Aston Villa are now officially guaranteed to be members of the Premier League next season, but it doesn't mean that their final matches are totally meaningless. After a few weeks of having to watch the relegation fight, we now get to turn our attention to the title chase in which Villa could (and in fact already have) play a monumental role.
Tomorrow Liverpool play Crystal Palace in the season's last Monday night football. Should they win at Selhurst Park, they will re-take the league lead with 83 points and a goal differential north of 50. A draw will also give the Reds the lead, though a much more tenuous one, and a loss would change things entirely.
But depending on tomorrow's outcome, Villa may actually have the chance to crown the champion before the final weekend depending on how they play. Let's take a look at the scenarios.
If Liverpool beat Crystal Palace
If this happens, Aston Villa could all but give the Reds the title by beating Manchester City on Wednesday. That would leave Liverpool on 83 and City on 80. Yes, City could still win with a Sunday win against West Ham United, but only if Liverpool lost to Newcastle at Anfield, which hardly seems likely.
Villa can still have a big impact if they manage to draw City. That would leave Liverpool and City at 83 and 81, respectively. In that case, a draw or loss on Sunday would eliminate City while a win would guarantee the title to Liverpool.
If Liverpool draw Crystal Palace
This leaves Liverpool on 81 points, which could allow City to take a commanding but not definitive lead (83 points) with a win against Villa. A draw would keep them equal with Liverpool heading into the final day, and given their 9-better goal differential, would give City the upper hand.
Were Villa to somehow eke out the win against City, that would leave Liverpool in the drivers seat heading into the final day. Again, at that point they could clinch the title with a win over Newcastle.
If Liverpool lose to Crystal Palace
Villa could crown the champion in this scenario, too, but it would take them losing. If Liverpool lose tomorrow and then City beat Villa, they would have a commanding three point lead, and a better differential by at least eleven goals. At that point, Liverpool would have no hope.
Should Villa manage to steal a point or three, it would still leave City in the driver's seat headed into the final weekend. Both the Blues and Reds seem likely to win on Sunday, so Liverpool are really going to want a lead headed into the final weekend.
Liverpool are likely to beat Crystal Palace tomorrow, which means Villa can only play kingmaker by beating City. They've already done it once before, but it seems unlikely to happen again. Nevertheless, pay attention to tomorrow evening's match, as it could keep Aston Villa playing meaningful football for a few more days.