First things first: Forget about Manchester City.
City’s 20th straight win in all competitions allied to Manchester United’s draw with Chelsea means that, with 12 matches remaining this season, they’re 12 points clear.
They’ve conceded only 16 goals so far and have added greater steel to their style this term, with Ruben Dias and a back-to-his-best John Stones having a transformative effect.
Quite simply the title is theirs.
Which therefore leaves three places remaining in the quest for a top four finish and a spot in next season’s Champions League.
United, in second, have a six point cushion on fifth place Chelsea after their stalemate at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Thomas Tuchel’s men are only one point behind David Moyes’ Hammers however, with champions Liverpool – having put four straight losses behind them to win at Sheffield United on Sunday night – another point back.
Then there are Everton, Spurs and even Aston Villa – all of whom have games in hand on the sides above, two in the Toffees and Villans’ case – in the mix. Dean Smith’s men, in ninth, are only six points away.
Perhaps even Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal shouldn’t be discounted after their 3-1 win at the King Power Stadium. The Gunners selection in the Midlands suggests that the Europa League and a backdoor entry into Europe’s premier club competition may be their focus, but can they be ignored?
Mirror Football looks at the current situation for each side in the mix, and what’s to come…
Position:2nd – Games Played: 26 – Points:50
United came in for some criticism after the draw with Chelsea, but in the grand scheme of things – because they simply aren’t catching City – it was a better result for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men than their London counterparts.
The Red Devils will need to juggle their Europa League and FA Cup commitments in the coming weeks, but they have the necessary strength in depth to do that.
Tough trips to City and Spurs await in their next six matches – their unbeaten league run of 20 away games without loss will be tested – and will likely see points dropped.
But United have a six-point cushion as it stands and last season’s late push to finish third will stand them in good stead.
There’s a reason they’re heavy odds-on favourites with bookmakers; it’s very much theirs to lose.
Position: 3rd – Games Played: 26 – Points: 49
Next Six Games: Burnley (A), Brighton (A), Sheffield United (H), Man City (H), West Ham (A), West Brom (H)
The Foxes 3-1 defeat by Arsenal on Sunday was the latest kick in the teeth suffered on home soil this term. Leicester have now suffered six of their seven losses at the King Power and it is their big Achilles heel.
Losing Harvey Barnes to injury for around six weeks – he needs surgery – is a huge blow, to go along with James Maddison’s current hip issue.
Also not to be overlooked is the mental battle they’re facing; Brendan Rodgers’ side were in the Champions League places all of last season before falling out on the final day. It would be foolish to think that there aren’t some among the players and staff wondering if this could be a case of deja vu.
Trips to Burnley and Brighton, followed by a visit from rock-bottom Sheffield United, represents the perfect opportunity to get back on track and reinvigorate their top-four push.
West Ham United
Position: 4th – Games Played: 26 – Points: 45
Not many had David Moyes’ men in contention for the top four this season when things kicked off last September.
But here we are, with the Hammers sitting in fourth having impressed even in defeat at Man City on Saturday.
Well-organised, Jesse Lingard has brought an extra injection of speed and movement to the attack since joining on loan from Manchester United and the midfield partnership of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek continues to flourish, with Mark Noble now only a bit-part player.
You worry for them if they lose Michail Antonio to injury again, or if anything happens to Rice or Soucek.
Their next six games incorporate four away fixtures and two matches against sides above them. They will go some way towards telling us whether Moyes’ boys can last the pace.
Position: 5th – Games Played: 26 – Points: 44
Next Six Games: Liverpool (A), Everton (H), Leeds (A), West Brom (H), Crystal Palace (A), Brighton (H)
Chelsea dispensed with Frank Lampard having splashed over £200million last summer and amid worries that he wouldn’t be able to secure the required top four finish.
Tuchel has come in and there is certainly more balance to the side, who are still unbeaten under the German. The next three games certainly put that record in danger.
Defensive issues that hampered Lampard’s tenure seem to have been addressed by reverting to three centre-backs but finding a regular goalscorer will be crucial in the coming two months; as it stands, Tammy Abraham is the top league scorer, on six.
They’ll balance Champions League and FA Cup commitments – they’re 1-0 up against Atletico Madrid after the first leg in Europe and face Sheffield United in the cup – but their deep squad certainly helps in that regard.
Certainly, they need to get points on the board quickly; their final four games of the season are Man City (A), Arsenal (H), Leicester (H) and Aston Villa (A) already look huge.
Position: 6th – Games Played: 26 – Points: 43
Next Six Games: Chelsea (H), Fulham (H), Wolves (A), Arsenal (A), Aston Villa (H), Leeds (A)
The champions’ campaign has been ravaged by injury and a recent four-match losing streak – and the end of their ridiculous unbeaten home record – has seen them fall down the table.
Sunday night’s 2-0 win at Sheffield United gets them back on track ahead of a crunch meeting on Thursday with Chelsea at Anfield.
The thing with Jurgen Klopp’s side is that if they’re at anything like their best, then you can see them rattle off seven/eight wins in succession and that’ll be that, a top four spot will be theirs. The quality is there in attack.
And their next six games, while featuring tricky matches – they conceded 10 times to Villa and Leeds in the reverse figures earlier in the season – are all encounters where the Reds will go down as pre-match favourites.
Home wins against Chelsea and Fulham will go some way to righting the issues caused by recent Anfield losses. Get them, and they’re very much back in pole position.
Position: 7th – Games Played: 25 – Points: 43
Next Six Games: West Brom (A), Chelsea (A), Burnley (H), Crystal Palace (H), Brighton (A), Tottenham (H)
The Toffees weren’t at their free-flowing best on Monday night but Richarlison’s early strike was enough to see them win a first Premier League game at Goodison this year against an out-of-sorts Southampton.
And – owing to their exemplary form on the road – it leaves them just two points off West Ham in fourth with a game in hand.
Carlo Ancelotti has shown throughout his coaching career that he’s one of the most pragmatic managers around and the Italian has proven that at Everton once more, particularly with the use of his squad this season.
Ben Godfrey’s versatility has been huge at the back and he’s grown since arriving from Norwich, while Mason Holgate too has played all across the backline.
James Rodriguez adds the little bit of class they need in tight games while Dominic Calvert-Lewin, thriving under the tutelage of Ancelotti and Duncan Ferguson, is perhaps their most important player, such has been his improvement in the last 12 months.
There remain inconsistencies to iron out – this is a team that lost at home to Fulham then won a first Merseyside derby at Anfield in over 20 years the following week after all.
But Ancelotti is savvy and his team are very well organised for the most part. He didn’t move to Goodison not to take the Toffees into Europe and he’s as aware as anyone that if they’re going to jump into the top four, this most-hectic of seasons offers as good a chance as any.
Kicking off their next six games with a win against ex-boss Sam Allardyce on Thursday night is a must.
Position: 8th – Games Played: 25 – Points: 39
Next Six Games: Fulham (A), Crystal Palace (H), Arsenal (A), Aston Villa (A), Newcastle (A), Man Utd (H)
Title contenders in October, doom and gloom in February, now March begins with Jose Mourinho’s men looking upwards once more.
The thrashing of Burnley, featuring two goals from Gareth Bale, saw Spurs present what most expected from them when the season kicked off: Solid and organised defensively, with matchwinners who can make the difference in attack.
That’s not been so prevalent during 2020-21, but there’s no doubt that this side has quality. Are they over-reliant on Heung-min Son and Harry Kane? Yes, of course. In the same way Liverpool are over-reliant on Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, or Everton are on Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
Things aren’t perfect, there are too many soundbites concerning Mourinho and his management that keep coming out for them to be.
But they’re very much back in the top four mix and have a run of games that will either push them forwards, or stop them in their tracks. Win against Fulham and Palace, and they might just work themselves into the kind of roll that took them top of the table earlier in the year.
Position: 9th – Games Played: 24 – Points: 39
Next Six Games: Sheffield Utd (A), Wolves (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (H), Fulham (H), Liverpool (A)
After avoiding relegation on the last day of last season, Dean Smith has done a fine job this term.
Led by talisman Jack Grealish in attack and with Emiliano Martinez largely outstanding in goal since his arrival from Arsenal, the Villans are comfortable in mid-table this time around and purely looking at how high they can finish.
A team capable of both scoring goals and digging in and keeping clean sheets in tight affairs, with two games in hand on some of those above, they can’t be discounted, even if they are very much outsiders.
At their current PPG ratio of 1.625, they’ll finish the season with 61 points so they’ll need to improve that number.
But their next three games are all winnable. If they take maximum points from those, then suddenly they’re smack bang in contention.
Position: 10th – Games Played: 26 – Points: 37
Next Six Games: Burnley (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (A), Liverpool (H), Sheffield United (A), Fulham (H)
Arsenal have claimed 1.4 points per game over the course of the season so far. Quite simply, continuing at that rate isn’t going to do.
So unless there is a major improvement, immediately, then they aren’t going to be ending the season in the top four.
Their margin for error is minute and realistically, they need two points per game – minimum – if they’re to make a ridiculous surge.
Stranger things have happened of course, and if they can win their next two games, then confidence and optimism will certainly grow.
But the Europa League – where they meet Olympiacos in the last 16 – would appear to be their best bet for backdoor entry into next year’s Champions League.
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