Sunday 11 May ~
Avram Grant risked a joke yesterday, saying that he would prefer the Premier League title to be decided by a play-off. Although, he added, this really is the method used, "the one I prefer", to decide the Serie A winners and other issues in Italy when teams are tied on points. Sky TV will of course be delighted that the championship and two of three relegation places will be decided in the 38th round of fixtures. Indeed, if would be surprising if end-of-season play-offs were not one of the items raised in the discussion between club chairmen that led to the notorious Game 39 proposal, pushed by the PL chief executive Richard Scudamore a few months ago.
There is usually at least one issue to be settled on the last weekend of the season, although only once since the Premier League started have no clubs being relegated before the final day. This year nine clubs have something at stake, whether at the top or regarding the European places and relegation. (Technically, a tenth team, Bolton, could be involved but there would have to be something akin to a rugby score in their game at Chelsea and in one other match to send them down.) But it can never be guaranteed that this will be the case. Which is why you can bet that the viewing figures for today's various live transmissions will prompt some informal chats – just shooting the breeze, crunching a few numbers – between TV executives, club chairmen and league officials. Games 39-42, perhaps.
For now, though, we're stuck with the stodgy old league format. Chelsea would be expected to beat Bolton comfortably even if the latter still had something to play for. So more of the focus during the build-up has been on Man Utd's game at Wigan, managed by former Old Trafford stalwart, Steve Bruce. Some cynical Chelsea fans (yes, such people do exist) think that Bruce's side won't be especially motivated. They might offer as evidence comments made by Bruce's current employer, Dave Whelan, who thinks that his manager may one day return to Man Utd.
But this, of course, nonsense. If Chelsea fail to win the title on goal difference, they will have to blame a consistent failure to widen the margin of their often dour wins earlier in the season. Indeed, expect that to be one of the first points put to Avram Grant in his post-match press conference later today.