Stephen Tudor relishes the prospect of final day flourishes, disciplinary dramas, and pride coming before a fall into the Championship...
"This Sunday Liverpool host doomed Middlesbrough with a Champions League spot on the line and Reds who are edgy about the prospect have every right to be."
After 33,300 minutes of football, 370 games, and enough drama and plot-twists to make a soap opera flinch, the 2016/17 Premier League show takes a final bow this weekend. Inside the auditorium Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull fans awkwardly group together, barely able to acknowledge the curtain fall. Down front and centre Chelsea supporters whoop it up ecstatically demanding an encore. Somewhere in the middle punters in Arsenal and Manchester United scarves just look confused, much preferring the prequels.
While a vast summer devoid of domestic fare is never to be celebrated the last weekend usually is; a farewell hooray that has previously given us two last-gasp title clinchers, great escapes from Oldham, West Brom, Bradford and West Ham, and Spurs ruing their decision to plump for the lasagne off the menu. Then there was Alan Ball's Manchester City wrongly believing in 1996 that a draw against Liverpool was sufficient to stave off relegation. The sight of Niall Quinn - substituted and now in his civvies - racing pitch-side frantically yelling at Steve Lomas to get it out of the corner is something you simply don't see between August and April.
The final weekend of the season rarely fails to enthrall and amuse and better yet - the odd Aguero strike or Michael Thomas charging through the midfield aside - it is not wholly unpredictable either...
Beware of teams playing for pride
Arsene Wenger may have recently received flak for suggesting so but there is evidence aplenty that teams comfortably residing in mid-table with weeks to spare tend to switch off, their attention drifting to the imminent pleasure of having sand between their toes. We don't even require data to back this up: it is there before our very eyes in the apathetic showings from Stoke and West Brom from the moment they passed the sacred 40 point marker.
Where this absolutely does not apply however is when teams similarly have nothing to play for but their battle has been fought and lost.
This Sunday Liverpool host doomed Middlesbrough with a Champions League spot on the line and Reds who are edgy about the prospect have every right to be. In the last two seasons teams already condemned to the drop have won 5/11 of their 'dead rubbers' and with all the expectation and pressure on the home side it allows Boro to sign off a miserable campaign with a little regained pride.
Golden boots at the Emirates
There may 'only' be Champions League placings that have gone to the wire this season but in North London as Arsenal prepare to break down Everton's stoicism it is high noon for two prolific gunslingers desperate to secure the honour of winning the Premier League's Golden Boot.
Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku have been duking it out all season and with only one goal separating them (Lukaku is presently ahead on 24) this is a 90-minute shoot out to determine who joins an illustrious list of former winners that includes Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and the terribly-'tached Kevin Phillips.
Lukaku may be regularly criticised for flat-track bullying smaller sides and failing to show up on the big occasion but he will surely be highly motivated for this one. Which makes his seventh-favourite standing in the goal-scorer markets noteworthy to say the least.
Watford in the book
For disciplinary drama this weekend will really have to go some to rival Joey Barton's last-day meltdown at Manchester City in 2012. "It was a cold, calculated decision," football's philosopher-in-chief later claimed of a hissy-fit that involved elbowing Carlos Tevez, kneeing Sergio Aguero in the thigh and attempting to nut Vincent Kompany while reducing his survival-scrapping team to ten men. Following the incident the FA also got their calculators out totting up a £75,000 fine and 12 match suspension.
City's opponents this time may not be languishing in the bottom three but there is still a high risk of cards with Watford firmly last in the fair play table having racked up a decidedly naughty 80 yellows and five reds this term. Individually too the Hornets have been stung more than most with Jose Holebas receiving more cautions than anyone else in the Premier League and Miguel Britos joint-topping the reds table with two.
Should City keep their heads don't be surprised if Walter Mazzarri's men lose theirs.
Eagles soar, United bore
Crystal Palace's successful avoidance of the drop may not compare to Oldham Athletic's great escape in 1993 that required three wins from their final trio of games and had manager Joe Royle insisting Harry Houdini would be proud of his players' achievement but it has been remarkably impressive all the same.
Since Sam Allardyce's appointment the Eagles has been rejuvenated - winning at Stamford Bridge and Anfield - and giving a lacklustre Arsenal a substantial hiding for good measure and with survival so recently guaranteed they will be in buoyant mood as they travel to Old Trafford.
For United this is merely a game to get through unscathed ahead of their era-defining Europa League final on Wednesday and it is not inconceivable that Jose Mourinho will put the tea-lady in goal and Wayne Rooney up front to ensure he faces Ajax with his strongest side.
With the Red Devils struggling to buy a goal at present - a meagre two from their last five league games - and viewing the fixture as a household chore the 19/10 available for an away win is immensely tempting.