LONDON • It has been nearly a year since Liverpool kicked off the Premier League season, an unusual coronavirus-hit campaign which will finally stagger to a conclusion tomorrow with unresolved issues at both ends of the table set to provide final-day drama.
Liverpool are champions and Norwich City, the side whom they beat on Aug 9 to launch their title charge, are down and Manchester City are distant runners-up. After that everything is up for grabs.
At the bottom, two of Bournemouth, Watford and Aston Villa will be relegated.
Bournemouth, in 19th spot, must win at Everton and hope Watford (18th) lose at Arsenal and Villa (17th) lose at West Ham.
Villa, who moved above Watford on goal difference by beating Arsenal 1-0 in midweek, when Watford were hammered 4-0 by City, will be guaranteed survival if they win as long as Watford do not beat Arsenal by at least a two-goal larger margin.
Watford could stay up without securing a two-goal greater winning margin than Villa, but this would involve them making up a six-goal deficit in the goals scored column. Villa could even survive with a loss or draw depending on other results.
For Watford, their gamble to sack Nigel Pearson with two games left could prove costly. Interim boss Hayden Mullins, with practically no top-flight managerial experience, was tasked to get points against City and Arsenal and he has it all to do against the Gunners tomorrow after the Hornets lost 4-0 to Pep Guardiola's men. The 41-year-old yesterday called on his team not to "think about different permutations" in the fight for their survival.
"Nothing changes now going into the last game of the season," he said. "We still have to get a result whether it's a draw or a win. Nothing really changes in that sense it's just now out of our hands.
"We can only prepare for what we can prepare for and that's to get ourselves in the right frame of mind.
"We can't really think about different permutations or try and set up for that, we need to get ready for what we need to do."
The decision to axe Pearson last week was a big surprise after the 56-year-old hauled Watford off the bottom of the table following his arrival in December. After taking over with the club nine points adrift, he oversaw a resurgence that included a 3-0 win over Liverpool and a victory against Manchester United.
AVOIDING THE DROP
17th POSITION: ASTON VILLA
(34 POINTS, GD: -26)
• WIN against West Ham by the same margin if Watford beat Arsenal, or
• DRAW with West Ham if Watford fail to win
• LOSE to West Ham by a smaller margin if Watford lose to Arsenal
(34 POINTS, GD: -27)
• WIN against Arsenal if Villa draw with West Ham
• DRAW with Arsenal if Villa lose
• LOSE to Arsenal by two fewer goals if Villa lose
(31 POINTS, GD: -27)
• WIN against Everton, and hope Watford and Villa both lose
But British media reports claimed Pearson was dismissed following a heated discussion with Watford owner Gino Pozzo after last week's 3-1 defeat at West Ham.
It remains to be seen if the decision could come back to bite the club. Aston Villa boss Dean Smith, meanwhile, has said that his side "control our own destiny".
"That's what we wanted to have going into the last game," he said.
"It was looking unlikely and that we'd have to rely on others, but results went our way in the week and we're above the dotted line now.
"The most important thing is to be above that dotted line on Sunday and we know we have to win to guarantee that. We'll be going all out."
Bournemouth's survival, unlike Villa's, is not in their hands but the players must approach tomorrow's game at Everton as if it is the most important match of their careers, urged manager Eddie Howe.
A draw or a loss at Goodison Park will see the Cherries drop to the Championship regardless of the other results, ending their five-year stay in England's top division.
"The next game is the biggest game of all our careers," he said.
"Controlling our emotions is going to be key. We need the players to play the game they've always done and do so to a very high standard. There's belief we can win... then we're hoping for the bit of luck."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Twists and turns
Bottom side Watford fall 8-0 to Manchester City in Quique Sanchez Flores' second match in charge.
Bournemouth lose 1-0 to bottom dwellers Norwich, picking up just four points from their last 12 games.
Watford get out of the relegation zone on goal difference after beating Liverpool 3-0.
The result ends the Reds' unbeaten season and 18-match winning sequence.
Sheffield United score against Villa but goal-line technology fails to work and the video assistant referee (VAR) cannot intervene.
The match finishes 0-0.
Bournemouth confirm winger Ryan Fraser has played his last game for the Cherries, as the club's reigning Player of the Year opts against a short extension to his deal that ended on June 30.
Norwich become the first team to get relegated after losing 4-0 to West Ham - their 24th defeat of the season.
Bournemouth's equaliser is chalked off by the VAR moments before Southampton score their second in second-half stoppage time.
Watford sack Nigel Pearson, who has never been relegated as a manager, with two games left.
Villa beat Arsenal 1-0 to climb out of the bottom three for the first time since Feb 29.