Leeds’s and Burnley’s lawyers are trying to make it more complicated, but their players have to assume it boils down to a one-game season and whoever wins most points will play top-flight football next season, whilst the other drops into the Championship.
The Whites are at Brentford, Burnley host Newcastle United. Matching outcomes will cost Leeds as their goal difference is so spectacularly awful.
“I try to not be a result-based manager,” says Jesse Marsch, but there is no getting away from it – Sunday is about nothing else.
The angry anti-board chants minutes before Leeds turned impending defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion into a draw were a taste of what is to come if things go awry. The directors were only ever going to stand a chance of getting away with sacking as popular a coach as Marcelo Bielsa if results justified it, just like Burnley with Sean Dyche.
For the Clarets, a leveraged buy-out only magnifies the financial consequences of relegation.
For the first hour at least, Leeds have to block out Burnley’s score and legal speculation to do all they can to win at a ground likely to be in celebratory mood over the best Premier League season by a newly-promoted side since the last one, when Leeds finished ninth. Then hope.
“It would have been a lot easier if we were already locked into the league but the fact we only have one match to keep track of and we know that we have to out-point Burnley does make it very clear for us,” reflects Marsch.
“I’ve been through this a lot (at the other end of various tables). I know how to stay focused on us, but to also make sure we communicate the correct information at the right time.
“You can be in a situation where maybe one point is enough and what does the game look like? What does the other game look like?
“I try to not be a result-based manager, I try to be based on the process, but I’ve had 12 matches where that’s been really tough to manage and certainly this one will be the toughest. However the message has been that we’ve had a lot of experiences together in a short time and I think we’ve grown together a lot as individuals and as a group.
“This final matchday has to be a representation of everything we’ve been through in a positive way to put our best performance on the pitch.”
Marsch has grown attached to the squad he inherited in late February.
“The best chance to keep the core of the group together is to stay in the league,” he says, bluntly. “I would hate to see some of the guys go because I think I’ve made a real connection and I think there’s big potential.”
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Leeds and Burnley have launched a desperate attempt to ensure Everton are not, as Thursday’s win over Crystal Palace suggested, safe from relegation.
In March, the Toffees announced losses exceeding £100m for a third year running. Premier League rules allows club to lose no more than £105m in total over three years, but Everton are £371.8m in the red for the period.
The loophole they are confident they have got through is the decision to allow clubs Covid-19 leeway. Leeds estimated their losses at £23m, but Everton reckoned it cost them £170m, citing the decreasing value of players they say they would have sold. The costs involved in a new stadium do not count for financial fair play purposes either.
Everton spent £17m on Vitaly Mykolenko and £12m on Nathan Patterson in January, loaned Donny van de Beek and signed Dele Alli in a deal which involved no up-front fee but potentially £40m to Tottenham Hotspur.
“We worked so closely with the Premier League to make sure we are compliant we are comfortable we have complied with the rules,” an Everton spokesman told The Times. “External auditors have told us what we can and cannot claim against the pandemic. If they want to take legal action then they can do so by all means.”
Leeds and Burnley have simply written to the league last week to ask if the matter has been investigated and if there will be any punishment.
With the make-up of the league needing to be confirmed next month, it seems a long shot anything could happen which would save Leeds if they do not do their job on the field. Such is the mess they have made of an injury-disrupted season up to now, even that may not be enough.