Sunday marked the final round of the 2020-21 Premier League season, and with a lot still to play for, from European qualification to individual honors, there was more than enough drama up and down the fixture list. ESPN’s Mark Ogden and James Olley recap the main talking points from a thrilling final round.
Liverpool finish the job to finish in the top four
As Liverpool cruised to a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield, it would be easy to ask what all the fuss was about in terms of their Champions League qualification. Eight wins from their last 10 league games, including the last five of the season, secured third place and a Champions League spot with a three-point cushion ahead of fifth-placed Leicester.
But just rewind to March 7, when Liverpool had lost to Fulham to record their sixth successive home defeat, and Jurgen Klopp’s team were marooned in eighth position with 10 games to play.
Leicester, whose 4-2 defeat at home to Spurs saw them miss out the Champions League on the final day for the second year in a row, stood 10 points clear of Liverpool on March 7. (They spent 93%, or 567 days, of the past two seasons in the top four only to finish fifth on both occasions.) Liverpool’s late-season surge, combined with Leicester losing five and winning just four of the final 10 games, saw last season’s champions sneak in at the expense of Brendan Rodgers’ side, who can console themselves with winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history earlier this month.
Having survived a nervous start against Palace, with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend both missing clear chances to score, Liverpool never looked back once Sadio Mane opened the scoring from close range on 36 minutes. The striker’s second goal on 74 minutes confirmed a comfortable win on a day when tension was absent from Anfield and it felt like a matter of when, not if, the home side would seal the victory.
“I’m so proud of what they’ve done the last 10 or 15 games, and the reaction of the team in bad times,” Klopp said after the match. “It was not our year for the championship. I’m really happy with third place.”
Liverpool simply did the hard work, with crucial away wins at Manchester United, West Brom and Burnley prior to this finale. Leicester, though, only have themselves to blame for missing out on the top four, having twice held the lead against Spurs at the King Power. With Chelsea losing at Aston Villa, a win would have been enough for Leicester to finish fourth. But a Harry Kane goal — which also secured him this season’s Golden Boot — two from Gareth Bale and a Kasper Schmeichel own goal cancelled out two Jamie Vardy penalties and left Leicester in fifth.
“I have nothing but pride,” Rodgers told BBC Sport after the defeat. “The ownership have given me amazing support. The players have given me their heart and souls every day. I’m so disappointed for them we couldn’t get over the line.
“We need a period to go away and recover and relax a little bit. Premier League management is intense. We have work to do to improve the squad and come back early July motivated.”
In the end, Leicester took just 13 points from their last 10 games, but Liverpool amassed 26 over the same period, which is why they can now plan for the Champions League and why Leicester are facing another season in the Europa League. — Mark Ogden
Kane’s goals help put Chelsea into Champions League
Tottenham are reluctant to facilitate Harry Kane joining Chelsea or anyone else this summer, but they’ve made Stamford Bridge a more attractive destination by booking the Blues’ place in the Champions League with their win over Leicester.
Blues manager Thomas Tuchel had the luxury of informing his players two minutes into stoppage time at Villa Park, drawing a line with his hands and an accompanying thumbs-up, that they had sealed a top four spot, but not because of anything they did against Aston Villa. On the way, Chelsea were beaten 2-1 having given away a cheap penalty, finished with 10 men after Cesar Azpilicueta’s idiotic red card. They also have to stress over their first-choice goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, being available for Saturday’s Champions League final after he was forced off injured at half-time.
Chelsea ended the game with 23 shots to Villa’s six and 71% possession, reflective of a dominant performance undermined by mistakes in both penalty areas.
“We fought, we tried everything, but we forgot to score,” Tuchel said afterwards, underlining precisely why the Blues will be in the market for a striker this summer regardless of whether Spurs are equally accommodating over Kane.
The circumstances were calamitous, but once the dust settles on a dramatic afternoon, Tuchel will take great satisfaction from finishing fourth given where Chelsea were when he replaced Frank Lampard on Jan. 26.
Sunday’s loss was Chelsea’s first away defeat in the Premier League under Tuchel, and only their fifth since he took charge. They should have been ahead by the time Bertrand Traore — the ex-Chelsea player whose transfer was a key factor in their FIFA transfer ban — put the home side in front just before half-time. Mendy collided with the post in trying to keep the shot out and did not emerge for the second half, replaced by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea were also the better team when Jorginho brought down Traore in the box seven minutes after the restart and Anwar El Ghazi slotted home the penalty. Ben Chilwell halved the deficit, though the Blues lacked composure in the box all afternoon.
Yet Tuchel did not bring on a striker: Olivier Giroud was an unused substitute and Tammy Abraham was left out altogether. Abraham’s name was sung by the Villa fans with 24 minutes left, around the time he could have made a difference for Chelsea, but his career at the club looks in doubt. It certainly will be if Kane arrives.
Kane may never play for Chelsea given he appears to prefer a move to Manchester City, but in scoring one and setting up another in Spurs’ win over Leicester, he has already given them a vital contribution. — James Olley
Kane’s Golden Boot glory, Aguero ends sparking Man City career with goals
Kane sealed a hat trick of Premier League Golden Boots by finishing a goal clear of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah thanks to his first-half strike in the 4-2 win at Leicester.
The England captain, who is seeking a summer move away from Spurs, finished the season with 23 goals from 35 appearances. Salah managed 22 goals from 37 appearances for Jurgen Klopp’s team and his desperation to win the Golden Boot for a third time, following his successes in 2018 and 2019, saw him attempt to haul level with Kane in the final stages of Liverpool’s 2-0 win against Crystal Palace at Anfield.
Despite Sadio Mane twice being unmarked and in a better position to score, Salah chose to shoot — and miss — instead of teeing up his teammate to finish off a hat-trick. Kane has now joined former Blackburn and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer on three Golden Boots, moving one behind Thierry Henry, who won a record four Golden Boots during his time at Arsenal.
Meanwhile, at the Etihad, Sergio Aguero marked his final appearance for Manchester City with two goals as a substitute in the 5-0 victory against Everton. The late double took his league tally for City to 184, making him the highest goal scorer for a single club in the Premier League era. — Mark Ogden
West Ham, Spurs celebrate at Arsenal’s expense
West Ham manager David Moyes addressed supporters inside the London Stadium at full-time of what ended up being a comfortable 3-1 win over Southampton, which secured West Ham’s place in the Europa League for next season.
“Make sure you’re all vaccinated and get your passports out because we’re going to Europe,” the Hammers boss told them to cheers around the ground.
There may be just a slight tinge of regret they were unable to hang on for a Champions League place, given they still occupied fourth place in mid-April and only missed out by two points in the end. Yet their successful qualification for Europe’s second-tier competition is a stunning achievement for a squad that avoiding relegation by just five points last year.
Moyes has gone a long way to restoring a reputation damaged by his brief stint in charge of Manchester United seven years ago, re-establishing a strong work ethic and galvanising a beleaguered Hammers squad — a feat that should go a long way to repairing the previously strained relationship between the club and its fans.
They finished with 65 points, their highest haul in the Premier League. Sunday’s 3-0 victory — secured with a Pablo Fornals first-half brace and Declan Rice‘s late strike — left Tottenham to scrap with their rivals Arsenal for the dubious honour of securing a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League (ECL), UEFA’s new third-tier competition.
It appeared as though Arsenal would salvage something from a disappointing campaign as they eased to a 2-0 win over Brighton with Nicolas Pepe scoring twice, briefly threatening to finish seventh and finish above their north London rivals Spurs for the first time in four years. But what the Gunners fans call “St. Totteringham’s Day” never came. Spurs fought back from 2-1 down as a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and then a late brace from Gareth Bale handed the visitors a 4-2 win, which gives interim boss Ryan Mason a tangible reward for his seven-game run replacing Jose Mourinho.
In the end, Arsenal actually ended up securing five points more (61) than they did last season, but finished three places lower. They miss out on Europe for the first time in 25 years; a big summer at Emirates Stadium awaits.
Whether the ECL is a competition either the Gunners or Spurs actually wanted as they attempt their respective rebuilds is doubtful. Spurs at least have some form of European football to try and attract a new manager and prospective signings. However, both clubs have previously been sceptical about the Europa League so how seriously Spurs will approach an inferior competition is debatable. There is no such debate at West Ham, however: they are back in Europe, and proud of it. — James Olley
Solskjaer, Manchester United end on a remarkable note
Man United’s 2-1 win against Wolves at Molineux saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team become the first side to go a Premier League season unbeaten away from home since Arsenal in 2003-04.
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles also avoided defeat at home in 2003-04 to become the first, and so far only, team to go through a full season unbeaten. United’s run, which stretches back to a defeat at Liverpool in Jan 2020, saw them win 12 and draw seven of their games on the road. — Mark Ogden