This year will see May come and go without the Premier League’s traditional final-day relegation dogfight.
Though others are more than worthy of mention, there are two such days that certainly stand out as the most prominent inside the first 15 years of the Premier League’s existence, but which gives us the bigger goosebumps?
Stein saves Ipswich – 7 May 1994
In the end, this one came down to three teams: Ipswich, Everton and Sheffield United, one of which would drop into the Football League.
Notably, both of the latter teams are in contention to seal a UEFA Europa League berth via the league. Prior to the break, Sheffield United were among the favourites for the top six in the Premier League betting outright markets, but it was all very different for that duo 26 years ago.
Most of the early drama on the final day of 1993/94 took place at Goodison Park, with Everton conceding two goals to Wimbledon in farcical fashion. Everton pulled one back from the spot, to go in just 2-1 down (and relegated as the second-bottom club) at half-time.
By contrast, Sheffield United led 1-0 at Chelsea and sat three places above the drop zone. It had been a reasonably comfortable day for the Blades, but from their vantage point, the second half proved just how unforgiving football can be.
Everton ultimately rallied and fulfilled their end of the bargain, with a tremendous volley from Barry Horne and a fluke goal by Graham Stuart winning it for the Toffees. That left Ipswich (drawing 0-0 at Blackburn) and Sheffield United (now drawing 2-2) as the two teams threatened.
That was enough for the Blades to stay up, but they were mistakenly under the impression that Ipswich were winning. In turn, United went all-out attack and were duly hit with a winning goal from Chelsea’s Mark Stein.
Ipswich held out to draw, sending United into the abyss, where they would remain for twelve long years. In 2007, Sheffield United would again face final day agony, with West Ham striker Carlos Tevez’ winning goal at Old Trafford proving the death knell.
Christmas curse smashed – 15 May 2005
For the first time ever, no team in the bottom four was guaranteed survival or relegation going into the final weekend – thus, in practice, only one of four threatened teams (Norwich, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Brom) would survive. Norwich merely had to win at Fulham to stay up, but that plan was soon scuppered by Fulham’s onslaught of goals.
Southampton took an early lead at home to Manchester United, putting them above the dotted line. United soon wrested back control, and come the second half, it was really between West Brom and Crystal Palace. After the break, West Brom raced into a 2-0 lead at home to a half-motivated Portsmouth.
Sadly for them, it looked as though their efforts would be in vain, with Palace leading 2-1 at Charlton as the 2004/05 season headed into the final ten minutes of its lifespan. Enter Jonathan Fortune, whose late goal made him the toast of Sandwell, ensuring West Bromwich’s survival.
In staying up, West Bromwich also became the first team to survive after being bottom of the league on Christmas Day.
Which is the greatest escape?
There were technically six teams with no cast-iron guarantee of top-flight status or relegation in 1994, whereas there were only four in such a situation back in 2005. The decisive goal was also scored much later in the 1994 relegation battle.
The 1994 survival fight also came close to bookending forty years of top-tier action for Everton, who had been champions just seven years previously. For some, that alone is enough to see 1994 take the crown as the greatest final-day survival battle of the Premier League era.
Leicester City’s most recent summer transfer window? was largely consumed with the tiresome Harry Maguire to Manchester United transfer saga.
When the dust had settled on that farcical episode though, many pundits speculated that the Foxes had quietly conducted some of the most intelligent business in the Premier League.
Their strong start to the season, in which they have managed to win half of their games so far, seems to corroborate these evaluations.
Youri Tielemans – a man described as the ?biggest bargain of the summer in July has continued to impress at the King Power Stadium. Joining permanently for £40m following a loan spell last season, the central midfielder has not missed a league game so far this campaign.
After getting off to a bit of a slow start in the Foxes’ opening few fixtures, the Belgian has found his feet in recent weeks and was extremely impressive in his side’s 2-1 win over ?Tottenham. Against the Lilywhites, Tielemans was combative and creative in equal measure, contributing significantly to ?Leicester winning the midfield battle.
The 22-year-old’s standout performances however came against ?Bournmeouth. Tielemans scored and provided a beautiful one-touch pass to assist ?Jamie Vardy’s second of the game in a 3-1 win.
He’s vital to Brendan Rodgers’ playing style, conducting the Leicester orchestra from midfield. Spurs and ?Manchester United will both be kicking themselves that they couldn’t sign him in the summer.
Another player tipped as a real ?bargain this summer, James Justin has had his playing time restricted by the impeccable form of Ricardo Pereira.
Brought in from Luton Town after helping the Hatters secure promotion from League One, Justin is comfortable on either defensive flank and is a real threat going forward.
He demonstrated this recently in his only start of the season in a Carabao Cup game against, ironically, his former employers.
?Ayoze Perez’s signing came somewhat out of the blue. In a rare occurrence in the current transfer market, rumour became fact in a matter of days, much to the ire of ?Newcastle United fans.
Perez’s versatility has meant he has been shoehorned into a number of positions in Leicester’s front line, limiting his effectiveness so far.
Always a willing worker, when playing out wide Perez has a tendency to drift inside which can often leave the central half spaces congested. However, it does allow Ricardo Pereira to overlap which has been an abundant source of chance creation for the Foxes this season.
Perez is probably best suited to playing behind the striker and he created Leicester’s equaliser against ?Liverpool playing in this area. With James Maddison performing so well though, the 26-year-old will probably have to make do with competing for a wide berth for the foreseeable future.
?Brought in on transfer deadline day to little fanfare, Dennis Praet’s start to life at Leicester has been a pleasant surprise.
Critics questioned where Praet would fit into the team owing to the Foxes being well equipped in midfield already, but the Belgian has played his way into contention with a string of elegant performances.
Praet carries the ball forward with confidence and his passing is always positive and probing, as he demonstrated in his side’s 5-0 demolition of Newcastle United.
One of the latest products that have come out of Genk, where
Pogba missed three games in all competitions after picking up an ankle problem against Southampton back in August. He returned to action when United faced Rochdale in the Carabao Cup, but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer then revealed the player had taken another knock.
Pogba was unexpectedly back in the side a few days later to face Arsenal, but hasn’t been seen since. Some have cast him as a doubt to face Liverpool after the current international break, while other sources have painted a more optimistic picture of a possible return.
A report originating from L’Equipe – shared in English by Sport Witness – has claimed the reason for Pogba’s latest absence is a small crack or ‘microfisure’ to a bone in one of his toes.
The Frenchman is said to have sustained the problem against Rochdale and a subsequent scan apparently revealed the damage. But while United are said to have thought he would be fine to face Arsenal, it is claimed his appearance in that game made the pain worse.
In what will be a relief to United fans, the report notes that surgery is not being considered, with a more natural recovery being favoured as things stand.
United did confirm in the wake of the Arsenal game when naming their squad to face AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League that Pogba had been advised to rest. This week, the 26-year-old has been recuperating in the warm weather setting of Dubai, sharing a video via Instagram.
What is interesting is the potential timeframe for a return. L’Equipe suggests a seven-day period of ‘immobilisation’, followed by a further two or three weeks for a full recovery. There is no direct mention of when that may have begun, but if United were aware that Pogba needed rest prior to the AZ game a week ago, chances are he has already completed the initial stage.
Now for the alleged ‘two or three weeks’ of further recovery. If that is an accurate estimate, it would rule Pogba out of facing Liverpool at Old Trafford, which is now only 10 days away.
United could probably rush him back to fitness sooner than that, but it may be considered too large a risk if there is a possibility a further setback could keep him out of action for much longer.
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?With the race to finish in the Premier League top six looking more open than ever, a whole host of teams have the opportunity to challenge for a potential place in Europe.
West Ham are one side with aspirations of breaking into the European stratosphere, and the early seasons signs have been okay. Barring an opening day pummelling from Manchester City, things have improved somewhat – with the surprise defeat to Crystal Palace last time out ending a run of six games without defeat.
Hammers’ fans should remain optimistic though, even though they passed up the opportunity to go seventh an incredible five times last season. This campaign looks rather different, however, with the east London boys looking like they are up for the fight of scrapping their way in.
Here, 90min looks at seven reasons why European qualification is a real possibility for Manuel Pellegrini’s side…
?Now it’s not often that the words ‘defensive stability’ and ‘West Ham’ go hand-in-hand but three clean sheets after seven matches is a very decent start.
Considering last season, the Hammers only kept six clean sheets during the whole campaign, three in seven is a considerably better record. Part of this is down to the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski (who’s injury may make clean sheets a lot harder to come by) but the partnership of Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna is starting to look quite solid.
Ogbonna has been the surprise of the season for West Ham, with many fans writing him off before a ball was kicked. But the former Italian international looks to have turned his form around, and has been a regular since the 1-1 draw at Brighton.
Hopefully, when Fabianski returns, clean sheets will be easier to come by as back-up ‘keeper Roberto has looked far from convincing, but so far the defence has seen an improvement from last season – as the Irons attempt to end a Premier League season with a positive goal difference for only the second time in their history.
mpetition for Places
This is the first time in a long while that West Ham have a good looking squad, with actual depth to it.
Jack Wilshere and Fabian Balbuena are among those who have, on the whole, had watching briefs in east London, with £25m summer signing Pablo Fornals also struggling to force his way into the side.
When everyone is fully fit, it could be argued that West Ham have a stronger squad on paper than both Manchester United and Chelsea – with the former already being beaten 2-0 by the Hammers at the London Stadium.
Credit has to go to Manuel Pellegrini and director of football Mario Husillos for using the summer transfer window to strengthen the squad in the right places, by signing a mixture of first team starters and solid back-up options.
?After ?years of searching, West Ham may finally have a striker who can score goals on a consistent basis.
The Frenchman became the Hammers’ record signing in the summer, joining from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer. Not only does he score goals, his hold up play and ability to bring others into the game is top class, with many saying that Haller was the reason that former strike-partner Luka Jovic got his move to Real Madrid.
Arguably, Haller got the better move of the two anyway – and four goals and one assist in seven games is a decent return for someone who had never played in England before.
Players Returning From Injury
Last season, it could be argued that West Ham were cost a potential seventh place finish due to the amount of injuries they had.
Andriy Yarmolenko was out for pretty much the whole season after tearing his achilles against Spurs in October last season, while Manuel Lanzini, who many believe has been West Ham’s best player this season, didn’t ply until late last season after rupturing a cruciate ligament for Argentina prior to the World Cup.
Ryan Fredericks was also out for a while, leaving the Hammers to rely on 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta and inexperienced Ben Johnson at right full-back.
This season has been a different story though. Yarmolenko is back and has scored three times already and Lanzini has provided the creative spark that was missing. Fredericks, meanwhile, has been an ever present and the club are playing an entertaining brand of free-flowing football. Known in parts unknown to many of us as the ‘West Ham way’.
After a shaky start under Manuel Pellegrini, Rice has established himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet – as well as becoming an England regular.
His ability to break play up and just sit in front of the defence gives West Ham the added protection that they so desperately needed last season. The 20-year-old is arguably the best thing to come out of West Ham’s academy since his midfield partner Mark Noble, and both have excelled so far this season.
Rice has openly stated that he loves the club and has quickly established himself as a firm fan favourite, and he may be a key reason in helping the Hammers’ achieve their ambitions.
It’s not often a middle-aged bloke running onto the pitch with a corner flag in his hand can change the direction of a club, but thankfully on this occasion, it worked.
3-0 down at home to Burnley, with fans frustrated at the lack of spending, the lack of ambition and above all, the move from Upton Park, West Ham fans turned on the owners after a series of dismal displays.
Since then, the club’s hierarchy – owners David Sullivan and David Gold, along with vice-chairman Baroness Karren Brady, have overseen the appointment of a Premier League winning manager, forked out well over £100m in transfer fees and given the manager the freedom to identify transfer targets alongside trusted associate Mario Husillos.
That, above all else, could be key in West Ham booking some highly sought after easyJet flights next year.