Sunday, 27 April 2014

What Is Still To Play For In The Premier League

The Title

It's probably going to the final day for City and Liverpool

Chelsea's amazing win at Anfield on Sunday ensured Liverpool will not have it all their own way for the rest of the season. A Liverpool win, even a draw, would have been a massive step towards ending the 24 year drought. Now, they will be made to sweat as the fate of the title is now in Manchester City's hands. In all seriousness, Liverpool are probably still favourites, but only just.

City are three points behind Liverpool with one game more to play. If both teams win all their remaining fixtures, Man City will win the title on goal difference (assuming Liverpool can't outscore them by eight goals in two games). Liverpool have just two games left to play. Away to Crystal Palace who have nothing left to play for and at home to Newcastle, who have a terrible record at Anfield and who also have absolutely zilch to play for. All Brendan Rodgers's side can do is secure maximum points and ensure that if they are going to be beaten to the title, it will be by the narrowest of margins.

Manchester City, who won at Palace on Sunday, travel to Goodison Park next week to face 5th place Everton. A few weeks ago this would have seemed a much more daunting task than it does today. While it will be by no means an easy ride, Everton's form has dropped off badly and their big push for the top four has faded badly. Still they've beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United at Goodison this season as well as drawing 3-3 with Liverpool. This game for City brings back memories of their trip to Newcastle two years ago on the penultimate day. A win moved them to within touching distance of the trophy. Anything else handed the initiative back to United. They won that and went on to win the title. If they win at Goodison I think they'll win the league.

Following on from that they have home games with Aston Villa and West Ham in the final week of the season. Anything other than six points would mean 2nd place at best for Pellegrini in his first Premier League season.

Chelsea are major outsiders having lost 3 out of 6 league games before they won at Anfield. Defeat at home to Sunderland last week was a fatal wound to their title challenge. Had they won that game, they'd be top by now. A 4-0 record against the other two contenders shows how much they love the big games, but their record away to the lower sides in the division is what has cost them. Still though, all it takes is Liverpool and City to both lose next week and Chelsea will surge back into the driving seat. They've got Norwich away and Cardiff at home to come. Arguably the division's worst two teams. Expect two wins.


Survival is now near impossible for Cardiff City

Nothing is set it stone yet. Any 3 from 8 teams could go down. Bottom of the pile are Cardiff on 30 points. With a trip to Newcastle and a home tie with Chelsea left, I wouldn't fancy them to get the 6 points they realistically need to stay up. Fulham are next on 31 points but have much more favourable fixtures remaining. They are away to Stoke next week and at home to London rivals Crystal Palace on the final day where the atmosphere at Craven Cottage will no doubt play a part in helping the team. Crucially, neither of Fulham's two remaining opponents will  have anything other than pride to play for when they face them.

Norwich slipped into the relegation zone this weekend and now stand very little chance of survival. Having sacked Chris Hughton with five games remaining, Neil Adams has managed to lose every one of his three games in charge. They face a trip to Chelsea and a home tie with Arsenal, both of which will be difficult for them to get anything from, particularly the way they are playing.

Sunderland, having looked doomed just a few weeks ago, have put together a fine run of form and moved out of the relegation zone with a win over Cardiff on Sunday. The manner of this 4-0 victory will have done wonders for Gus Poyet and the club. They've a couple of winnable games coming up too so it looks likely that Sunderland will be around next year. Aston Villa's form has taken a serious drop in recent weeks and has seen them slide down the table to the outskirts of the relegation battle. A couple of wins for Sunderland and Fulham over the next few weeks will pile the pressure on Villa to get results. Their final home game next week is against Hull who'll have one eye on the FA Cup final no doubt, and they've trips to City and Spurs to follow. Just 3 points above 18th spot, Villa are definitely not safe yet.

West Brom scored a big victory over West Ham on Saturday. Just three points can make a huge difference in a team's outlook, a defeat would have seen the Hammers mathematically safe at West Brom stuck on 33 points, just above the drop-zone. West Brom still have to play Sunderland in a game where a draw might suit both teams with regards to securing survival. Other than that, their home game with Stoke on the final day will be looked at as a chance to secure their top-flight status although it should be a certainty by then.

West Ham and Hull are not mathematically safe yet. 5 points above the drop with a maximum 6 left to play for, they won't have any troubles.

Top Four

Ramsey's return should help Arsenal over the line

Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City are all guaranteed to be playing Champions League football next season. Everton still have a chance to join them but Arsenal are firmly in command of their own destiny when it comes to the final spot. The Gunners are a point ahead with a game in hand and face two home games against Newcastle and West Brom before a trip to Norwich as they attempt to secure a record-equalling 17th consecutive Champions League appearance.

Everton have to play Manchester City so the chances of them picking up the maximum points they will probably need just to stand a chance are already at a disadvantage. City will be hungry and have the title in their sights so I don't like Everton's chances of winning the game, though they could very well secure a draw. In the long-run they will be hoping Arsenal have one eye on the FA Cup final over the coming weeks and that sees them slip-up, allowing Everton to secure a huge bonus for the club.

Strictly speaking, Spurs are also still mathematically in the hunt. A win for Arsenal on Monday against Newcastle ends that dream.


'Finished ahead of United in the Premier League' would go straight on Tim's CV

The loser of the Everton/Arsenal race for 4th will have the consolation prize, if you can call it a prize, of playing Europa League football next season. Hull are also guaranteed a spot as either FA Cup winners or runners-up as their opponents will qualify for Europe through the league.

As Manchester City won the other domestic trophy, the League Cup, England's final Europa League spot will go to the team that finishes in 6th place which will be either Spurs or Manchester United. I don't think either side particularly wants the extra burden of playing in the Europa League next season but one of them will get it. As it stands, Spurs are 6 points ahead with a game more played.

Neither sides have any games against the top four left. Spurs go to fierce rivals West Ham next week before hosting Aston Villa on the final day. They're playing well at the moment so I'd expect them to pick up the four points they need to 'secure' the Europa League spot. United have two home games against Sunderland and Hull before finishing up at Southampton on the last day. Two winnable games and a tricky one at St.Mary's for Ryan Giggs's side, they could take maximum points but it probably won't be enough. I'm sure they'll be gutted.

And Everyone Else...

Southampton, Newcastle, Stoke and Crystal Palace fans, your teams have absolutely nothing left to play for. Congratulations/Commiserations based on your respective early-season expectations.

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