“We want to fight in the Premier League until it is mathematically impossible. The Premier League we cannot win, but Europa League we can…” – Jose Mourinho, after Manchester United beat Sunderland on Sunday.
The Premier League’s competitiveness shines through in the fact that almost every team, like Jose’s United, are fighting for something that is still mathematically possible. This competitiveness and the pressure it exerts can only explain the kind of grateful reaction that Slaven Bilic gave when West Ham ended their poor run and beat Swansea on Saturday, or why Firmino got so excited by his winner that he risked a yellow card due to his shirtless celebration. For both West Ham and Liverpool, the one-goal victories from this weekend will go a long way in deciding the mathematical certainties and impossibilities.
In my view, a handful of teams are playing as if they have already thrown in the towel or their players have already left on vacations, but all others are fighting. Sunderland’s string of abject performances continues and they certainly look like a team that has decided that it is better to fight it out in the Championship next season instead of trying to initiate their annual season-end rally. Ten points from safety and not having scored a goal for more than two months, it is expected behaviour from them.
Similar, only slightly better circumstances for Middlesbrough, who have decided that scoring a goal is bad for them. As a team, they have fewer goals than Lukaku and they don’t seem to be interested in a revival either. Another team that seems to have thrown in the towel is Arsenal. It seems that the team has had enough of the manager or the manager has had enough of the fans but either way, the players seem to have taken an early vacation, which does not bode well for their top-four aspirations.
But this post is not about these teams who have stopped competing. Instead, it is about the top seven teams (which still includes Arsenal) and the certainties they are fighting for. Chelsea want to make the title certain. Spurs want to fight until the title is an impossibility. City and Liverpool want to make Champions League football a certainty. United, as Mourinho put it, want to fight for that top four spot, as do Everton. Even after the loss to Crystal Palace on Monday, Arsenal are also not mathematically out of top four contention. In this post, I take a look at each of their run-ins and project where they will end up.
Everton (Currently: P32, W15, D9, L8, Pts: 54, GD: 21, Pos: 7)
Everton are really strong at home and possess the top goal scorer in the league. They have their defensive frailties like all others but they will hope that they can push for a European spot by banking on Lukaku’s prowess. Their run-in is Burnley (H), West Ham (A), Chelsea (H), Swansea (A), Watford (H), and Arsenal (A).
I feel they will be able to beat Burnley (poor travellers), West Ham (London stadium), and Watford (home advantage), but will draw with Swansea (fighting relegation) and Arsenal (lingering quality at home). Everton will lose to Chelsea despite being at home due to the champions elect’s form.
Projected Points – 65
Arsenal (Currently: P30, W16, D6, L8, Pts: 54, GD: +22, Pos: 6)
At level with Everton on points, Arsenal are yet to play eight matches in six weeks of action and even of those eight, the game against Sunderland is yet to be scheduled. Their fixture pile-up, along with this sudden wilting of the team is indeed a cause for concern for the fans and the manager. Their run-in looks like Middlesbrough (A), Leicester (H), Tottenham (A), Manchester United (H), Stoke (A), Everton (H), and Sunderland (H).
Of these, looking at current form, the Gunners should win against Boro, Leicester and Sunderland due to inherent superiority and two of those teams being even more disinterested, but they will most likely draw against United, Stoke and Everton while losing the North London derby. That’s 12 points out of 24.
Projected Points – 66
Manchester United (Currently: P30, W15, D12, L3, Pts: 57, GD: +22, Pos: 5)
Other than a large number of draws, United have a very similar record to Arsenal. They are only three points ahead with the same number of games played. Their progress in Europa League will mean more fixture congestion than even Arsenal for them, which will mean that Mourinho will have to rotate his squad a lot. Further, as the top-four seems to be slipping away, it will be natural for Mourinho to focus more on Europa League, as winning that tournament will give them the coveted prize of Champions League football next season.
Their run-in is Chelsea (H), Burnley (A), Man City (A), Swansea (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (A), Crystal Palace (H). Easily the toughest run-in among their peers. Of these, I expect United to win against Swansea (home advantage) and Crystal Palace (last game, Palace might be secure by then). Perhaps against Burnley also they will eke out a win (Burnley’s form). But they will add to their draw tally considerably with draws against all others. That gives them 13 points out of 24 in the last eight.
Projected Points – 70
Manchester City (Currently: P31, W18, D7, L6, Pts: 61, GD: +25, Pos: 4)
Pep Guardiola’s title challenge has fizzled out long back and now his challenge to make it mathematically impossible for United to catch up with them. Like Arsenal, City’s progress in FA Cup means that they will also have a little fixture congestion but not as much as the two teams below them. Their home game against West Brom is yet to be rescheduled. Their run-in is Southampton (A), Man United (H), Boro (A), Crystal Palace (H), Leicester (H), Watford (A), and West Brom (H).
This is one of the easier run-ins among these top seven teams. I expect City to beat Boro, Palace, Leicester, Watford and West Brom and draw against Saints and United. That gives them 17 points out of 21 – a very healthy return.
Projected Points – 78
Liverpool (Currently: P32, D9, L5, Pts: 63, GD: +28, Pos:3)
On paper, Liverpool have the easiest run-in as they do not have any matches against their top-seven peers. But in truth, the bottom 13 teams have caused Liverpool all the troubles they have faced this season, which means that Klopp’s men will have to be extra cautious about not frittering away the great chance that Arsenal and United’s poor seasons have created). Their run-in: West Brom (A), Crystal Palace (H), Watford (A), Southampton (H), West Ham (A), and Boro (H).
Like Everton, the Reds’ rest of the fixtures are equally distributed between home and away and they do not have any fixture congestion. Of these fixtures, I expect them to win against Palace (home advantage, no Sakho), Watford (better team, struggling Watford), West Ham (London Stadium), and Boro (already relegated). They will draw with West Brom and most likely lose to Southampton (Saints regularly trouble them at Anfield). That will give them 13 points from a possible 18.
Projected Points – 76
Tottenham Hotspur (Currently: P31, W20, D8, L3, Pts: 68, GD: +42, Pos: 2)
Spurs are the only team that have any hope of catching up with Chelsea but even they are 7 points adrift of the Blues. To catch up with Chelsea, they need to win all seven of their remaining games, of which the away game versus Leicester is yet to be rescheduled. Even those seven victories might not suffice though. Spurs’ run-in is Bournemouth (H), Crystal Palace (A), Arsenal (H), West Ham (A), United (H), Hull (A), and Leicester (A).
Of these games, I expect Spurs to win all the games other than the United game. All others are easy opponents for Spurs, while Arsenal are likely to not turn up. Only United will park the bus and perhaps eke out a draw against Spurs. This would give them 19 points.
Projected Points – 87
Chelsea (Currently: P31, W24, D3, L4, Pts: 75, GD: +40, Pos: 1)
Chelsea have been running away with this year’s title, almost since September – October. Experts raised concerns after the recent loss to Crystal Palace but that game seems to have reinvigorated their players’ hunger for the title even more. They have to win only five out of their seven games to mathematically make the title certain and on the top of that, they have a fairly easy run-in.
It consists of Man United (A), Southampton (H), Everton (A), Boro (H), West Brom (A), Sunderland (H), and Watford (A). The Watford game is yet to be rescheduled.
Of these games, I would expect Chelsea to win all games other than the away game against United. I reckon the United game will be a draw. This gives them 19 points from last 21.
Projected Points: 94
Final Predicted Table for Top 7
So Spurs will not be able to catch Chelsea but will be the second-best team in the league by far. Liverpool and City will qualify for next season’s Champions League but United and Arsenal will miss out. Given that the League Cup was won by United and FA Cup will also be won by one of these top teams, it is possible that Everton might get a shot at Europa League next season. For United, the best way to aim for Champions League next season is by aiming for Europa glory this season.
It seems Europe will be interesting for Premier League fans next year.