By Andrew Warshaw
July 27 – Total elation for some, utter heartbreak for others. The English Premier League season, behind closed doors since lockdown, wound up on Sunday with Manchester United and Chelsea securing places in the Champions League at Leicester’s expense and, at the other end, Watford and Bournemouth being relegated along with already doomed Norwich City.
Aston Villa, who were only promoted a year ago and have been in dire trouble for weeks on end, somehow survived the drop thanks to a 1-1 draw at West Ham United which moved them to 35 points, one more than Bournemouth, who go down despite a fighting 3-1 win at Everton, and Watford who lost 3-2 at Arsenal in spite of a spirited rally from three goals down.
There will be few tears shed at Watford’s demise, apart from among their own fans. With just two games to go, manager Nigel Pearson, who was only appointed last December and had managed to steer the club off the bottom of the league and give them a fighting chance, was nonsensically sacked. His replacement duly lost both final games while Villa took four points from their final two fixtures to stay up.
Spare a thought for Bournemouth, whose five-year stay in the top flight came to end, and for their hugely admired manager Eddie Howe.
The south-coast club has one of the smallest budgets in the league, with a crowd capacity of just 10,000, yet has consistently punched above its weight, at times playing highly entertaining football. Defense has been its Achilles heel, however, and Howe’s future is bound to be in doubt though if he leaves he will not be short of offers.
“It’s a sad painful feeling for me in my heart. It’s difficult when you feel like you’ve let people down,” said Howe, who had taken Bournemouth from the fourth tier of the English football pyramid to the top flight.
A penalty from Bruno Fernandes and late goal from Jesse Lingard gave Manchester United, unbeaten in their final 14 Premier League games, a 2-0 win at Leicester City, in the winner-takes-all clash to decide which of them qualifies for the Champions League. Chelsea clinched the other Champions League spot along with champions Liverpool and second-placed Manchester City.
Leicester, who had been in the top four for most of the season, ultimately missed out by finishing fifth and will have to settle for a spot in the Europa League. Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, who drew 1-1 at Crystal Palace, are also in the Europa League by finishing sixth after a strong rally post-lockdown.
The Premier League has scheduled its 2020/21 season start for September 12.
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