If the Division 2 season was to be summed up in one of today’s big issues, mental health, then it would have been certified insane even before the final day comes along on Thursday. Both at top and bottom of the table it has been crazy with some teams involved in both promotion and relegation battles. I could go on for ages trying to sum up the season but the main point today is looking at how both ends of the table shapes up going into the final fixtures. I tried to think of the best way to look at this but to no avail. Answer? Play the music on my phone through my latest bird, Alexa. She does everything I need except feed me and have sex, although drilling a hole in the top might solve the latter and just as I type that, Alexa decides to belt out Girls, Girls, Girls by Jay-Z. Coincidence?
Anyway let’s get to this.
Starting with the battle for automatic promotion, including the play off places.
HELLAS VERONA new a win at home to Standard Liege would guarantee promotion but this is Division 2 and not to surprisingly they went down 0-2. However, with one of their challengers, Stoke City losing at Tottenham Hotspur, it meant the celebrations could start as that guaranteed them Division 1 football next season.
Now, the real fight begins as we look at the other two automatic promotion places. There are five clubs trying to fit into two places and, as even a primary school kid knows, five into two doesn’t fit. The teams in pole position just need a win to seal promotion while the others will be praying for a slip up that could let them in. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR sit in second place and they make the trip to Everton on Thursday. If only Everton had nothing to play for then Tottenham would be hot favourites to get the win they require. Unfortuately, Everton do have something to play for so this will be an incredibly hard game.
SL BENFICA are the team in third place and, again, a win for them will secure promotion. They are also on the road as they travel across the border into Spain to take on Levante UD. Typically, in this madcap season, they are in the same situation as Tottenham as Levante also have something to play for. Levante are a very proud club and will make it very hard for Benfica to get the win they require.
This takes us to the teams waiting for either Tottenham or Benfica to slip up. STANDARD LIEGE, STOKE CITY and LIVERPOOL are the teams that lie in wait. All three have fixtures against teams that also have a reason to win their games. Liverpool are arguably the best placed with a home game to relegation favourites, but not down yet, Sassuolo. Sometimes relegation threatened teams are the hardest to play against so it’s not done and dusted for Liverpool even in front of a fanatical Anfield crowd. Standard Liege and Stoke City are both also at home but their games are against teams with a chance of grabbing a play off place. Standard Liege entertain Southampton and Stoke City entertain Santos FC. A lot of S’s in there so it is anyone’s guess what standout sides selebrate success (see what I done there) at the end of 90min.
Talking of the play offs, the picture is a bit more clearer. The three teams that miss out on automatic promotion are guaranteed a play off place as a consolation. This leaves one place to play for and as we know, nothing is straightforward in Division 2. Five teams have a chance of stealing that last place. Well, to be fair, four teams have a chance of stealing the last place as the team currently in sixth can’t steal something that they are already in position to take. That team is AJAX AMSTERDAM. So a win in their last game at Sevilla would seal that seventh place? I am afraid not. Anything but a win would almost certainly see them miss out but with them only in sixth place by 1 goal from seventh and two goals from eighth, a win does not guarantee that final play off spot. The teams breathing down their necks are the pre-mentioned EVERTON and LEVANTE UD. Everton host Tottenham Hotspur while Levante welcome Benfica. Both games are going to be interesting and it will be a test of who has the most bottle. These 3 fixtures would seem to make Ajax favourites for that last play off place but if all three managed just a draw at most it could open the door for SOUTHAMPTON. The Saints are just one point adrift of the three pre-mentioned teams but, again, they face another tough fixture when they travel to Standard Liege and with the Belgian side going for automatic promotion, Southampton will be relying on Standard freezing on the night. The team with least pressure but also least chance of making the play offs are SANTOS FC. They are two points adrift of seventh place and travel to ‘a likely play off team’ Stoke City. This makes Santos long outsiders to take that final place.
I hope you have followed the promotion/play offs situation that, quite frankly, is as clear as mud.
At the other end of the table it was just as confusing with, until the last couple of games, something like ten or eleven teams scrambling for enough points to see them clear of the drop zone. As we come into the final set of fixtures we have four teams fighting over one survival place.
So far, only DYNAMO KYIV are officially relegated after a rough season which sees them a massive 17 points adrift of second bottom. So what about the other three relegation places? As I said, there are four teams that can still finish in they three places. The teams involved are SS LAZIO, FC SCHALKE 04, HAMBURGER SV and SASSUOLO.
Starting with the team with the toughest, almost impossible, task, Sassuolo have already achieved a small miracle by taking it to the last day but they go into the last game with everything going against them. They travel to England to face automatic promotion hopefuls Liverpool and they must win by at least two goals to have any chance of escaping. Oh, I forgot to mention that they are also three points behind the other three teams involved so not only do they have to win by two goals at a team going for promotion, they also have to hope, no make that pray, on their knees for at least an hour before kick off, that the other three teams all lose. We are talking 100/1 outsiders and if they escape the drop it will be one of the greatest stories in the history of TOP100.
SS Lazio, FC Schalke and Hamburger SV are all locked on 41 points with a respective goal difference of -9, -15 and -20. Goal difference plays a huge part in the games tonight, so much so that Lazio win against, already promoted, Hellas Verona, then they are safe. However, there is always a however, Hellas need points to guarantee the Division 2 title so it’s very unlikely that they take tonight’s game a bit easier.
If Lazio fail to win then that opens the door for FC Schalke to grab the safe spot on the last day. Schalke are at home to fellow German outfit Werder Bremen. Bremen are one of the few teams with nothing at stake after securing safety last week. The question here is will Bremen play under strength or under par to help a fellow German side or will they go all out for the points that would relegate a German rival.
Finally we have Hamburger SV. They need Lazio and Schalke not to win. If neither of them win then Hamburger could achieve a great escape if they can win at Newcastle United. Newcastle are another team with nothing to play for and a home record of just 4 wins in 18 games. This seems to give Hamburger a great chance of getting a result and I feel we could be on the verge of that great escape. The way the fixtures lie, I think Hamburger could be the team to escape, sending Lazio and Schalke down to Division 3.
No matter how it turns out, we are in for a thrilling finale to the season and all I can say is I am so happy to have escaped all the drama after my Sevilla secured safety with last Sunday’s draw at Sassuolo.
All that remains is to wish everyone luck on Thursday night for what will be the end to another incredible TOP100 season.