The finish line of the 2014/15 season is in sight and the champions are almost certainly going to be Chelsea but the interesting stuff happens in the next three places and in the bottom 7.
After 34 matches Chelsea sit on top with 80 points and realistically the title is all but sewn up. They need 3 more points from the final four games to make it certain and with fixtures like Crystal Palace (12th), Liverpool (5th) with 2 wins in the last 6 fixtures, WBA (13th) and Sunderland (18th) who would bet against them getting all three at the first time of asking?
The real excitement for all the other contenders is what order City, United and Arsenal will finish in as it’s a little congested around the 67 points mark at the moment. Arsenal are favourites for 2nd since they have a game in hand but let’s look at the fixtures.
Arsenal play Hull (15th) then Swansea (8th) followed by Manchester United (4th), Sunderland (18th) and West Brom (13th). Hull beat Liverpool in the preceding round with quick counter attacking football and a solid defense. A trip to Old Trafford could pose a problem for the high-flying gunners but Swansea shouldn’t be too much trouble to beat and neither should West Brom. Sunderland on the other hand will be fighting for every point in their bid to avoid relegation and could pose a bit of a headache. On the other hand, it’s the 2nd last game of the season and by then their fate may be sealed.
Manchester City possibly have the toughest run to the flag with matches against Spurs (6th), QPR (19th), Swansea (8th) and Southampton (7th). I expect them to take all the points from QPR, Swansea and Spurs but Southampton are a challenge and the other top ten teams are always capable of forcing a draw. Spurs at White Hart Lane might even steal a win with Harry Kane and home support adding the “extra man”.
Manchester United face WBA (13th), Crystal Palace (12th), Arsenal (3rd) and Hull (15th). I expect them to win all but the game with Arsenal and expect no less than a draw with the Gunners but doubt it will be as easy as it looks with Palace performing admirably since Pardew arrived and Hull putting in some top shifts in the last couple weeks.
For the first time this season lets look at the bottom half starting with the teams on less than 40 points.
West Brom (13th) seem to have a nightmare fixture list playing three of the top four but the 4th match is Newcastle and the magpies are the worst performing team in the EPL at the moment. West Brom are probably safe on 37 points but three points from this fixture would most likely guarantee them Premier League football next season.
Prediction: safely in the EPL next season
Newcastle (14th) are in a nose-dive towards the First division. Only one win in the last 11 fixtures spells disaster but they have 35 points and may just escape the dreaded fall. Fortunately they don’t play anyone too threatning and Papiss Cisse returns from suspension for the next fixture. Surely they can pick up a point from Leicester, QPR, West Brom or West Ham?
Prediction: in the EPL next season.
Hull (15th) have 3 tough fixtures and Burnley at home. They will need to take all three from Burnley in round 36 because they are unlikely to get too many from Spurs, Man Utd or Arsenal. Steve Bruce has engineered two wins in the preceding matches to climb from 17th but the heat is on the former Utd captain. It’s going to be difficult for Hull but I expect them to stay up because others below them will drop more points.
Aston Villa (16th) face resurgent Everton (10th), West Ham (11th), Southampton (8th) and Burnley (20th). Benteke is key to their fortunes and if he scores a few they might avoid a do-or-die match with Burnley in round 38. Since Sherwood joined Villa have won 3 of their last 9. Before he joined they could only manage 5 in 25!
Prediction: I think Villa will avoid the drop.
Leicester (17th) have 4 wins in their last 5 matches. A real attempt to escape relegation from the Foxes and with 31 points in the bag a real possibility to stay in the EPL considering the next 4 match ups. At home against Newcastle they might get a point or more depending more on the mood of Newcastle and the match fitness of Cisse then their own desire. Next up is Southampton at the King Power Stadium, and a real test I can’t see Leicester winning. The penultimate match is against struggling Sunderland and this is a head to head fight for survival. Leicester can guarantee survival by winning this fixture and dooming Sunderland to relegation. Should they fail to beat Sunderland they get a second chance by beating QPR in the final fixture of the season.
Prediction: Leicester just scrape it if they beat QPR
Sunderland (18th) have five games left, none of them particularly easy. I expect Southampton to take all three points in the first game and put the pressure on Dick Advocaat. A trip to Everton won’t be much fun either as the toffees are on the up lately. The third game is against Leicester where they have to win to beat a fellow struggler and because there’s virtually no chance of beating Arsenal or Chelsea in the other fixtures. In essence they need to win twice in the last 5 when they could only win 5 in the previous 34.
Since 1995, only 11 of the 57 teams to be in the bottom three after 34 games have stayed up. Sunderland, last season, are the only team to have been bottom at this stage and survived.
Prediction: championship football next season
Queen’s Park Rangers lie 19th despite spending an absolute fortune on players. Strangely they have won more games than Sunderland and trail them by 3 points. Sunderland’s secret is of course the 15 draws. If QPR want to survive they will need to beat Liverpool in round 35 and take points from Man City, Newcastle and Leicester. On current form they might beat Newcastle and challenge Leicester for a point but I can’t see them having enough desire to get anything from City or stay up. I am quite disappointed by the performance of QPR considering the obvious goal scoring talent of Austin and several other good players on their books.
Prediction: could just do it but I think championship football next season
Burnley sit rock bottom of the league table despite beating Man City and Southampton this season. Like Sunderland and Aston Villa, Burnley just don’t score enough goals and therefore don’t win enough games. Draws are great for crunch games or when playing the top 6 but to survive the EPL you need to beat the teams around you on the log. Burley are away to West Ham, Hull and Aston Villa while playing Stoke at home in round 37. Mathematically Burnley could pull the rabbit out of the hat and stay up with 4 consecutive wins but it’s highly unlikely they will.
Burnley have spent 219 days in the relegation zone this season, more than any other club. Since 1995, only two teams teams have spent longer in the bottom three but still stayed up – Southampton in 1998-99 (252 days) and Sunderland last season (226 days).
Prediction: championship football awaits