SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – It all comes down to this.
Survival Sunday is the biggest moment in English soccer -- and will have repercussions felt across the world. All the games kick off simultaneously at 10 a.m. ET, and nine of them will be shown live across the FOX family of networks.
Not since 1989 -- when Arsenal famously beat Liverpool at Anfield to clinch the title -- has there been so much on the line in the Premier League. The title is yet to be decided, places in Europe remain up for grabs, and just exactly who will be in the Premier League next season is deeply uncertain.
The bottom line is simple: It is the must-see day in soccer, and the clearest distillation of what makes sport fulfilling. All the passion, all the drama, all the tension and, yes, all the pain, are on display. As one team and its city exults, another will be plunged into despair. It is a thrilling and cruel day and it cannot be missed.
Whole economies are at stake. Playing in the richest league in the world is a far cry from toiling in the first division, a fate that the cities of Wolverhampton and Blackburn are already reeling from. Those two are relegated after dismal seasons that saw them eliminated early and one more is to join them. Three teams are fighting Sunday to avoid that fate meaning that the populations of Birmingham, London and Bolton will be on tenterhooks, praying their club is not the one to fall into the cellar -- and financial disaster.
The costs are clear: relegated teams will play in front of emptier houses, lose out on the massive money from TV and merchandising, and will struggle to put together a team that can scale the mountain back into the league. Estimates vary wildly on how much it costs a team to go down, but the simple answer is: tens of millions.
"(Manchester) City have so much riding on it - but so have we," Anton Ferdinand of relegation threatened QPR told SkySports.com on May 10. "This game determines whether people keep jobs or not at our club.
"We have to make sure every single person keeps their job for next season."
At the other end of the table, the Battle for Manchester still rages, with both City and United able to seize the crown. City haven't won a title in 44 years -- and have never won it in the Premier League era. United are the dynasty, are eager to wrap their mitts around title No. 20, and in the process preserve what they consider to be a soccer kingdom in England's north west. The teams are tied on points, with only goal difference as a tiebreaker, so both teams must win to control their own destinies. It's seat-of-the-pants stuff. One entire season is distilled into a single game in a way that is uncommon for world soccer.
Leagues are generally decided early: witness Real Madrid in Spain (May 2, though it was a foregone conclusion last month), Juventus in Italy (last week) and Celtic in Scotland (back in early April!)
Not so this season -- this is the closest thing to a World Series that this sport has seen in a very long time. And it is not an exaggeration to say more than just pride is on the line. Money, prestige, and the ability to hire new players for next season -- all these hang in the balance.
City's match with relegation-threatened QPR is the biggie. The long-suffering Citizens have become international darlings -- partly because of their star-studded lineup, and partly many folks are simply sick of the "Yankees of soccer" -- and many neutrals are rooting for them to break what has been a stranglehold on the Premier League title. In the modern era, only four teams have ever won the thing --Arsenal, Chelsea, Blackburn and United, the last by far the most successful of all -- and it is not going too far to say that a win here would represent a seismic shift in world soccer.
A City win instantly establishes this new-money team as a legitimate world power. It will bring them added riches in marketing and surely entice some of the best players on the planet to sign up. And, perhaps most sweet of all, it will give the large blue section of the city something to celebrate.
But City cannot count their chickens. Gritty, if unsatisfying United, have a tough game at Sunderland, but they can pounce on any City slip-up. It is very likely that as news trickles in from the Etihad to the Stadium of Light, United's fans will roar and moan -- and most will be following that game as closely as the one in front of their faces as all the action will be unfolding at the same time.
Sunderland have nothing to play for save pride, but manager Martin O'Neill has angrily dismissed suggestions his Black Cats will lie down. Still, the Red Devils are not used to this: so accustomed to being the team behind the wheel, for once, they must pray for intervention.
Four teams have wrapped up European slots -- City and United are into the Champions league and Chelsea and Liverpool have qualified for the Europa League by dint of their respective Cup wins -- but even that isn't so simple. Because Chelsea can win the Champions League in Munich in a week's time, the real drama is around third place and the final, guaranteed automatic slot for the world's richest competition.
Think of this as sudden death in the pennant race: Three teams are able to nick third, and two of them will be left with serious questions to answer if they are unable to grab the brass ring.
Arsenal, which has been a consistent qualifier for the Champions League, is in pole position -- and the deepest trouble. The American-run and controlled team is in a tailspin, riven by injuries and faces a team in West Brom that is losing their coach to England's managerial job. WBA will come out firing to honor Roy Hodgson, and Arsene Wenger's boys candidly don't look like they have enough in the tank to get it done. Failing to qualify for Europe's top-flight would be a massive blow as it would likely cost them their best player and captain, Robin van Persie, and countless dollars.
Tottenham, which was in a funk of its own for months after manager Harry Redknapp was linked with the England job, faces a feisty Fulham side led by American Clint Dempsey. Spurs must win but they face a crosstown rival that delights in denting their European dreams as well. Failure to qualify for Europe wouldn't be a disaster for Spurs, but it would be a blow, and they could lose some of their best players as a result
The final wild card is Newcastle, who need to beat American Tim Howard's Everton and get help to slide into that final slot. The Toon have been the success story of the season, overachieving and heartening what is arguably the most soccer-mad region in the entire country. After all, the game was birthed there, and Newcastle have suffered indignity after insult in a recent spell that saw them relegated, badly managed and finally resuscitated by manager of the year candidate Alan Pardew.
At the bottom, it is Bolton who are in the most danger. The team that hosts Americans Tim Ream and Stuart Holden are desperate to stay up but don't look like a team that can handle the brutality that Stoke dishes out. And Birmingham's Aston Villa are a longshot -- of all the teams, they are the safest due to goal difference, but that will come as cold-comfort for this American-owned club which has fallen on very hard times.