LONDON – The Premier League trophy will be presented to Leicester City captain Wes Morgan before Saturday’s game against Everton after the most incredible, memorable and unpredictable title race in English football history was decided by the 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Tottenham on Monday.
Yet the celebrations and jubilation at the King Power Stadium will, in many ways, be a sideshow to the weekend’s main event: the increasing battle for survival which, of course, Leicester narrowly avoided a year ago. Aston Villa is down and two from Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle will join it in having the privilege of playing Wigan next season.
The stakes could not be higher as the new TV deal which starts in August means that even the smallest, most humble of Premier League clubs will be among the top 30 richest in Europe.
Newcastle is the most at risk. If all three sides win their remaining games Sunderland will finish with 41 points, Norwich 40 and Newcastle 39. However the chances of those totals being achieved are slim and it looks like the last day of the season will be Survival Sunday.
A good omen for Norwich is it won 2-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season. The bad news is the Canaries have lost their last three matches, failing to score in five of the last seven, while United has won four of its last five plus to reach the F.A. Cup final.
Alex Neil’s team lacks the star quality of Newcastle and Sunderland, though the north-east teams’ stars have not really shone until recently. Midfielder Nathan Redmond is Norwich’s most likely goal-threat and Neil said: “There is no question he can be a potential match-winner. I would take (goalkeeper) John Ruddy going up and being the match-winner, to be honest, anyone to put the ball in the net and make a difference. We have a lot of players who can make that difference. I believe my players are still as confident as I am.”
Norwich and Sunderland will look at Newcastle with envy Saturday as the Magpies play Villa — or Aston Vanilla as they are called because everyone licks them. Villa has not won a single point for two months and victory against one of the worst sides in Premier League history is an absolute must for the visitors.
Newcastle is slowly improving under Rafa Benitez, taking eight points from the last four games and defender Chancel Mbemba puts this down to the influence of the former Liverpool manager. He said: “Every single one of us has confidence in ourselves and in each other. It’s thanks to the coach, who is the No. 1 — the leader. He instills that in every single one of us, players and staff. It trickles down from the very top and the whole squad have that confidence now.”
Andros Townsend is showing the form that could see him make England’s Euro 2016 squad and it is difficult to predict anything than yet another home defeat for Villa.
Chelsea’s display in the 2-2 draw against Spurs showed the outgoing champions can still be a force to be reckoned with. The Blues do not like their north London rivals, which is putting it politely, and this showed in a performance of commitment, determination and fighting — literally at times — spirit too often missing this season.
Whether the Blues can reproduce that form at Sunderland on Saturday remains to be seen. Chelsea has won on nine of its last 11 visits to Wearside and the Black Cats have failed to score in their last three home matches, and midfielder Sebastian Larsson said: “We’ve done it (beaten the big teams) when we’ve really had to in previous seasons. It’s the same again and we have to go for the three points.
“There are three games left and luckily enough it is in our own hands, but we need to collect as many points as possible to make sure it remains that way. It’s massive for our destiny to be in our own hands at this stage of the season, so hopefully we can get the three points on Saturday and head into the Everton game confident and pick up another win.
“This would set us up nicely heading into the final weekend.”
Showing his true colors: Even in offering Leicester City congratulations, Jose Mourinho found it impossible not to be the Arrogant One.
“I want to congratulate everyone connected to Leicester; players, staff, owners and fans,” he said. “I lost my title to Claudio Ranieri and it is with incredible emotion that I live this magic moment in his career.”
My title. Not Chelsea’s title. My title.
Still, his words, even if they dripped with false praise, were at least a little more polite than what he said about Ranieri when the pair worked in Serie A with Inter Milan and Roma. Then, Mourinho had said: “Ranieri . . . has the mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win. He is almost 70 years old. He has won a Supercup and another small trophy and he is too old to change his mentality. He’s old and he hasn’t won anything. I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans. Ranieri had been in England for five years and still struggled to say ‘good morning’ and good afternoon.’ “
The Unemployed One is still looking for a job after being sacked by Chelsea.
Grand request: Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, wants every member of Leicester’s Premier League title-winning squad to be honored with knighthoods.
“It goes beyond football what they’ve done,” said Taylor though of course knighthoods DO go beyond football.
Sir Jamie Vardy is one thing, but Sir Demarai Gray, who has made just 10 substitute appearances for the Foxes?
And then we have Leicester’s foreign legion.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “Foreign citizens occasionally receive honorary knighthoods; they are not dubbed, and they do not use the style ‘Sir’. Such knighthoods are conferred by The Queen, on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on those who have made an important contribution to relations between their country and Britain.”
Bill Gates and Ronald Reagan are among those given an honorary knighthood, but somehow I doubt if Her Majesty will feel the same way about Claudio Ranieri, N’Golo Kanté, Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez and company.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.