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Premier League: Breaking Down The Race For The Top Four

With Premier League teams jostling for final position, the season has reached what Sir Alex Ferguson would term “squeaky bum time.” It’s all about money at this stage, with teams battling to reach the Champions League (a $60 million windfall) or to avoid relegation (being detached from the teat just as the new television deals kick in). Here is a break down of the former race, which also comes with prestige and the chance to bring in top caliber reinforcements over the summer.

Tottenham Hotspur [54 pts]

Position: 3rd
Matches Remaining: 9
Last 10: 6-1-3 (+6)
Outstanding Competitions: Europa League
Opponents (1-5): Chelsea (A), Man City (H)
Opponents (6-10): Fulham (H), Swansea (A), Everton (H),
Opponents (11-15): Stoke (A), Sunderland (H)
Opponents (16-20): Wigan (A), Southampton (H)

Tottenham have the best results of the four from the last 10 matches, with the worst goal difference. They are winning matches by slim margins. Calling them a “one man team,” might be pushing it, though it’s hard to disassociate Gareth Bale scoring or setting up eight goals in his last six league matches or Hugo Lloris being a commanding presence in front of the net. Should either key player go down with injury…look out.

There is also the draining Europa League campaign. That’s likely three more matches, but possibly six should they reach the final. Those matches are on Thursdays, potentially with grueling away trips. Spurs might be in the best position, but, especially after what happened last season, few fans will be brimming with confidence.

Chelsea [52 pts]

Position: 4th
Matches Remaining: 10
Outstanding Competitions: Europa League, FA Cup
Last 10: 5-3-2 (+6)
Opponents (1-5): Tottenham (H), Man United (A)
Opponents (6-10): Liverpool (A), Swansea (H), Everton (H), Fulham (A)
Opponents (11-15): West Ham (H), Sunderland (H)
Opponents (16-20): Southampton (A), Aston Villa (A)

Chelsea’s comeback kept them alive in the FA Cup on Sunday. That’s great for Rafa Benitez, looking to pad his resumé before moving on this summer. That’s not so great for the club, stuck in two ancillary competitions that are distractions from the league. It’s not an easy schedule left, facing three of the top six and six of the top ten. It is, however, an attainable one.

The Blues took 17 points from their last 10 matches in the league and that has led to “Chelsea in crisis” headlines. If they can raise that to 20 over the next ten, they force Arsenal to be nearly perfect to pass them. The two six-pointers against Tottenham and Liverpool could go very well or very poorly for them.

Arsenal [47 pts]

Position: 5th
Matches Remaining: 10
Outstanding Competitions: Champions League
Last 10: 5-3-2 (+7)
Opponents (1-5): Man United (H)
Opponents (6-10): Swansea (A), West Brom (A), Everton (H), Fulham (A),
Opponents (11-15): Norwich (H), Newcastle (A)
Opponents (16-20): Reading (H), QPR (A), Wigan (H)

Death, taxes and late Wenger era Arsenal fighting off some form of self-induced pestilence. The Tottenham loss was bad, but Arsenal lingers on paper with an outside shot. The Gunners cannot take points directly from their rivals. But that may be a blessing. They have had a dreadful time against good teams. They also will get to uni-task, after Bayern Munich dumps them from the Champions League this midweek.

Arsenal will be favorites in nine of their 10 remaining matches. But turning such matches into wins has been an issue this season. Matches against Swansea, West Brom, Everton, Fulham and Norwich would be deemed winnable. Arsenal won just one of five against those teams in the first fixture round. This may be the point where Arsenal buckles down, though they have given no reason to expect that. Their best bet is sidling by a Tottenham or Chelsea collapse.

Liverpool [45 pts]

Position: 6th
Matches Remaining: 9
Outstanding Competitions: NA
Last 10: 6-2-2 (+18)
Opponents (1-5): Chelsea (H)
Opponents (6-10): Everton (H), Fulham (A)
Opponents (11-15): West Ham (H), Newcastle (A)
Opponents (16-20): Southampton (A), Aston Villa (A), Reading (A), QPR (H)

Liverpool beat Tottenham last weekend, keeping their faint hope alive for a torturous little bit longer. The Reds have to beat Chelsea at home and go nearly perfect the rest of the way. With their recent form, though, that’s not inconceivable. They have been hammering bad teams and have a back-loaded schedule of them, playing four of the bottom five. The issue for them may be getting better on the road. Liverpool have won just four of 14 away from Anfield this year. It’s a very long shot for Liverpool to reach the top four, but still a shot.

* We could have included Everton. They are technically in a better points position than Liverpool. That said, their talent seems to be finding ways not to lose. They have a thin squad made thinner by injuries. They would have to almost double their win total to get in the Champions League. We don’t see it.

[Photos via Getty]

 

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