When we first did an in-depth look at the Premier League race four weeks ago, Arsenal was in sixth place looking up at Spurs and United, they'd just lost a heartbreaking 2-1 match to the Little Brothers, and Southampton was making a legitimate case for itself with 13 points gained from the prior six matches. And surprising West Ham was still in the mix, albeit with some immediate work to do, at 8th place on 37 points.
Oh, and Chelsea and Manchester City looked untouchable in the 1-2 spots on the table.
Since then, the Premier League race has closed to seven teams, with West Ham LDDDLLing its way into 10th place behind Stoke and Swansea. (Seriously, give West Ham an Opposite of Whatever Clutch Is Award for taking three points of its last 18.) Arsenal's enjoyed an amazing run of form in the very patch of the season where they floundered last year, winning 21 of a possible 24 points since the New Year's Day Disaster. And, when Liverpool beat Manchester City on Sunday morning, followed by Arsenal TCBing Everton, the gap between second and third closed to four points, and all of a sudden, we've got something interesting brewing. (If only Chelsea could collapse now.) Here's the table as it currently stands.
|Position||Team||Points||GD||Form||Points from Last 6||Odds to finish 2nd||Odds to 5th or lower|
So, the oddsmakers seem to think Arsenal will stay in third, with United and Liverpool fighting it out for the final CL spot. Should one of those teams flag down the stretch, Southampton or Tottenham could make it interesting. Southampton has regressed to the mean lately, but still hold a significant goal differential advantage over Tottenham by virtue of only allowing 20 goals (!) through 28 matches.
It's also worth noting that Tottenham has a game in hand as a result of making the Capital One Cup finals; they'll take care of that make-up Saturday vs. QPR, while Chelsea's make-up with Leicester doesn't happen until April 29, three days after its match with Arsenal. Scheduling.
My question in all of this: When will United's season finally go into the woodchipper? Behold the next six weeks. (Again, remember that Spurs will likely start in 6th after Saturday, one point ahead of the Saints in the table.)
|Team||Week 29||Week 30||Week 31||Week 32||Week 33||Week 34||Matches v. Top 7|
|Man City||Burnley (A)||West Brom (H)||Palace (A)||United (A)||West Ham (H)||Villa (H)||1|
|Arsenal||West Ham (H)||Newcastle (A)||Liverpool (H)||Burnley (A)||Sunderland (H)||Chelsea (H)||2|
|United||Spurs (H)||Liverpool (A)||Villa (H)||City (H)||Chelsea (A)||Everton (A)||4|
|Liverpool||Swansea (A)||United (H)||Arsenal (A)||Newcastle (H)||Hull (A)||West Brom (A)||2|
|Spurs||United (A)||Leicester (H)||Burnley (A)||Villa (H)||Newcastle (A)||Southampton (H)||2|
|Saints||Chelsea (A)||Burnley (H)||Everton (A)||Hull (H)||Stoke (A)||Spurs (A)||2|
United has four matches against the Top 7 in the next six weeks, plus a match at Goodison against Everton (David Moyes! Never forget!) -- making their schedule the toughest out of the Top 7. The Spurs-United and Saints-Chelsea matches on March 15th could either narrow the field to five or make things really interesting in the races for 4th and 5th.
For Arsenal, April 4 looms large as they host Liverpool for a match that could have implications for 3rd place, assuming (as the oddsmakers are right now) that Arsenal can't gain ground on City in the next few weeks. There's an obvious window for gaining points on April 12 -- assuming Arsenal TCBs Burnley at Turf Moor the day before, the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford could help Arsenal slide into second (or it could muddy third and fourth).
So, second place? Don't bet on it, necessarily, but don't count it out.