By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Talking points from the weekend’s Premier League action:
THISEPICTITLEDUELWON’T STOP ON SUNDAY
Whatever happens in the title battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, which will go down to the final day of the season, the struggle for dominance between the pair isn’t going to stop on Sunday.
The final gap between the top two and third place is likely to be over 20 points and it is hard to imagine Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal or Manchester United making up that distance next season.
Nor is there the slightest indication in the way Liverpool and City are ending the season — they have won their combined last 16 games — that Pep Guardiola or Juergen Klopp’s side are likely to drop their standards.
Of course, Liverpool finished 25 points behind City last year and so it is certainly possible for large gaps to be made up in the course of a single campaign.
But it was clear last season that Liverpool — who were runners-up in the Champions League after beating City in the quarter-finals — were becoming a team that could challenge.
The only team from the big six that look to have a chance of making it a real three-way battle next season are Spurs — if they can improve their strength in depth and add quality in key areas — big questions for a club who have been limited in their player investments recently.
So if you have enjoyed this season’s head-to-head between City and Liverpool, fear not. It’s not going anywhere.
THEBEACHHASHAD TO WAIT
“They’ll be already on the beach” is a familiar refrain when fans and pundits look at end of season fixtures against teams who are safe from relegation and having nothing to play for at the top end of the table.
But this weekend showed that the notion of players switching off and losing motivation is without much merit.
Newcastle (14th) pushed Liverpool all the way with an aggressive and determined display that was only undone by Divock Origi’s 86th-minute goal.
Brighton & Hove Albion (17th) went a goal down to an Arsenal side fighting for Champions League qualification but fought back for a 1-1 draw.
Cardiff City might have hoped that Crystal Palace didn’t need the points as much as them — but Roy Hodgson’s side went to South Wales and won 3-2, condemning Neil Warnock’s side to relegation.
And Huddersfield, who were relegated back in March, frustrated Manchester United with a 1-1 draw at the John Smith’s stadium.
It seems the intense focus and scrutiny of the modern era, with all games televised, means players know the spotlight is still very much on them and that the beach will have to wait.
It was another disappointing result and display from Manchester United with a 1-1 draw at relegated Huddersfield on Sunday meaning there will be no Champions League football at Old Trafford next season.
But as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinted after the game, next season’s Europa League will offer an opportunity for him to bed in some of his young players, who are likely to be given a bigger role.
Scott McTominay scored at Huddersfield and was joined in the second half by 19-year-old Tahith Chong. Striker Mason Greenwood (17) can also expect opportunities next season as can highly-rated midfielder James Garner (18).
“Sometimes you can use the Europa League as something positive,” Solskjaer said.
Giving the next generation minutes on the field and experience of playing abroad in, sometimes, hostile stadiums, would certainly make sense for a club about to embark on a major rebuilding operation,
CARDIFFCOULDN’T MAKE UP FORQUALITYGAP
Cardiff City deserve great credit for the way they fought against the threat of the drop until the penultimate weekend of the campaign.
Neil Warnock’s side never looked to have the quality needed to survive in the top flight but typical of teams managed by the Yorkshireman they were well-organised and committed.
In the end, however, the teams going down to the Championship were the three weakest sides.
With Norwich and Sheffield United promoted, the only outstanding issue is which team will join them in next season’s Premier League.
There will be no fairytale outsiders this year — West Bromich Albion face Aston Villa and Leeds United take on Derby County in the two-legged games with the winners going face-to-to face at Wembley on May 27.
Big clubs with big histories looking for the big pay day.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)