Premier League: Business end of the season
We are finally reaching the business end of the season and, with no more than seven games left to play for any Premier League side, teams will be looking to put good runs together in order to achieve their objectives.
The race for the top four is currently wide open with most of the teams stretching down to 7th believing they have a realistic chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season. The top two of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are the only ones all but guaranteed to finish in the Champions League spots this season. Beyond that though, the battle between Liverpool, the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal is hotting up.
Liverpool currently occupy 3rd spot, however, they have at least two games out of hand on the sides below them and there are signs of a potential wobble, as shown by their most recent loss against resurgent Crystal Palace. Their Merseyside rivals Everton currently sit in 6th, one point ahead of Arsenal, however, the fact they are six points off the top four with two games out of hand means their sights have now refocused to securing a Europa League spot.
Arsenal surprisingly won their FA Cup semi-final against fellow top four contenders Manchester City at the weekend, however, manager Arsene Wenger has been under pressure for most of the season following his side’s poor performance in the league. The Gunners currently sit down in 7th, seven points off 4th with just one game in hand over current 4th spot occupiers Manchester City. If they failed to qualify for Champions League football, it would be the first time that Arsenal have not participated in Europe’s premier competition since the 1996/1997 season.
The main battle for a place in the top four is probably between the two Manchester rivals City and United. City currently occupy the high ground as they sit in the final spot, one point ahead of United.
Although praise has been lavished upon City manager Pep Guardiola this season, it could be argued that United have had the better season. Manchester City, barring a miracle, can no longer win a trophy in Guardiola’s first season as City boss. On the other hand, United manager Jose Mourinho is still playing not only for a place in the top four but also for the Europa League title. Having said that, Mourinho is clearly looking at the Europa League as a method for getting in the Champions League rather than the trophy itself.
The debate surrounding United and Mourinho though is whether he is taking them forward. You can look at this two ways. Firstly, do his side play much better football and are they close to challenging for the Premier League title? The answer to those two is a rather emphatic ‘No!’. However, what you would say is that Mourinho has brought back a winning mentality to Old Trafford after a period of stagnation, which United fans should see the fruit of sooner rather than later.
Furthermore, given their form at the moment and Mourinho’s history of doing well in high-pressure situations, it would not surprise me if United won the Europa League and finished in the top four.
Moving towards the bottom of the table, assuming that Middlesbrough and Sunderland are gone, we are left with a fight to avoid that final relegation spot. Although there are a good few sides mathematically involved in the relegation battle, it is really between Hull and Swansea. The only side other than those who could get sucked in are Burnley, who currently sit in 16th. However, given their fantastic home form and relatively good looking run-in, they should be safe.
With the bookies, Swansea are currently the favourites to occupy that dreaded 18th spot come the end of the season and, unfortunately for them, tipsters/punters aren’t likely to feel optimistic about their chances of staying up given that the situation is out of their hands as they have to rely on Hull slipping up.
When you look at the remaining fixtures for the two sides, on paper, you would argue that Swansea have the easier run-in as Hull face a number of sides who are either in form and/or pushing for something at the opposite end of the table. Having said that, you cannot look beyond Hull’s home form since manager Marco Silva took over in January. Since his appointment, the Tigers have not lost a home game, winning six of their seven league matches at the K-Com Stadium. With this in mind, it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if they finished higher than 17th. Conversely, Swansea know that one loss or even one draw from their remaining four fixtures could see them returning to the Championship next season.
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