Sizing Up the Premier League Title and Top Four Races

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Liverpool got one step closer to wrapping up the 2019-20 Premier League title on Monday night with a 3-2 win at home to West Ham United. Jurgen Klopp’s side have now taken a staggering 79 points from a possible 81 this season – opening up an incredible 22-point lead over last season’s champions Manchester City.

The Reds could have the title in the bag as early as Saturday 14 March, or even seal it at Goodison Park on Monday 16 March. Both would be records, for earliest date clinched and clinching with the highest number of games remaining.

Manchester City are on course to finish runners-up as they have a seven-point lead over Leicester City following their 1-0 win at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

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Whether Pep Guardiola’s side will qualify for next season’s Champions League remains in doubt though, as they were handed a two season ban from the competition earlier this month.

The Citizens appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have this overturned, or at least, reduced. The FA have not yet made an announcement about what would happen should the ban be upheld, but many football blogs expect at least a one year ban and that the team in fifth place will qualify for the Champions League next season.

That would further boost Leicester City’s chances of qualifying for the competition for a second time. The 2015-16 Premier League winners currently have a nine-point lead over Manchester United in fifth, and a 10 point margin on Tottenham Hotspur, who are directly below the Red Devils.

After an excellent start to the season up until early December, Brendan Rodgers’ side have dropped off over the past two months, winning just three of their last 11 Premier League games.

A favourable upcoming fixture list and a lack of European competition should see the Foxes over the line, if not comfortably. Their next three league games are against three of the bottom four – Norwich City (away), Aston Villa (home) and Watford (away).

Chelsea have been sitting in the top four for the majority of the season under Frank Lampard. The inexperienced manager has pulled off a couple of good results and performances, but they are anything but secure of Champions League football next season.

The Blues have won only five of their last 15 Premier League matches, which includes 1-0 losses at home to West Ham United and Bournemouth, as well as 2-0 against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Assuming Bayern Munich eliminate Chelsea in the knockout round of this season’s Champions League, I expect the West London club to finish in the top five.

Manchester United have looked good since signing Bruno Fernandes at the end of the January, a signing Sportslens.com and other football news sites had been predicting for several months. The Portuguese superstar’s first three Premier League matches have been a 0-0 draw away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a 2-0 win at Chelsea and then a 3-0 drubbing of Watford this past weekend; where he scored his first goal in a red shirt.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side still have the distraction of the FA Cup and Europa League to come, but the Norwegian manager has been rotating his squad of late, as he’s gotten more players back from injury. In addition to Bruno giving them an additional option in midfield, striker Odion Ighalo was signed on loan last month too.

Their recent consistency makes me believe Manchester United will finish in the top five this season.

Consistency isn’t a word to describe Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. Whilst last season’s Champions League finalists are only one point outside of the top five, goals are still looking hard to come by.

Spurs failed to score in their first three Premier League games of 2020 following Harry Kane’s injury, that is expected to keep the striker out until at least April. Then, following an injury to Son Heung-min, they lacked any goal threat in the final third during their 2-1 loss at Chelsea this past Saturday.

Champions League may not be much of a distraction for long, following their 1-0 first leg loss at home to RB Leipzig, but Spurs are still in the FA Cup. They face some challenging fixtures in their next three games – Wolves (home), Burnley (away) and Manchester United (home). With a lack of fire power, I don’t think Spurs will qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Below them, Arsenal are the only side I think have a chance of breaking into the top five. Mikel Arteta’s side have looked good in recent weeks, turning draws into wins at last. They look good going forward, albeit still somewhat reliable on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for goals.

Defense is still a huge issue for the Gunners though, and I expect that to be their ultimate undoing. Whilst they do have some very favorable fixtures coming up, I think a mixture of the FA Cup and Europa League, and then a tough run of games from April, will see Arsenal narrowly miss out on the top five.

Sheffield United, Wolves, Burnley and even 11th place Everton aren’t out of the running yet, but it would be a big surprise to see any of these teams playing in next season’s Champions League.

 

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