Gunners’ impressive streak in danger
Arsenal in jeopardy of failing to earn Champions League spot for first time in 20 years
T he Premier League season concludes Sunday, and while most things are settled, still up in the air are the final two Champions League places.
Manchester City is in third place, Liverpool is two points behind, while Arsenal, a further point back, is in serious jeopardy of missing out. The Gunners have qualified for the Champions League for 19 years in a row, so it would be quite a blow for that streak to end.
Arsenal hosts Everton on Sunday in what’s pretty much a must-win game, but it’s all academic if Liverpool and City win their respective matches.
Liverpool hosts relegated Middlesbrough, while Manchester City is at lowly Watford, so the odds aren’t in Arsenal’s favour. Goal difference makes it doubly unlikely Arsenal can overtake City, as the Gunners are five goals worse off compared with the Sky Blues.
Still, anything is possible, and there are even a few scenarios where teams could finish deadlocked for fourth place, in which case a onematch playoff would decide the Champions League spot.
Manchester United, meanwhile, plays Ajax on Wednesday in the Europa League final in Stockholm. If the Red Devils win, they get a Champions League spot as a bonus. Ajax is a very talented young squad, though, and United is without injured top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The bonus round
Real Madrid is in the driver’s seat in La Liga, as the final round of games concludes this weekend. Real is at Malaga on Sunday needing only a point to claim the trophy, while Barcelona, three points back, is in a must-win situation at home to Eibar.
A surprising aspect of the Madrid game is that, if Real wins the trophy, they have to pay Malaga $1.5 million! This is because of a bonus clause in the contract of midfielder Isco, who joined Real from Malaga in 2013. Isco helping Real win the league earns Malaga a payout. It’s a crazy situation, as Malaga would profit for failing to beat their opponent. That doesn’t seem right.
In Serie A, Roma made things interesting last Sunday with a 3-1 win over Juventus to spoil their rival’s victory plans. Juve still holds a four-point advantage with two rounds left. Roma and third-place Napoli are both in action on Saturday, and if the results don’t go their way, then Juve will claim the title on their day off.
Otherwise, the champions have a chance to clinch the crown on Sunday at home to lowly Crotone. The visitors, though, are in the relegation zone, and fighting for their lives to stay up. An upset is unlikely, but possible.
Meanwhile, the title race is also still on in Turkey, where Besiktas and Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson hold a two-point lead over Istanbul Basaksehir, with three rounds remaining.
Both teams face their toughest opponents this weekend, as Besiktas hosts seventh place Kasimpasa on Saturday, while Basaksehir visits fifth place Trabzonspor on Sunday.
Stand up for Travis
Whitecaps fans will have a chance to honour former Residency player Travis Selje on Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium, when Vancouver hosts Sporting Kansas City.
The 17-year-old died two weeks ago following a tragic car crash.
Travis was part of the Whitecaps FC Residency Program from 201216, and more recently was team captain at Surrey United. The crash occurred as he was returning home from soccer practice.
Caps players will wear armbands in Selje’s memory, and there will be a moment of silence before Saturday’s game.
Then, in the 35th minute, friends of Travis are planning to stand and applaud in his memory. Travis wore No. 35 with the residency team, which also signified his birthday, March 5. All attendees Saturday are encouraged to stand up for Travis in the 35th minute.
Bob Lenarduzzi is president of Vancouver Whitecaps FC. For tickets, visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.
Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson (behind, in red) battles El Salvador’s Andres Flores for the ball during FIFA World Cup qualifying action last September in Vancouver. Hutchinson now plays for Besiktas, a club that’s battling Istanbul Basaksehir for the title in Turkey. — CP FILES