Who will survive the drop???

While the title run in is of course intriguing, we must not forget the battle to avoid relegation is also quite interesting.

The consensus among the public is that Sunderland and Middlesbrough will be playing in the championship next year and its either Hull City or Swansea City that will be joining them. I agree insofar as I also believe Sunderland and Middlesbrough will succumb to relegation in the coming weeks but I also think that Burnley could be brought into a relegation dogfight before the season ends.

Sunderland’s season looked bleak from the very start and the players were hardly boosted when they heard their manager publicly claiming that they will be in a relegation battle at the end of the season. Has that had something to do with the lacklustre performances throughout the season? While it’s not something which would encourage or inspire the players, I don’t think it’s a major reason in why they are in the position they currently find themselves – rock bottom with 21 points from 33 games. Their problem has been that they have been leaking goals left, right and centre, (A lot of the time due to terrible individual mistakes) offer very little creativity in midfield and are overly reliant on the ageless Jermain Defoe to hit the back of the net. If he was playing with players of his own calibre Defoe would have bagged far more goals than he has this season but the quality of service just hasn’t been there. The big question for Sunderland is whether they can keep hold of him and promising goalkeeper Jordan Pickford over the summer because the black cats will be in the championship next season no doubt about it.

While Middlesbrough were newcomers to the premier league this year, I must say I’m surprised with their current position. I personally thought with the quality of players such as Victor Valdes, Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Negredo and Stewart Downing in their ranks that they would have hit the magical 40-point mark by now. Surprisingly, it’s the goal department that has also proved Middlesbrough’s nemesis even with the trio of attacking players mentioned above. Middlesbrough have scored the least amount of goals in the whole league and that ultimately is why they’ll be back in the championship next season. On the plus side, their defence, particularly Ben Gibson, has impressed this season with some fine resolute performances. (Middlesbrough have only conceded one more goal than West Brom and Liverpool so far this season).

Who goes down with Sunderland and Middlesbrough is going to be one of Swansea, Hull or Burnley. Hull have enjoyed a good run of form, particularly at home, since Marco Silva has taken over the reins at the KCOM stadium. I think Hull will avoid the drop as I see them coming away from St. Mary’s this weekend with at least a point as Southampton have effectively nothing to play for so won’t be overly motivated you would imagine. Next weekend they have Sunderland at home and I fancy them to pick up three points in that game.

Burnley lie just three points better off than Hull and that’s why I included them in this relegation scrap, albeit that I don’t think they will actually be relegated but I fear that if they’re not careful they may fall into a false sense of security in thinking that they’re safe. A few tough games lie waiting so Burnley need to lift their recent performance levels to ensure premier league football next season.

So, in my opinion its Swansea who will be in the championship next season along with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, which would be a shame as they have been a great asset to the premier league in the last few seasons. I can’t but think that Swansea have brought this on themselves after the sacking of Garry Monk which I felt was a terrible decision, something which is proving to be the case as he has revitalised Leeds United since he was appointed there. What a wonderful twist of fate it would be if Monk can lead Leeds through the play-offs and back to where a club of their stature belong while Swansea suffer the pain of relegation and an uncertain future. Ultimately for Swansea when you concede the most goals in the premier league the writing is on the wall. It would be a shame the see the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente plying their trade in the second tier of English football but that looks increasingly like how it will eventually pan out.

 

The Race for the Top four is hotting up

With Chelsea and Spurs almost definitely occupying the first two positions of the table come the end of the season, the race to fill the remaining Champions League spots is becoming increasingly interesting.

The teams vying for these two positions are Liverpool (currently 3rd), Manchester City (4th), Manchester United (5th), Arsenal(6th) and Everton(7th). While the front runners are of course the first three aforementioned teams I would be hesitant to rule out Arsenal and Everton. However, Arsenal will need to dramatically improve their recent form which has been dreadful to say the least and Everton will need to continue their record breaking current run.

Arsenals recent results include losses to Liverpool, West Brom and Crystal Palace, a draw with Manchester city and most recently a mundane 2-1 victory over lowly Middlesbrough. It almost appears like the players have stopped playing for Arsene Wenger and a finish outside the top 4 for the first time since the 1995-1996 season is the most likely outcome for the gunners. I can’t see them improving on their current 6th position if I’m honest.

Although Everton have the league’s top scorer in their ranks I highly doubt they’ll finish in the top four but I refuse to rule them out all the same. I expect Everton to win this weekend against West Ham and also to pick up three points against Swansea and Watford in gameweeks 36 and 37 respectively, the games which will have huge bearing on their final position come in gameweeks 35 and 38 where a home game against Chelsea and a trip to the Emirates on the final day lie awaiting. Although I’m including them in the race for the top four, similarly like Arsenal, I can’t see them climbing the table.

Although Liverpool are currently in 3rd position with only 6 games remaining, we must not forget that Manchester City (1) and Manchester United (2) have game(s) in hand on the reds. While Manchester United will unquestionably be boosted by their fine victory over league leaders Chelsea last weekend I fear their incompetence in front of goal combined with their Europa League exploits could put pay to their hopes of finishing in the top 4.

Concentrating on the Europa League may not be a bad thing for United as a realistic chance of some much-needed silverware and a possible route to the champions league groups stages via the qualifying play-offs are up for grabs. While finishing in the top four would take a lot of stress away I also see united finishing in their current position of 5th place.

Therefore, in my eyes I see those coveted final two champions league places being taken by those who already occupy them; Liverpool and Manchester City. While I have been very safe so far in my predictions I’m going to suggest that Liverpool and City will have traded places come the end of the season. Really pushing the boat out, I know! Liverpool are only two points ahead of City who have a game in hand on the Anfield men and that coupled with the fact that Liverpool just don’t look the same team without the energetic Sadio Mane I’m going to predict that City will pip them and finish in 3rd position.

Who will win the Premier League Golden Boot??

Can Spurs catch leaders Chelsea??

With seven games remaining and only seven points separating Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur we are now really entering the business end of the season.

People have been saying for a quite while now that this league has been consigned to the ashes but I’m not so sure. While Chelsea undoubtedly hold all the cards I feel that Spurs could have a lot to say in the title run in yet.

While one could argue that chelsea have marginally a more favourable run in of fixtures, a victory for Manchester United at Old Trafford this weekend would really throw a spanner in the works. While United at the theatre of dreams may not be as daunting as before, one can be sure Jose Mourinho would take great pride in halting chelsea’s charge at the title especially after the 4-0 drubbing he suffered earlier in the season on his return to the bridge after his acrimonious departure the season before. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic back and scoring goals United have every chance of capitalising on Chelsea’s recent struggles at the back. There was a  time about mid way through the season it seemed as though Chelsea wouldn’t concede again all season with their new formation causing untold problems for opposition teams trying to break them down. However, the blues have now conceded in each of their last nine games – a worrying stat for Antonio Conte and all wannabe managers on fantasy football (Including myself!) The return of goal machine Harry Kane at the weekend is also a timely boost for spurs.

While parallels could be drawn between the title run in and the back nine at Augusta on sunday last with two heavyweights seemingly  pulling  away from the chasing pack I feel that it is unlikely we will see the less favoured Spurs’ name etched on the trophy come the 21st May.