Midweek Musings: Handicapping the EPL run-in

While the English Premier League title title and relegation battle have all been sorted out and won, the top-four battle is still wide open. Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Everton all battle to earn that crucial spot in next season’s Uefa Champions League, and if not, a spot in the Uefa Europa League. Only one of the sides will not be competing for a European trophy next season, while one will have the sometimes aggravating spot in the Europa League. So, here is an analysis of the final run-in for the teams competing for a spot in Europe:

Current table
Only one Champions League spot has been taken (Manchester United took first place), with Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Everton still competing for the final three spots. Manchester City currently sit in second, Chelsea in third, Arsenal in fourth, Tottenham in fifth, and Everton sit in sixth.

The Blues have one of the toughest run-ins, with three of Rafa Benitez’s side’s last four matches coming against teams that are currently in the top ten. Luckily for them, their defense has recently been rock-solid, allowing only four goals in their last seven Premier League matches. Their attack has also been very good recently, and the Blues have only failed to score two goals in two of their last thirteen matches. They sit one point above Arsenal in third place, and their match in hand could be key. Their match against Aston Villa could be their biggest hope of three points and a chance to earn some valuable goal differential points, although Benitez will have to look out for in-form forward Christian Benteke. I believe they have a good chance of a spot in the Champions League, although they will need forwards Fernando Torres and Demba Ba to perform well if they are to place in the top four.
Key Match(es):

Manchester United vs Chelsea: Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to start their run-in with a testing match against league champions Manchester United. Although the Blues have won two of the last three meetings between the two clubs, it will still be a crucial and hard match for Rafa Benitez’s side. United have already won the league, so they will most likely play some youngsters in the match, giving Chelsea a better chance to take the three points.

Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur: Chelsea continue their tough run in as they battle Tottenham Hotspur in an enormously important battle between the two clubs battling for a spot in the top four. The outcome of the London derby will most likely determine which club will earn a top-for finish, and Benitez’s men will look to continue their stunning form against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge, with Spurs not having beaten Chelsea at the Bridge in over twenty-three years.

The Gunners hopes of a top-four finish are looking bright, with the side’s remaining matches all against teams in the bottom half of the table. Although they will be missing star striker Olivier Giroud for two of their last three matches due to suspension, they will most likely not need the Frenchman, as the teams they play currently occupy nineteenth, eighteenth, and seventeenth place. Despite their easy fixtures, they have suffered without Giroud and they only scored one goal without him last weekend. Arsene Wenger’s side’s goalkeeping troubles are also still at large, but whichever goalkeeper they play in their final three matches will most likely not be troubled, as the sides they are yet to face only managed a combined total of seven shots on target in their most recent matches. It will be key for the Gunners to convert their many chances they get, as the side have performed well in recent matches, but have allowed the opposition to come-back into the match after failing to put the game beyond their opponent’s reach, resulting in some tight wins and draws for Wenger’s side.
Key Match(es):

Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic: The Gunners will face Wigan in their second to last fixture of the season, and Arsenal could have a tough time containing The Latics, who will be playing for their lives. Roberto Martinez’s side are currently set to be relegated to the Championship, and will be playing with everything on the line as they fiercely battle to stay in the Premier League. Although Wigan haven’t gone on a rampaging end of the season winning streak (yet), they still will be a tough opposition.

Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs have an easy run-in, though they will have to avoid their usual end-of-year slump in form. They face relegation prone sides Southampton, Stoke City, and Sunderland, although they do have one key match against Chelsea at Staford Bridge. Andre Villas-Boas’ side must avoid their usual end-of-season dip in form, which kept them out of the Champions League last season. Their game in hand over Arsenal and Everton will be key for Spurs, who sit two points behind Arsenal in fifth place. The club is heavily reliant on Gareth Bale, who has scored more than a third of their goals this season, so Champions League football will be key to help assure the Welshman will stay at the club. Spurs will need Bale to be on his best form in the final few matches, and will also need their recently shaky defense to perform well. Still, the club will expect to get the full three points from three of their last four matches, although it’s always tough traveling to the Britannia to face Stoke, which they must do in their second to last match. The London club haven’t beaten Stoke in their last three meetings, and Tottenham haven’t won at the Britannia since early 2010.
Key Match(es):

Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in a key London derby that will see the winner have a much better chance at a top four finish. Villas-Boas’ side will be looking to get their first win at Stamford Bridge in over twenty-three years, and the match-up between out-of form Ashley Cole (or possible Ryan Bertrand) and in-form Gareth Bale will be a key battle. Bale has scored seven goals in his last nine matches, while Cole (and Bertrand) have been a weak link in Chelsea’s defense.

Manchester City
The Blues only need three points from their last four matches, against three relegation prone sides and a mid-table Swansea City. So unless something goes horribly wrong, City will have another shot at Champions League glory.

The Toffees will need an incredible miracle to take them into the Champions League, and as they travel to both Liverpool and Chelsea in their final three matches. David Moyes’ side will need too win all three of their matches (against Liverpool, Chelsea, and West Ham United) to gain any hope of Champions League qualification, and will still need either Chelsea, Tottenham, or Arsenal to to horribly.

1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
3. Arsenal
4. Chelsea
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Everton

(1st, 2nd, 3rd, and fourth place make the Uefa Champions League)
(5th place makes the Uefa Europa League)

Will Gareth Bale's Tottenham Hotspur be competing in the Champions League next season?

Will Gareth Bale’s Tottenham Hotspur be competing in the Champions League next season?


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