This Sunday, the Premier League season comes to an end as all twenty clubs play their final matches in the afternoon. It has been a very interesting season, with several ups and downs for most of the clubs. But two clubs’ future was almost certain by the end of March. Bar a miracle or two, no one was going to stop Chelsea from winning the league title this season. Even if they had a late scare it was nothing serious. For Sunderland, it was even more certain that this will be the season when their late revolt against relegation will finally fail. They never had much hope after their disastrous start to the campaign. This Sunday, the Champions will host the bottom club at Stamford Bridge in London.
To say that Chelsea deserved their title win this season is a gross understatement. Just like in 2014-15, this season too, they have cantered home leaving quite some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. That pack had some very talented teams – Tottenham have fewer losses than Chelsea, Liverpool have more points against top six than Chelsea and Manchester City have one of the most successful managers of these times. But, Chelsea steam-rolled almost every opponent they encountered ensuring that the title fight did not last too long. Major developments await in the summer. Diego Costa might leave; John Terry will have played his last game for the Blues and a boatload of talent will most likely be purchased. But all that can wait, as the Blues wait to play the last game of their season and lift the trophy at home.
For a brief while this week, there was talk of the trophy being handed over to Antonio Conte and his men by Bradley Lowery – the six-year old Sunderland fan and mascot who is fighting neuroblastoma. Chelsea did extend an invitation to him. But his condition will not allow him to travel to London.
The Black Cats already have an eye on the Championship as their manager David Moyes pointed out that, “Sunderland will carry big expectations and they could arguably be the biggest club in the Championship next year.” They will struggle to keep their key talents – namely Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford during the summer transfer window and if they want to bounce back in a season or two, the club will have to take a hard look at themselves, making changes across the club to ensure they have a better chance of coming up and staying up. Sunday’s game is a mere formality for them before this review process can begin.
- Chelsea have won 20 of their last 24 Premier League games against Sunderland, although two of their three losses have come in the last six meetings.
- The Blues could become the first the first side to register 30 top-flight victories in a 38 game season. They have earned 80 points from 31 matches since the back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal in September.
- They are also the top scorers in the division with 80 goals thus far. They have scored more (103) only once in a Premier league season – in 2009-10.
- Sunderland have lost 10 out of their last 13 matches, winning just once and failing to score in 11 of them. Earlier in the season, they had failed to score 9 times in 24 matches.
- Sunderland will finish at the bottom of the Premier League third time in their history, a joint record with Nottingham Forest.
Eden Hazard has been the best player in an impressive lineup of Chelsea players this season. He kind of symbolizes the kind of season Chelsea have had – extremely brilliant but without too much fanfare or controversy. He has contributed to a quarter of the goals his team has scored in the league, scoring 15 and assisting 5, contributing a goal every 147 minutes. Because of that record, it is surprising that he has not scored or assisted a goal in more than 350 Premier League minutes. But prior to these last four barren matches, he had scored five and assisted two in six matches in all competitions. He will want to end the season with a goal or two.
While Defoe rightly gets called out as the most important player in a blunt Sunderland attack, in matches like the one on Sunday, it will be Black Cats’ defense that will have to ensure that their exit from the league is not as ignominious as the rest of the season. The pick of that defense is the goal keeper Jordan Pickford. With 132 saves so far in the campaign, he has been saving 3.56 goals per match so far. Without Pickford, Sunderland’s relegation would have been confirmed much earlier that it eventually was. His long ball distribution is also excellent and he will want to put in a great performance on Sunday, if only to impress future suitors.
Antonio Conte rested nine players in the match against Watford on Monday. Now for the final game, he has a completely fit squad to choose from. He might want to hand John Terry a game on Sunday as it will be the Englishman’s last game (717th total) for his club. Conte might also want to rest David Luiz, who has managed a dodge knee throughout the season, so that the Brazilian is fit for the FA Cup final.
Sunderland will be missing as many as 11 first team players for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Paddy McNair, Duncan Watmore, Jan Kirchhoff, Steven Pienaar, George Honeyman, Wahbi Khazri, Jason Denayer, Victor Anichebe and Papy Djilobodji all missed the midweek trip to Arsenal and they will be joined by Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong in the treatment room. Moyes said he will field a “patched up” side and it could mean starts for some youngsters.
Chelsea will easily win this and ensure that they finish the season as strongly as they have played the entire season. Sunderland neither have the players nor any incentive to put up any fight on Sunday and the only unknown will be the score with which Chelsea will win.