- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - A shot at $35 million of Champions League cash. The fate of one of the managers. Local bragging rights. Future transfer targets. Reputations.

There’s plenty at stake Sunday when Manchester City and Manchester United vie for the last Champions League qualification place from the Premier League.

With the league trophy in the hands of Leicester and the three relegated teams already confirmed, the attention on the final day of the Premier League season focuses on whether City or United will join Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal in Europe’s elite competition next season.

The blue half of Manchester is in control. City occupies fourth place and is two points ahead of fifth-place United with a superior goal difference of 18. A draw or victory at Swansea will be enough to ensure incoming City manager Pep Guardiola will have Champions League soccer in his schedule next season.

All United can do is beat Bournemouth at Old Trafford and hope for good news from south Wales.

The team that finishes fourth will compete in a Champions League playoff to qualify for the group stage.

For a club the size of United - Forbes had it as the third most valuable team in the world, behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, in its annual “Rich List” published this week - missing out on the Champions League for the second time in three years would be a humiliation.

And it could spell the end of coach Louis van Gaal.

In 2014, David Moyes was fired two days after United lost to Everton to be assured of not making the top four. Van Gaal has one year left on his contract, and United still has an FA Cup final against Crystal Palace to play on May 21, but that might not be enough.

Jose Mourinho has been linked with taking over at United in the offseason, and United hasn’t denied months of reports that Van Gaal will be replaced by his one-time assistant at Barcelona.

Missing out on the Champions League once can be seen as a blip, but twice in three years could be viewed by sponsors and investors as a possible trend. So competitive is the Premier League at present that there is no guarantee United will be back there next year.

City, a financial superpower like United, can easily overcome the financial implications of not having Champions League soccer, but it would be blow to miss out at the end of a season in which the club reached the semifinals of the competition for the first time. And would City be able to entice top names to Etihad Stadium without the lure of the Champions League?

United managed to in its season out of Europe’s elite but City doesn’t have the same standing in the game, although the presence of Guardiola will hold some sway.

City benefited from United losing 3-2 at West Ham on Tuesday to regain the initiative in the race for the top four.

“We were in control of it going into the West Ham game,” United midfielder Michael Carrick said, “but we’ve let it slip. We have to win our last league game now and then see what happens.”

Swansea has little to play for, having secured its Premier League status last month, but has beaten Liverpool and West Ham in its last two games - scoring seven goals in the process. The Welsh team has lost its last five games against City.

It will be the final game in charge of City for manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has won three trophies in three years at the club. Critics say that is the bare minimum City should have won considering the money spent and the strength of the squad.

“I always think we can do better,” Pellegrini said Thursday, “but the important thing to compare with the other teams - if we make the sum of the three seasons that I was in charge here, we were the team that won most points.”

Mathematically, sixth-place West Ham could still also finish fourth but it is highly unlikely, given the team is three points behind City and has an inferior goal difference of 15.

Here are other things to watch out for on Sunday:

___

EUROPA LEAGUE

At least two Europa League places are up for grabs, and possibly three if Man United wins the FA Cup and finishes in the top six. That means the teams finishing fifth, sixth and possibly seventh will qualify for Europe’s second-tier competition.

Man City has 65 points, followed by Man United with 63, West Ham with 62, Southampton with 60 and Liverpool with 59.

West Ham is at Stoke, Southampton hosts Palace and Liverpool visits West Bromwich Albion.

___

RANIERI’S MOMENT

Twelve years after being fired by Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri is back at Stamford Bridge and is set to receive a guard of honor with his Leicester players for masterminding the most unlikely title victory in Premier League history.

Leicester, a 5,000-1 longshot for the title before the season, leads by 10 points ahead of its last game.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide