So what has the previous weekend taught us about the race for 4th place? It’s still wide open.
Spurs lead, but Man C ity and Liverpool are still chasing, with both clubs ready to take advantage of any Spurs slip-ups. Aston Villa are probably out of it, barring a collapse by the other three teams involved, having taken a beating at Stamford Bridge. Villa are now 7 points behind Spurs at present and I think that’s too large of a gap to bridge. Everton were looking to crash the party, but with their draw at Wolves, they are now 9 points behind Spurs and have played a game more, which is probably too big a margin to overcome.
Here’s the remaining fixtures for the four contenders:
|Date||Tottenham||Man City||Liverpool||Aston Villa|
|3rd/4th April||Sunderland (a)||Burnley (a)||Birmingham(a)||Bolton (a)|
|11 April|| ||Birmingham(h)||Fulham (h)|| |
|14 April||Arsenal (h)|| || ||Everton (h)|
|17th-19th April||Chelsea (h)||Man Utd (h)||West Ham (h)||Portsmouth (a)|
|21 April|| || || ||Hull (a)|
|24-25 April||Man Utd (a)||Arsenal (a)||Burnley (a)||Birmingham(h)|
|1 May||Bolton (h)||A Villa (h)||Chelsea (h)||Man City (a)|
|5 May||Man City (a)||Spurs (h)|| || |
|9 May||Burnley (a)||West Ham (a)||Hull (a)||Blackburn (h)|
They are in pole position now, but their run-in couldn’t be much worse. They have to play Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City. Their only other home game is against Bolton and it won’t be easy, but they should win. They currently have a lead of 2 points but that lead will dwindle and unless they can somehow pull off a result against one of the title contenders, they stand a real chance of missing out, which would be a shame as they have been so strong this season.
The fitness of both Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe will be imperative to Spurs’ chances. Even though Roman Pavlyuchenko has been in such good form and Peter Crouch has been steady, Defoe is still the main goalscorer. Lennon has been badly missed. Despite the good form of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar, Spurs are just a better, more threatening team with him in.
They have three very winnable games and 4 very tough games. City haven’t been in good form over the last few weeks but still have a very formidable home record, so the four home games are vital for City’s Champions League aspirations.
City seem have stalled a bit in the past few weeks. They seem to lack the fluidity and ease in their play that has been seen this season. Maybe the pressure of being so close to 4th place is starting to take its toll on Mancini and the players.
City’s away record isn’t exactly brilliant either, though they have been good recently, winning at Fulham, Chelsea and Wigan, they concede far too many goals and have a horrible knack of conceding the first goal, which could prove costly at the Emirates or Upton Park.
For everything that has gone wrong this season, for every terrible performance and for all those defeats, that they still have a chance of making 4th place is in itself a miracle. Their run-in is by far the easiest of the other clubs, with the only tough fixture being Chelsea. However, that game is at Anfield, where Liverpool have been strong, winning their last 8 games at home and only losing two. Birmingham away isn’t easy, particularly with Liverpool’s crappy away form, but if Benitez finally removes the shackles, they should be able to win.
What may throw up a few red flags are the games against the three teams that are probably trying to avoid filling two of the relegation places. Those teams will throw everything they can at Liverpool and may derail their Champions League aspirations. Liverpool fans will recall the game against Bradford where the Bantams needed a result and got one at Liverpool’s expense.
Spurs and Man City do have a game in hand but it’s against each other, which can only be good for Liverpool. Probably the best result Liverpool can hope for in that game is a draw.
Traditionally, Villa’s season usually ends about March, when the players pretty much stop playing. Villa have a horrible tendency to fade away and with that horrific beating at Chelsea, that shows no sign of stopping. With Gabriel Agbonlahor injured, Villa only have a few strikers to choose from, unfortunately one of those is Emile Heskey, who simply doesn’t score enough. John Carew’s doing a good job for them but they just don’t score enough.
Ashley Young seems to have hit the wall with his performance level having dropped off in the past few weeks, which might cost him a World Cup place.
In truth Villa are probably out of the race for 4th and are hoping to hold Everton off to finish 7th so they at least qualify for the Europa League. They play Everton at home and have to play a derby match at home to Birmingham, who have proved they are certainly no pushovers.
There really isn’t much separating the three teams vying for 4th. They all have their strengths and glaring weaknesses. Goal difference may well the a deciding factor between these three sides. Spurs currently have the best goal difference but their advantage over City and Liverpool isn’t that big considering they have to play some of the best attacks in the league. What’s interesting is that Spurs, Man City and Liverpool all finish the season away at the teams that are fighting to stay in the division. If the relegation places are not decided by that last game then those games, which in any other circumstance you’d expect all three of the Champions League chasing sides to win, suddenly become very hard indeed.
I’ve changed my mind so many times in the last few weeks as to who I think will get 4th place. I now believe Liverpool will just about scrape it but it all depends on how Spurs handle what the top three throw at them.
What do you think?