brom and Sheffield United (won 1-0 against Burnley) bid goodbye to the Premier League and will now prepare for life in the Championship next season.
Final League Table (Courtesy – FotMob)