There are significant stories at both ends of the Premier League spectrum as we look ahead to the penultimate weekend of the 2013/14 season.
Alex Ferguson’s retirement, David Moyes’s likely role as his replacement, Wayne Rooney’s transfer request, the relegation battle and the fight for fourth spot are all on the agenda – and then there’s the small matter of an FA Cup final to look forward to.
But, we’ll start at Old Trafford, where Alex Ferguson’s decision to retire at the end of the season has sent the Manchester United faithful into a state of shock.
After a 27-year reign at United, which brought 13 Premier League trophies, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two European Cups and a FIFA World Club Cup, Ferguson decided he would go out on a high – with one of his most successful teams set to storm home to a 20th league title when they host Swansea this weekend.
Advancing age and declining health meant the end was near for the 71-year-old, but after so long in the job it’s still a surprise to many that he has finally called it quits.
Ferguson will well and truly go down as one of the greatest managers, and one of the greatest sporting icons, of all time. It’s only fitting that he goes out hoisting the league title aloft at Old Trafford on May 12.
So who replaces the irreplaceable? Everton’s David Moyes appears set to be announced within the next 24 hours as the new manager at United, yet his job will by no means be as easy as Ferguson has made it look.
Sky sources: Everton manager David Moyes to be confirmed as Manchester United manager in next few days
— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) May 8, 2013
While Ferguson’s on-field success was second to none, insiders at Old Trafford believe he will leave behind an excessively high wage bill that’s in dire need of fixing, along with an aging defence and a superstar who wants out. Add to that the strains of 27 years of Ferguson-standards and you get an unbelievably difficult task.
Moyes’s first job will have to be to secure the long-term future of Wayne Rooney, who submitted a transfer request following Ferguson’s departure. However, given the way Moyes and Rooney ended their relationship at Goodison Park in 2004, it seems unlikely Rooney will remaining at the club.
Ferguson’s retirement also came with the announcement that he would remain at the club as a Director of Football next season. Moyes could potentially find it difficult to stamp his authority on the club and the team with Ferguson looming over his shoulder. It’s another question United will have to deal with looking towards next season.
Meanwhile Moyes’s replacement at Everton will have just as hard a task as Moyes has at United. For 11 years the Scot has dealt with a shoestring budget and no finances for transfers. Although Moyes will depart having never have won a trophy at Goodison Park, his ability to get the Toffees to sixth on the table was seen by many as a fantastic achievement.
The search for Moyes’s replacement brings us to the chaotic events at the bottom of the table and the fight for survival.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has been touted as the No.1 candidate for the job at Everton, which leaves yet another dark cloud hanging over the Latics coming into their final two matches.
Ironically, the FA Cup final against Manchester City this weekend could spell trouble for Wigan. With a 2-1 lead against Swansea during the week, they brought key players off the field to rest for their Wembley venture, only to end up losing 3-2 and deepening their relegation worries.
They now sit three points behind a host of teams on 38 points with the poorest goal difference of the lot. It’s simply a must that Martinez’s men beat Arsenal and Aston Villa in their final two games.
Newcastle is the lowest ranked side on 38 points, but recorded what could prove a crucial goalless draw with West Ham last weekend. The Magpies face a must-win trip to the already relegated QPR this weekend, before hosting Arsenal in their final fixture.
Norwich had looked all but guaranteed safety for the majority of the season, however a desperately poor run of form late in their campaign has put them back into the frame for relegation. They also have 38 points after coming off another disappointing 2-1 loss to Aston Villa on the weekend. The Canaries host West Brom in a difficult, but winnable match this weekend, before travelling to the reigning champions in Manchester City on the final day.
Sunderland is the final team on 38 points, but looks relatively assured of survival with a decent goal difference and a gallant 1-1 draw with Stoke last weekend. Despite being reduced to 10 men early in the match, a late goal from John O’Shea sealed the Black Cats a point. Paolo Di Canio’s men host Southampton, who are just four points from safety, this weekend, before finishing their season away at Tottenham.
The Saints, as well as Aston Villa, Fulham and Stoke, seem virtually guaranteed of survival, as they would require Wigan to win both of their final two matches plus be on the receiving end of two thrashings, to suffer relegation.
Meanwhile in the battle for fourth, Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea keeps them in the race for fourth position and the Champions League.
The point against Spurs leaves Chelsea in the box-seat for third, as they are three points above their London rivals with matches against Aston Villa and Everton still to come.
Arsenal currently holds the final position inside the top-four, and with fixtures against two relegation-threatened teams in Wigan and Newcastle still to play, should hold on for the last spot in Europe’s elite competition.
Finally, while Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late goal at Stamford Bridge may keep Tottenham in the race for fourth, the lack of all three points makes it extremely difficult to qualify for the Champions League. Spurs must now beat Stoke and Sunderland in their final two matches, while hoping for an Arsenal slip-up along the way.
Saturday May 11 at 9.45pm
Aston Villa 0-2 Chelsea
Sunday May 12 at 10.30pm
Stoke 0-1 Tottenham
Monday May 13 at 12.00am
Everton 2-1 West Ham
Fulham 0-2 Liverpool
Norwich 1-1 West Brom
QPR 1-1 Newcastle
Sunderland 2-1 Southampton
Monday May 13 at 1.00am
Manchester United 2-0 Swansea
Wednesday May 15 at 4.45am
Arsenal 3-1 Wigan
Wednesday May 15 at 5.00am
Reading 0-3 Manchester City