After 37 of 38 games played, half of the Premier League’s top-four still isn’t set. The title’s long won and there’s been little doubt about the three relegated teams for almost as long, but the top-four race has come down to the final day yet again, and never so more fittingly than in the wake of the Super League fiasco (which would’ve done away with this bit of drama).
Only two of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Leicester City can qualify for next year’s Champions League in this way, though all three could play in it should Chelsea finish fifth before winning this year’s Big Ears trophy next Saturday, May 29. But let us not worry about that right now.
Let’s keep things simple and finish third by beating Aston Villa.
Date / Time: Sunday, May 23, 2021, 16.00 BST; 11am EDT; 8:30pm IST
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham, England
Referee: Stuart Attwell (on pitch); Jared Gillett (VAR); common sense (MIA)
Forecast: Light rain showers because of course
On TV: Sky Sports Action (UK); USA (USA); none? (India); SuperSport LaLiga (NGA); elsewhere
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Aston Villa team news: The home side will finish 11th regardless of how the final Sunday goes, which isn’t too terrible, and is in fact their highest league finish since a 9th place a decade ago in 2010-11. Villa started the season very well and were top-four early on and still as high as fifth at the turn of the calendar year — but eventually they coalesced into a steady mid-table position, and have won just 3 of their last 13 matches, since the start of March.
Not coincidentally, that slide corresponds to Jack Grealish’s shin injury, from which the 25-year-old has just returned in the midweek 2-1 win over Spurs. That game was his first start since mid-February. Fellow 25-year-old Ollie Watkins leads the team in goals with 14 in his first ever Premier League season. Former Chelsea prospect Bertrand Traoré, also 25, has been a steady presence all season, and has chipped in with 6 goals as well. Chelsea loanee Ross Barkley has not been a steady presence but is not eligible. He’s also not 25 and probably should know better by now than to get himself into the tabloid headlines again with a night out on the town.
Villa will also be without injured midfielders Matty Cash and Morgan Sanson, as well as forward Trézéguet, who had knee ligament surgery recently and will be out for a long time.
View from the enemy: 7500 to Holte
Chelsea team news: Knock on wood, Chelsea continue to be relatively healthy despite the grueling schedule and all the high-stakes games, with N’Golo Kané the only expected absence this weekend as we work to ensure he’s ready for the Champions League final. Kai Havertz is also doubtful, but Andreas Christensen should be back in the squad. Mason Mount had a knee injury scare in the last game, but seems none worse for the wear, thankfully.
We played one of our best game of the season in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Leicester, inspired to get some measure of revenge after losing to FA Cup Final to them three days prior. If we can carry that form through the next two weekends, we probably won’t care too much about not winning the FA Cup.
Previously: We’ve had a pretty good record against Villa over the past decade or so — just 1 loss since December 2011, in 12 games — but did slump to a 1-1 home draw earlier this season. This fixture last year saw two goals in two minutes from Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud turn the tide in Chelsea’s favor.