With only four games left of the Premier League season, the title isn’t (quite) won and seven teams can realistically be relegated. It’s the squeaky-bum-time of the campaign for managers, players and more so fans.And here are our top five things to look out for as the season draws to a close.
The Firm Favourites
Barring a disaster the Premier League title will head back to Stamford Bridge for the first time in five seasons. Jose Mourinho’s men sit 13 points clear of the chasing pack, having lost only two league games all season. An almost inevitable win for Chelsea in front of a sell-out home crowd against Crystal Palace on Sunday will see them over the line.
The Race For Second
After a 10 year absence from the Premier League’s top two, Arsenal are favourites to be ‘crowned’ runners-up. The Gunners and Manchester City are both sitting on 67 points, but Arsene Wenger’s side have a game in hand which sets the odds decidedly in their favour for the much coveted automatic Champions League spot.
The icing on the cake would be to clinch a second successive FA Cup title when they take on Aston Villa in the final later this month. But, 11 years without a Premier League title will always taint Wenger’s reign in north-London.
Manchester City are well-placed being a game ahead of Arsenal, though are resigned to a disappointing finale after a largely inconsistent end to the season. Defeats to Manchester United, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Burnley may have been forgotten with recent victories over West Ham and Aston Villa but the damage is done. An uncertain summer beckons at Middle Eastlands, irrespective of where in the top four they finish.
Looking toward the red side of Manchester and given last season’s disastrous campaign, United would have bitten your arm off to be in contention for second place with only four games remaining.
All eyes will be on Old Trafford on 17 May, as Louis van Gaal welcomes Arsenal in a clash that could decide who finishes the ‘best of the rest’ in the Premier League this year.
Europa League Qualification
Viewed by some clubs as a rare opportunity for silverware, to others it’s an inconvenience in an already busy schedule.
Liverpool currently hold fifth spot from Tottenham on goal difference in what’s been a hugely disappointing season at Anfield. After coming within two points of their first Premier League title 12 months ago, the club have fallen backwards, so could a hectic Europa League campaign actually hinder their quest for Champions League qualification next season? That’s for manager Brendan Rodgers to decide.
For Spurs, it’s a different situation. To finish in the top five would be an improvement on the previous campaign and would provide a platform for Mauricio Pochettino to build on for his second season in charge.
However, many will argue Southampton deserve a Europa League spot more than any team for their odds-defying campaign. After selling the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren to Liverpool in the summer, some were even tipping them for relegation. But Ronald Koeman has marched the Saints into the top seven, breaking the club’s record points tally in the process.
They’re now just one point outside of the top five and you can guarantee nobody on the south coast would view European nights at St Mary’s as a hindrance
Newcastle are in the worst run of form in their Premier League history. A record seventh consecutive top flight defeat at the hands of Swansea last weekend confirmed their place in this season’s relegation battle.
This end of campaign capitulation mirrors that of 2009, their ‘too-good-to-go-down’ attitude seeing them playing Championship football the following season. In 2015, Newcastle have won only two out of 16 matches in all competitions and haven’t picked up a Premier League point since 28 February. Currently in 14th position, they could lose all of their remaining fixtures and retain Premier League status, but everyone on Tyneside knows a 35 point-total is not acceptable.
The Relegation Battle
Newcastle, Hull, Aston Villa, Leicester, Sunderland, QPR and Burnley could all finish in the bottom three – in one of the most wide open relegation battles in years.
With only four games remaining, time is running out for Burnley and QPR, who find themselves five and four points from safety respectively. The Clarets’ home defeat to Leicester last weekend gave them the unwanted title of favourites for the drop, a tragic conclusion given it’s only their second season in the Premier League.
One point above them are QPR, who travel to Liverpool and Manchester City next before two season defining clashes – Newcastle at home and a trip to Leicester. Four wins out of five makes them automatic favourites to inflict an eighth straight loss on Newcastle this weekend but their penultimate game against Sunderland will be the real definer for next season.
Sunderland, who slipped into the bottom three despite drawing at Stoke last weekend, have unfavourable fixtures – including their game in hand at Arsenal. The league’s joint bottom scorers also face Southampton, Everton and Chelsea and Leicester. Gus Poyet produced a self-proclaimed miracle by keeping the club up last season, but even the most optimistic of fans on Wearside will tell you this Black Cat is running out of lives.
Aston Villa could ‘do a Wigan’ – win the FA Cup and get relegated in the same season. Before their Wembley final though they need points, and fast. Tim Sherwood’s side sit on 32 points, which, barring a miracle, will see them relegated this season.
Back-to-back wins for Hull over Crystal Palace and Liverpool have propelled them into fifteenth, but they’re by no means safe. Steve Bruce’s men have Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United to play, on top of a six pointer against Burnley.
A defeat this weekend would leave Burnley, who’ve only won five games all season and haven’t scored a goal in seven weeks, facing down the barrel of a gun. But with everything still to play for so many clubs, this Premier League finale is only just getting warmed up.
Written by Martin Lindsay