A FEW weeks ago, it looked like the final day of the Premier League season would be a damp squib in the relegation battle. Then, as Southampton made a significant push by beating Bournemouth, everything suddenly pointed to a multi-team scrap for the right to stay in the top flight.

Now after a gargantuan midweek win for the Saints at Swansea and a heroic draw by Huddersfield away to Chelsea on the back of a similar outcome against Manchester City, the issue is all but settled. Technically there is still scope for excitement but you would be hard pressed to find anyone who genuinely thinks poor old Swansea still have a chance of avoiding the drop.

What would have to happen? Well, for starters Swansea would need to beat already relegated Stoke while Southampton lose at home against the champions, Manchester City. That part is of course entirely plausible. But it would also require a huge 10-goal swing between the two games. In other words, a five-goal margin of victory for the Swans and a similar sized loss for Southampton, or something equivalent.

When you consider that Swansea haven’t scored in any of their last four matches, while netting just twice in nine, it is easy to see why most have declared this over already.

First promoted to the Premier League in 2011 under Brendan Rodgers, the Welsh club were initially a positive addition to the ranks, playing eye catching, attacking football. Rodgers and Michael Laudrup in particular were perfect fits for what Swansea were doing as a club and it was easy for fans to get behind them and their methods. In recent years, there has been a tendency to hire and fire managers without much thought about what comes next. Once a club gets into that habit, it is usually headed for dire straits.

Swansea sacked Paul Clement five days before Christmas and replaced him with Carlos Carvalhal, which looked at strange punt at the time. Carvalhal had failed to win promotion to the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday in successive seasons and left by mutual consent just as the Swans were looking for a fresh voice and face.

Initially they got the short-term new manager bounce with a series of fine results, including January wins over Liverpool and Arsenal. But eventually Swansea returned to their old plodding ways, displaying a painful lack of wit and wisdom up front. Their time is up and so is that of Carvalhal who has announced he will depart.

Southampton finally got it right in the final few weeks of the season. I had doubted them, particularly after a horrendous 3-0 defeat away to West Ham in late March. Despite a strong overall squad, which arguably belongs in the top half of the table, confidence ebbed away to the point where a spring revival appeared unlikely.

But under Mark Hughes, they have shown a steady nerve in the crucial closing phase with pressure levels turned up to the maximum.

So not too many loose ends to tie up on this last day of the Premier League campaign. Manchester City could of course become the league’s first centurions. A victory over their former manager Hughes and his charges would see City hit that much coveted 100-points milestone. They have broken all manner of records this season so why not this one too? It would be folly to predict against them.

Liverpool, although Champions League finalists, still have work to do, if they are to book a place in the 2018-2019 edition of Europe’s most prestigious competition. But in order to miss out, the Reds would have to lose at home to Brighton, coupled with a Chelsea win at Newcastle. Possible, given recent Liverpool stumbles in the league, but unlikely. Chelsea must be rueing their inability to beat Huddersfield on Wednesday.

WHILE enjoying bite to eat with television colleagues in Germany, the news about Sir Alex Ferguson’s health came through the wires. We were all left speechless. It was a genuine jolt to the system, rather as though it had happened to a close family member.

The fact is, Fergie feels like family, particularly to Scots, and certainly to fellow Aberdonians, given his astonishing achievements in that special period as Dons manager. Though he departed the managerial game in 2013, his presence is still very real and it is hard to envisage him not being around.

From a personal point of view, I have had many dealings with him, even getting a version of the hairdryer treatment as a young broadcaster at Pittodrie. I have sat with him for several television interviews in New York as well as Manchester and always found him fascinating, likeable and as sharp as a tack.

In life, it is when your back faces the wall that you find out what people really think of you. Sir Alex Ferguson was the enemy to many in football out of necessity. That is how the game works. But there was always deep respect.

This week, Fergie has friends in abundance the world over.

IN Munich yesterday at the celebration of Bayern’s 28th league title, my conversations centred around Manuel Neuer. Out since September with a maddening foot injury, it had been hoped Neuer would return in time to see out the Bundesliga season and play in the Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Given that he has yet to take part in a full training session, it looks unlikely the man I consider to the best keeper in the world will play in Berlin six days from now.

What does it mean for Germany’s defence of the World Cup crown? Joachim Low is set to name his provisional squad on Tuesday and must be fretting over his No 1. Dare he risk picking a goalkeeper clearly not ready? Think of the backlash from Bayern if Low selected him only for Neuer to break down while with the national team.

Many will say it is no great problem with Marc-Andre ter Stegen waiting in the wings, on the back of a magnificent season with Barcelona. But for all that, ter Stegen has had a few wobbly moments with Die Mannschaft, rarely replicating his outstanding club form.

Neuer remains the anchor but it is hard to imagine him being ship-shape in time for Germany’s opener against Mexico on 17 June.