Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Battles in the Premier League

On Wednesday, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic will play their game in hand and put all teams in the premier league on the same number of games with two weeks left in the season.

The Title Race. If Manchester United win against Wigan on Wednesday, the magic number is 1 and I find it difficult to believe that Manchester United will drop all six remaining points. Manchester United play Arsenel at Old Trafford on Saturday and then travel to Hull City on the final day of the season. Liverpool's run-in is a little dicey playing West Brom on Sunday with West Brom riding high on emotion with a potential relegation zone escape (I don't see it but they seem to and that is all that matters) and hosting Tottenham at Anfield on the final week with the Spurs making a bid for Europa league next year. Any dropped point and Liverpool are done. Mathematically, Chelsea have a chance of taking the title, but Manchester United and Liverpool would both have to tank it in the last weeks and Chelseas would need to score a fair amount of goals.

Title Race Winners--Manchester United by four points.

The Relegation Battle
The win yesterday by Newcastle makes this potentially the most exciting of the remaining battles in the Premier League. In reality, this is a six horse race, although I think Portsmouth is probably safe, albeit by the skin of their teeth. That leaves Sunderland (36 Points), Newcastle (34), Hull City (34), Middlesbrough (31) and West Brom (31). It is ugly at the bottom, so lets take a look at the run-ins for each team.

Sunderland--Away at Portsmouth (5/18), Home to Chelsea (5/24)
Newcastle--Home to Fulham 5/16), Away to Aston Villa (5/24)
Hull City--Away to Bolton (5/16), Home to Manchester United (5/24)
Middlesbrough--Home to Aston Villa (5/16), Away to West Ham (5/24)
West Brom--Home to Liverpool (5/16), Away to Blackburn (5/24)

If Sunderland can beat Portsmouth, I think Sunderland will be safe, but they will be playing at Fratton Park and Portsmouth will be looking to assure their Premier League status. If Sunderland lose to Portsmouth, they could get sucked into the battle. I don't see Sunderland taking points off Chelsea, but with the FA cup final the following week, Chelsea may sit a little, but that runs kind of counter to the Guus Hiddinck style. Points in next two games (1 for a season total of 37)

Newcastle's massive victory yesterday put them safe on goal difference. They face two tough opponents. Fulham (who admittedly have a dismal road record, but have found very solid form of late and Aston Villa who are looking to keep a hold on the automatic Europa League spot, will be searching for a couple of wins against lower table teams in their final week to keep that spot. I just don't see more than three points here and maybe just one point in the last two games. (Points in next two games--0 with a total of 34)

Hull City is a team that once sat third in the league have had absolutely dismal form, stinking up the joint in just about every match since Christmas. If they don't get the three points against Bolton, they can pretty much hang it up. Bolton don't have much to pay for, being safe for next season, but right now I just don't see where the goals are coming from for the Tigers. I don't see Manchester United choking up any points. (0 points in next two games, season total 34)

Middlesbrough--that thud you heard yesterday was the sound of the door slamming shut on Middlesbrough's Premiership status. Their final two games against Aston Villa and West Ham just don't hold any promise of points, with Villa looking for Europa League group stage and West Ham fighting for seventh and Europa League, unless a miracle happens, Middlesbrough are just playing for pride at this point. (0 points in next two games, season total 31)

West Brom--at the start of May, I thought they were done and dusted, then the Baggies have won two games on the bounce and put themselves in a position for escape, although it will be really really hard. Even if they can't pull it off, they could kill of Liverpool's hope of a title. The Baggies are still playing good football and a draw against Liverpool and losses by Hull and Newcastle would put them in a position to escape on May 24. A draw againts Liverpool would give Manchester United the title. The problem is that West Brom found their form just a little too late. (1 point in next two games, season total 32).

Teams going down: Hull City (34 points behind Newcastle on Goal Difference), West Brom (32 points) and Middlesbrough (31 points).

The Battle for Seventh Place
Who would have thought that one of the more interesting battles this year would be fore seventh place? Seriously, seventh place? Even in elementary school, the kid that came seventh place didn't get a ribbon.

But the fact is that seventh place this year means Europa League qualification round and that means some extra money, prestige and the all-important European competition. Sure, it is the Europa League, but it is international competition. Because the FA cup is between Chelsea and Everton, both of who are assured of European competition already, the seventh place team is next in line for the spots that is surrendered by Chelsea or already occupied by Everton in the Europa League.

Four teams have a shot, Fulham, Tottenham, Manchester City and West Ham United. Here is the situation:

Fulham (50 points) will play away at Newcastle (5/16) and Home to Everton (5/24) to finish the season. Fulham (yes!!!!!) control their destiny, if they win out, they go to Europe. If they win and draw, they will end the season with 54 points and have a better goal difference than both Tottenham and Man City, so unless those teams finish with two wins and big scorelines, Fulham will stay seventh. Unvbelievable for a team that escaped relegation last season on the very last day. For the second year in a row, Fulham face and FA Cup finalist on the last day of hte season--just an interesting note. A couple of fortunate notes for Fulham, Tottenham and Manchester City will face each other next week, a win by either and a point by Fulham will eliminate the loser.

Tottenham (48 points) have had a remarkable comeback. At one point Spurs sat dead last in the league on just two months nearly 10 weeks into the season. However, Spurs will close out by hosting Man City (5/16) and then away to Liverpool. This will be a tough six points to get for the Spurs, but they must win out or have Fulham drop four points to get to seventh. Man City have been horrible on the road and White Hart lane has been almost fortress like for the Spurs, so I can see three points there. But I just don't see Liverpool choking at Anfield. Liverpool have to win to have a hope of the title. At best I can see three points here.

Manchester City (48 points) will travel to White Hart Lane and their away form is actually worse than Fulham's this year (and that is saying something). If they lose on Saturday, they will need to beat Bolton on the final day and hope for Tottenham to lose and Fulham to have dropped everthing against Newcastle and Everton.

West Ham United (47 points) travel to Goodison Park to face Everton (5/16) and close out against Middlesbrough on May 24. The only way they can make it to Europe now is to win out and hope that Fulham, Manchester City and Tottenham don't earn more than three points. A tall order.

As a Fulham fan, I have to say that I like the fact that we are in control of our own destiny. The magic number is four, any combination of those four points will see us in Europe next year. Newcastle might be a test because St. James's Park will be rocking this weekend since they will probably know that a win against the Cottagers will put the Toon Army safe. But even a draw will put matters in their own hands on the 24th.

Seventh Place--Fulham on 54 points.

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