The international break is over and the World Cup Qualifying campaigns for Qatar 2022 are starting to take shape. England look to be in prime position to qualify while there was also the odd surprise result such as Germany losing 2-1 at home to North Macedonia, their first defeat in a World Cup Qualifier since England won 5-1 in 2001. That said, there were still some pointless international friendlies. What is the point in that especially while we are still in a pandemic.
Domestic football returns this weekend and so too does the Premier League [feature image above from TEAMtalk]. EFL sides will be playing twice throughout the weekend which is usual for Easter. However, in the top flight, most sides still have nine games to play. That is 27 points up for grabs so I thought, as I usually do that I would make some predictions for the final stretch of the season.
In this post, I will look over the title, who I think will be taking the rest of the top four spots and qualify for the Champions League. Who will have t make do with the Europa League and who will do without; barring any side finishing outside the top 4 winning the Champions League (such as possible with Liverpool). Who will be joining Sheffield United and West Brom in relegation to the Championship? I feel like at times I am talking rubbish (but that’s the whole point of predictions isn’t it?) but my thoughts are…
Position: 1st, Played 30, Won 22, Drawn 5, Lost 3, Scored 64, Conceded 21, Goal Difference +43, 71 Points
Remaining Games: Leicester (a), Leeds (h), Crystal Palce (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Brighton (a), Aston Villa (a), Everton (h).
After an inconsistent start to the season including a 5-2 defeat at home to Leicester City, the turning point to the season was the defeat at Spurs in November. Since then, Pep Guardiola’s side have been consistently impressive, only losing once in 33 games in all competitions including an incredible 23 successive wins. An unprecedented quadruple is still possible. They’ve arguably been one of the best sides in all of Europe this season and being 14 points clear at the top, it is only a matter of time before Man City confirm their third league title in four years.
Position: 2nd, Played 29, Won 16, Drawn 9, Lost 4, Scored 56, Conceded 32, Goal Difference +24, 57 Points
Remaining Games: Brighton (h), Spurs (a), Burnley (h), Leeds (a), Liverpool (h), Aston Villa (a), Leicester (h), Fulham (h), Wolves (a)
Another indicator of how topsy turvy this season has been, just look at Manchester United. They were hammered 6-1 by Spurs at home, they failed to get out of the Champions League group stage but within a matter of months later they were sat at top spot in the table in January following a 1-0 win over Burnley and while they have not been able to maintain the results to match Man City in the title race, there has certainly been an improvement for Man United. In terms of being able to mount a title challenge, there have been games where defensive lapses have let them down such as in their 2-2 draw with Everton or their shock defeat at home to Sheffield United. That is their only defeat since November but if they can maintain that consistency then they should be finishing the season in 2nd spot which they can try to build on to mount a serious challenge next season.
Position: 3rd, Played 29, Won 17, Drawn 5, Lost 7, Scored 53, Conceded 32, Goal Difference +21, 56 Points
Remaining Games: Man City (h), West Ham (a),West Brom (h), Crystal Palace (h), Southampton (a), Newcastle (h), Man United (a), Chelsea (a), Spurs (h)
In the early stages of the season, Leicester made a huge statement of intent when they went to Man City and ran out 5-2 winners. It was an incredible match and at one stage it was felt that Leicester could be on for a repeat of their 2016 title-winning heroics. It was not to be though but despite having numerous injuries, they have gone about their business as they attempted to build on their 2019/20 season After what happened last season when football resumed, they will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their slump out of the top four and see through the final stages of the season. They do have a difficult run-in with clashes with Man City and away trips to both Man United and Chelsea. Those will be big games but I have every faith they will maintain their position and finish in the top four.
Position: 4th, Played 29, Won 14, Drawn 9, Lost 6, Scored 44, Conceded 25, Goal Difference +19, 51 Points
Remaining Games: West Brom (h), Crystal Palace (a), Brighton (h), West Ham (a), Fulham (h), Man City (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (h), Aston Villa (a).
Chelsea spent a lot of money last summer with several big-name arrivals such as Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Thiago Silva so it was always going to be a challenge for someone with only a couple years of managerial experience in Frank Lampard to get it all to gel. There was a lot of incomings and would have been hard for most managers. They were still leaky in defence and subsequently sacked Lampard in January (a slightly harsh but unsurprising decision I thought) and brought in Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel has been unbeaten in his 10 league games in charge, 13 in all competitions and setting a club record for an unbeaten start at the club and Chelsea now has them in the top four coming into the final nine games. They have only conceded two goals in those league games and look more solid at the back. On that form, they should be able to cement their top-four spot, especially with their run-in. In fact, I think they could finish 3rd.
West Ham United
Position: 5th, Played 29, Won 14, Drawn 7, Lost 8, Scored 45, Conceded 35, Goal Difference +10, 49 Points
Remaining Games: Wolves (a), Leicester (h), Newcastle (a), Chelsea (h), Burnley (a), Everton (h), Brighton (a), West Brom (a), Southampton (h)
What a difference 12 a season has made for West Ham! This time last year, they were in the thick of a relegation scrap but having survived, they have been brilliant this season and you just have to wonder how much impact not having fans in the stadiums may have actually benefited them. Now, they are in the mix for qualifying for Europe next season and come into the final nine games of the season only two points off the Champions League places. Could they do it? It would be a big turn for the books and the home games against Leicester and Chelsea could be big in determining if they can. They have had a good season wherever they finish but I think they will be just short of the Champions League places. Could they secure Europa League football? It’s in their hands but my instinct is they will fall slightly to finish 6th or 7th.
Position: 6th, Played 29, Won 14, Drawn 6, Lost 9, Scored 49, Conceded 30, Goal Difference +19, 48 Points
Remaining Games: Newcastle (a), Man United (h), Everton (a), Southampton (h), Sheffield United (h), Leeds (a), Wolves (h), Aston Villa (h), Leicester (a)
In the month leading up to the international break, Spurs form in the league has improved with the derby day defeat to Arsenal their only domestic blip n weeks. Having Kane, Son and Bale all fit in the same line up contributed to that run and they still have the League Cup final to look forward to. They have an interesting set of fixtures and depending on how it plays out, the final day fixture at Leicester could have a big bearing on the European places, especially if Leicester have a little blip in form. I cannot see Spurs making the top four, I think they left their good run of form come a little bit too late but this is sport, you never know. My thoughts are they will miss out and finish at best 5th.
Position: 7th, Played 29, Won 13, Drawn 7, Lost 9, Scored 48, Conceded 36, Goal Difference +12, 46 Points
Remaining Games: Arsenal (a), Aston Villa (h), Leeds (a), Newcastle (h), Man United (a), Southampton (h), West Brom (a), Burnley (a), Crystal Palace (h).
Things have not exactly gone to plan for Liverpool this season. This was meant to be the season this all-conquering Liverpool side could push on to be a dominant force in English football. Even in the early stages of the season, it looked like they were on track but it has ultimately not panned out that way and they are in serious trouble of not even qualifying for next seasons Champions League; unless they win it of course.
What has gone wrong for them? There are several factors but not many that are just unique to them. The injury to Virgil Van Dijk has hurt them dearly as they don’t have their leader at the back and they’ve looked vulnerable. They have also I think suffered from a lack of fans in the stands and that seemed apparent even towards the end of last season but their recent home form is alarming. Having not lost at home in the league for almost four years, they have lost five in a row for the first time ever. Correcting that issue will be key for them to try and secure European football. I don’t think they’ll finish in the top four but they could finish in the top 6. It will depend on their game with Arsenal this weekend and their first home game against Aston Villa. If they can stop that rot then they could finish in the top 6 as the rest of their run in apart from Man United away is on paper relatively easier. If not, then it is 7th at best.
Position: 8th, Played 28, Won 14, Drawn 4, Lost 10, Scored 40, Conceded 37, Goal Difference +3, 46 Points
Remaining Games: Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Spurs (h), Arsenal (a), Aston Villa (h), Sheffield United (h), Wolves (a), Aston Villa (a-TBC), Man City (a).
With a game in hand, there is still every chance that Everton could finish ahead of their local rivals for the first time since 2005. That year, Liverpool did win the Champions League against Carlos Ancelotti’s AC Milan. Their form has been a bit inconsistent losing to both Chelsea and Burnley before the international break so while they have had a strong season, I do not think they will get themselves back in contention for the top four. Could they finish in a Europa League spot? Provided Southampton don’t beat Leicester in the FA Cup semi-final then up to 7th could be enough. Looking at who they have to play though and I am not so sure. They face Spurs, Arsenal and have to go to Man City on the final day. I think they will be just a bit short but it has been a strong first full season under Ancelotti and with investment in the summer they could really push on.
Prediction: Man United 2nd, Chelsea 3rd, Leicester City 4th, Tottenham Hotspur 5th, Liverpool 6th, West Ham 7th, Everton 8th
At the other end of the table, it looks like a question of who will be joining Sheffield United and West Brom in being relegated to the Championship. They are 14 and 10 points from safety but who will join them?
Position: 20th, Played 29, Won 4, Drawn 2, Lost 23, Scored 16, Conceded 50, Goal Difference -34, 14 Points
Remaining Games: Leeds (a), Arsenal (h), Wolves (a), Brighton (h), Spurs (a), Crystal Palace (h), Everton (a), Newcastle (a), Burnley (h)
It has been an extremely difficult season for the Blades. Sheffield United did incredibly well last season finishing in the top half but this season t was always going to be difficult for them as teams sussed them out. I didn’t think it would be this bad for them though. They haven’t been outplayed in many games and not been hammered; their worst defeat being the 5-0 defeat at Leicester which came in the first league game after Chris Wilder’s departure. But they have just been found wanting in terms of quality in front of goal. On average, it takes them 15.25 shots to score a goal. It took them 20 games before securing their first win of the season. They have won three games since then but with 14 points adrift from safety with 27 points to play for, it is only a matter of time before their return to the Championship is confirmed.
West Bromwich Albion
Position: 19th, Played 29, Won 3 Drawn 11, Lost 14, Scored 29, Conceded 57, Goal Difference -37, 18 Points
Remaining Games: Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Aston Villa (a), Wolves (h), Arsenal (a), Liverpool (h), West Ham (h), Leeds (a).
West Brom just do not have enough quality in the squad. That was evident enough at the start of the season when most of what they did in the transfer window was retaining players who they had on loan last season in the Championship. They didn’t actually add much and the results followed. Slaven Bilic paid the price with his job in December and was replaced by Sam Allardyce. Big Sam has struggled to make much of an impact with being too easily opened at the back. They look a threat going forward a bit more but mistakes at the back are costing them and it does look like this is one job too big for Allardyce in maintaining his record of never being relegated from the Premier League
Position: 18th, Played 30, Won 5, Drawn 11, Lost 14, Scored 23, Conceded 28, Goal Difference -15, 26 Points
Remaining Games: Aston Villa (a), Wolves (h), Arsenal (a), Chelsea (a), Burnley (h), Southampton (a), Man United (a), Newcastle (h).
A few months ago, I think most people will have written Fulham off as the side to join Sheffield United and West Brom in relegation. Despite their poor form in the first half of the season, it wasn’t for the lack of intent. I would see highlights of their games and I could see the fight in the team. That was rewarded with an unbeaten run in February and some shock results, no least the 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield has given Scott Parker’s men a sniff at surviving. Like their nearest rivals Newcastle, Fulham have some difficult games to play such as having to go to Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United. Those will be difficult games but after their victory at Anfield, there will be a belief about them that they can get a result.
Do I think they can stay up? They have a shot at it and much could rely on that game against Newcastle on the final day. They were beaten 4-0 by Newcastle on the final day of their last premier league campaign but that is not the same Newcastle side, they should have beaten them at St James earlier in the season and I could see them rising to the occasion more.
Position: 17th, Played 29, Won 7, Drawn 7, Lost 15, Scored 28, Conceded 48, Goal Difference -20, 28 Points
Remaining Games: Spurs (h), Burnley (a), West Ham (h), Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), Man City (h), Sheffield United (h), Fulham (a)
As a Newcastle fan, just where do I start? It has been extremely difficult to watch Newcastle this season. At times, it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly what the plan is when Steve Bruce has been sending his side out and some of his comments to the press have been questionable (histrionics etc.). Steve Bruce remains in charge coming into the final nine games and I honestly don’t know why. He should have gone ages ago. My only guess can be that because of the takeover situation at the club he does not want to be hiring and firing or the other explanation is that he tried changing managers (too late) in 2009 and 2016 that he is sticking with the manager this time in the hope of something different. Who knows…
Newcastle have gone through the last 2 games in all competitions with only two wins to show for it. That is relegation form if I ever saw it and most other managers would have been out of a job on a record that bad. The performance at Brighton before the international break was one of the worst, toothless performances I’ve ever seen from a Newcastle side that seems bereft of ideas and creativity. The injuries to Callum Wilson, Alain Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron have not helped in recent weeks but even if all three come back I cannot see where Newcastle get results from. The games which on paper they needed to win were before the international break (Brighton, West Brom) and they didn’t. The run-in is extremely difficult and even if they got to the final two games in with a shout of survival would they have the confidence to go out there and get the results they need? I don’t think so and unfortunately, it really pains me to say it but I think Newcastle will be going down.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Position: 16th, Played 30, Won 7, Drawn 11, Lost 11, Scored 32, Conceded 36, Goal Difference -4, Points 32
Remaining Games: Man United (a), Everton (h), Chelsea (a), Sheffield United (a), Leeds (h), Wolves (a), West Ham (h), Man City (h), Arsenal (a)
In their second season with Graham Potter in charge, Brighton have again played some good football that is good on the eye, but they have struggled at times to find the back of the net. That couldn’t have been more typified than their 1-0 defeat at West Brom where they had a free-kick disallowed and missed two penalties. However, in their two games before the international break, they got two huge results; a win over Southampton and a comprehensive and thoroughly deserved 3-0 rout of Newcastle. Playing at the AMEX has been an issue for the Seagulls, that was only their second home win of the season but it has put them six points ahead of Fulham and with a little breathing space. They will need that breathing space seeing that they have to play Man United, Chelsea and Man City in their run in as well as a final day trip to Arsenal. They aren’t easy games but they probably do have enough about them to stay up.
Who goes down Prediction: Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United.