Arsenal, Manchester U. show promise in EPL tournament
As the English Premier League season draws to a close, there’s not much left for the top teams to play for. Chelsea is out of the Champions League, out of the FA Cup, has already won the Capitol One Cup (or League Cup) and leads the table comfortably right now. However, the race to finish in the top four of the league and qualify for next year’s Champions League is still very much on and there are several clubs still involved in it. Let’s look at the form and fixtures for each of these clubs and predict how this race will finish.
For a change, Arsenal is not the club on the outside looking in, waiting to pounce on the mistakes of others. Instead, they are currently the form team of the league and have won their last eight games on the trot, including last week’s impressive 4–1 rout of fellow challengers Liverpool. They sit pretty in second with a lot of momentum behind them and an outside chance of catching Chelsea for the title too. With ten points separating them and fifth-placed Southampton, they are in a rather comfortable position now, and should not have any trouble finishing second or even third. Lose both the crucial games against Chelsea at the Emirates and Manchester United at Old Trafford, though, and it could become a dogfight to finish fourth.
Prediction: Second. Despite history suggesting otherwise, on current form it’s hard to bet against Arsenal against both Chelsea and United.
Manchester United’s entire season prior to the game against Tottenham Hotspurs in March could have been summed up in one phrase — decent results, dour play. Louis van Gaal was brought to the club not only to get the results but also to improve the style of play which had become unbearable to watch under David Moyes. For the most part, van Gaal got the results right, but there were too many games when it seemed as if United was simply laboring through games for wins or just benefiting from the poor form of their rivals. The game against Spurs changed that, though; United displayed a swashbuckling style to their game not seen before this season. That impressive form continued into their crucial next game against Liverpool, in which United beat their arch-rivals at Anfield and showed off some of their most exhilarating football. With six points separating them and Southampton now, United are far from comfortable in third. Their inconsistency has hampered them before but as winners of five straight they are in a good position to finish amongst the Champions League places.
Prediction: Third. They have three tough games: Man City, Chelsea, and Arsenal. If they win all three, they’re in pole position for second and could even be in with a chance of the title. They haven’t been consistent enough all season, however, for anything to suggest they will win the aforementioned games.
Coming into the new year, City had briefly cut the gap at the top of the table and looked in prime position to improve their form and take the title away from the leaders, exactly like last season. However, 2015 has not been kind to the blue half of Manchester, as they have lost four times and drawn thrice since the turn of the year. This in addition to the knockouts from the FA Cup (by lowly Middlesborough) and the Champions League (by Barcelona) means they have had a miserable 3 months and are showing no signs of stopping the rut. They lost away to Crystal Palace last weekend, which dropped them into fourth below their neighbors Manchester United, who go into their clash on Sunday as favorites for the three points. This, coupled with the Southampton and Liverpool both only 5 and 6 points behind, respectively, means City must get their act together soon or risk being out of the Champions League next season.
Prediction: Fifth. They are very likely to lose the game against United, and while their fixtures get easier from there, their inconsistency and the age of their squad will show up and a young and hungry side will pass them.
Brendan Rodgers was being praised as a genius for turning around Liverpool’s fortunes. Top four seemed like a dream that could be achieved. This was all before the game against Manchester United, where Liverpool came crashing down to Earth. That loss, 2–1 at home, completely demoralized this team and was a huge setback for a club that had taken giant strides into becoming a force again last season. Arsenal seemed to have put the final nail in the coffin with a rout last week before Man City did them a favor and lost their game too. They beat Blackburn at Edwood Park to stay in the FA Cup and gained a little momentum back. Rodgers is a good manager; he seems to have learned from his mistakes last season, and their easy remaining fixtures mean that they have a good chance to leapfrog a free-falling Manchester City into fourth.
Prediction: Fourth. Yes, it’s a stretch to suggest they have the mettle to do it. But if they do not drop easy points and if City continue their free-fall, which seems likely, there’s a high chance this could be the outcome.
Southampton and Tottenham Hotspurs
These are two clubs that are both on the outside of this race, but still have a chance of finishing there — huge credit to Southampton for being only 5 points off fourth at this stage of the season after the fire sale they went through over the summer. Spurs should arguably be doing better with all the money they have spent over the last few seasons, but with a new manager, Mauricio Pochettino, in place and players like Harry Kane, who has been the breakout star of the season, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb getting their first full season of top-flight football under their belt, they are in a good position going forward. Neither club is likely to finish fourth or even fifth, but there is still one Europa League spot to fight for.
Prediction: Southampton — sixth. They are currently in good form with the best defensive record in the division. A safe bet to not drop enough points to lose position. Spurs — seventh. Their loss to Aston Villa at home this weekend ruined their chances of fighting for top four, and with players burning out at this stage, it’s unlikely they will beat Southampton into sixth.