Story-lines: What to watch for on the final day of the Premier League

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With a quiver of the lip and David Beckham-esque tears streaming down my cheeks, we arrive at the final day of the 2012-13 Barclay’s Premier League.

At 11am all 10 matches will kick-off but with little of the intrigue that last season’s final day provided.

We won’t be seeing last-gasp strikes by Sergio Aguero to win the title and prompt Ian Darke to wonder ‘Who is writing this stuff?!?!’ And we won’t be seeing two teams like Bolton and Queens Park Rangers fluctuate between safety and relegation only for the former to succumb to their death after drawing 2-2 at Stoke City on a late Jonathan Walters penalty.

But not to worry as there are still plenty of narratives to tickle the fancy. Here’s the complete slate of matches with some of the storylines to keep you interested.

Newcastle United v. Arsenal (St James’ Park)

We all know Arsenal need to win at Newcastle to guarantee Champions League qualification and that with some help from Everton, could even manage 3rd place and automatic qualification. Newcastle on the other hand, are just happy to be staying up.

Other story-lines:

  • Could this match be another 10 goal thriller? The reverse fixture was the highest-scoring match of the season where the Gunners destroyed the Magpies 7-3 at the Emirates.
  • Might we see another hat-trick hero in red? Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have both managed the feat this season and Newcastle’s defensive woes make them vulnerable.

MORE: All eyes on Newcastle v. Arsenal for final Champions League spot.

Tottenham Hotspur v. Sunderland (White Hart Lane)

To have any chance of securing qualification for next season’s Champions League, Spurs must beat Sunderland on Sunday. But don’t expect the Mackems to roll over as manager Paulo Di Canio has made it clear this match will be a battle: “This is an opportunity, to test ourselves at the top level, against a top side, away from home, against top individuals. I do not accept to go there and give a cheap result away because it is not my mentality.”

Other story-lines:

  • Spurs have won 9, drawn 1 and lost 1 of their last 11 home matches against Sunderland. Can they reach double digits on Sunday?
  • Gareth Bale is the undisputed player of the year in the Premier League but with many suitors waiting in the wings, might this be the Welshman’s last match at White Hart Lane?

Chelsea v. Everton (Stamford Bridge)

The clash of the Blues at Stamford Bridge not only has Champions League implications (the Blues must win to secure 3rd in the table) but also represents the final match in charge for both managers. Rafa Benitez’s interim spell as Chelsea manager comes to a close with Jose Mourinho tabbed for a dramatic return to Stamford Bridge while Everton’s David Moyes will be succeeding Sir Alex at United, as he leaves the Merseyside club after an 11 year stint.

Other story-lines:

  • Marouane Fellaini has been in dominant form this season leading to numerous transfer rumors. Could Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge prove to be a future destination for the Belgian? 
  • Frank Lampard scored twice to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park. Will the Englishman win it again for Chelsea?

West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United (The Hawthorns)

It will be an emotional day for United supporters on Sunday as they say goodbye to one of the best football managers to ever grace the pitch, Sir Alex Ferguson. He and his players will be given (yet another) guard of honor as Ferguson looks to motivate his troups for one final win in his 1,500th game as manager at United.

Other story-lines:

  • Wayne Rooney has not been included in the team traveling to West Brom. With the transfer requests being handed in and his displeasure at United, have we seen the last of Wazza in a United kit?
  • United have 28 wins this season. Can they make it 29 on Sunday and equal Chelsea’s record for wins in a season?
  • Are Steve Clarke’s men going to be up for this one? They’ve lost three straight including last weekend’s 4-0 embarrassment at the hands of Norwich City.

Liverpool v. Queens Park Rangers (Anfield)

It should be a walk in the park for Liverpool on Sunday as they face a relegated QPR team who they shutout 3-0 in December at Loftus Road. For Liverpool, a result will see them finish the season on a nine match unbeaten run.

Other story-lines:

  • Since arriving at Anfield in January, Daniel Sturridge has scored 9 league goals. With Luis Suarez out, might the England international hit double digits? 
  • With relegation on the loom, could this be the last match for players like Loic Remy, Chris Samba and Junior Hoilett?

Manchester City v. Norwich City (Etihad Stadium)

In the club’s second match without Roberto Mancini, City look to end the season on a high while Norwich look to capitalize on last week’s 4-0 demolition of West Brom.

Other story-lines:

  • Can the Canaries get their first ever victory at City?
  • Despite his role as a substitute Edin Dzeko leads his club in scoring with 14 goals. Might the Bosnian be playing his last match for the Citizens?

Southampton v. Stoke City (The Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium)

Both teams are secure but a Southampton win will see them leapfrog the Potters in the table.

Other story-lines:

  • Rickie Lambert’s 14 Premier League goals put him one behind Frank Lampard for most league goals by an Englishman. Can the striker score a dramatic double to steal the honor from the Chelsea great? 
  • Stoke’s defense was incredible before the New Year, securing nine clean sheets. Since then, they’ve only had three. Will Sunday see a fourth?

Swansea City v. Fulham (Liberty Stadium)

A Swansea win and a West Brom loss will see Michael Laudrup’s men finish 8th in the table, an incredible feat to add to their coup of the League Cup. For Fulham, a victory on Sunday could see them make an incredible jump from 15th to 10th in the table.

Other story-lines:

  • Michu has been one of the best stories in the league after arriving from Rayo Vallecano for a mere £2m. Can he extend his goal haul of 18 on the season?
  • Dimitar Berbatov has 14 goals this season, giving him 89 total Premier League goals. Can he reach the 90 goal mark on Sunday?

West Ham United v. Reading (Upton Park)

West Ham will need at least a draw to hold onto their 10th place spot while Reading are returning to the Championship after a disappointing single season stint in the top flight.

Other story-lines:

  • Can Adam Le Fondre come off the bench and score yet again? He leads the league with 7 substitute goals this season.
  • West Ham has only taken two of five Premier League matches against Reading. Can they end their season on a positive note and even up the series?

Wigan Athletic v. Aston Villa (DW Stadium)

A sad day at the DW as Wigan host Aston Villa knowing that next year they will be in the Championship.

Other story-lines:

  • Villa’s Christian Benteke ensured his club Premier League survival. Can the big man add to his 14 goal haul this season? 
  • Could this be the last match in charge for Wigan manager Roberto Martinez? Numerous clubs, including Everton, have been inquiring about the manager’s services.

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.

San Jose adds Designated Player from Legia Warsaw

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Valeri ‘Vako’ Qazaishvili is the latest MLS Designated Player, as the Georgian will hit the pitch for San Jose this season provided his visa and ITC go through.

Qazaishvili comes from Legia Warsaw after five seasons with Vitesse in the Eredivisie. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been capped 24 times, and scored in Georgia’s 2-2 draw with Moldova earlier this month in World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Equally adept at right or left wing, Qazaishvili posted a goal and two assists for Legia following his transfer from Vitesse. He scored 28 goals and added 13 assists in 121 matches for the Dutch side.

From SJEarthquakes.com:

“We were looking for a player, a younger, offensive player, that really excites the fans and has the possibility to stay with us for a long period of time. That’s what we found with Vako,” said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. “We wanted a player that knows how to take on a defender one-on-one, that sees the goal and that also wants to bring a spark to our game.”

San Jose sits seventh in the Western Conference table, and only two teams — Colorado and DC — have scored fewer goals in MLS. Jahmir Hyka and Cordell Cato have been fine, but San Jose needed a better chance creator.

Qazaishvili, in theory, fits the bill. If he has half the impact of fellow Legia export Nemanja Nikolic, San Jose is cooking with gas.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.