Monday, April 5, 2010

The Race For Fourth — 6 games to go

It's been a week since we last tried to predict who had the advantage in the all-important battle for the final Champions League position. What effect did the weekend's results have on the race for fourth?

4. Manchester City
Games played: 32
Goal difference: +24 (+5 on last week)
Recent form: 3 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss. 10 points from 15 possible.
Position: Stronger
Points: 59

Upcoming fixtures:
H Birmingham City (9th)
H Manchester United (2nd)
A Arsenal (3rd)
H Aston Villa (7th)
H Tottenham Hotspur (5th)
A West Ham United (17th)

City blew out the cobwebs with an emphatic 6-1 victory away to Burnley — and the score could have quite feasibly reached double-figures if not for the inclement weather. In addition to the five goals City scored in the first half, Johnson and Tevez hit the post, and AJ crossed into the head of a defender with both Adebayor and Tevez unmarked in front of goal. A win at Burnley was expected — although the margin of victory wasn't.

Predicted points total: 70 (11 more)
City picked up the three points they were expected to. They will still need to defeat Birmingham, Villa, and West Ham, and draw against Tottenham, to reach the initial target of 69 points. However, this assumes that City will not gain anything from the matches against Manchester United and Arsenal — but on the weekend both sides showed that they are more vulnerable than their league position suggests. I think on form, at least one point from these matches will be possible.

5. Tottenham Hotspur
Games played: 32 (same as City)
Goal difference: +26 (just two better than City)
Recent form: 4 wins, 1 loss. 12 points from 15 possible.
Position: Weaker
Points: 58 (one less than City)

Upcoming fixtures:
H Arsenal (3rd)
H Chelsea (1st)
A Manchester United (2nd)
H Bolton (15th)
A Manchester City (4th)
A Burnley (19th)

What a difference a week makes. Tottenham had a clear advantage last week, sitting above Manchester City in the table and with a goal difference that looked fairly difficult to overcome. However, due to a 3-1 loss at Sunderland, this advantage has all but been eroded. And truth be told, Tottenham were lucky not to lose by more, with Black Cats' striker Darren Bent missing twice from the spot.

Predicted points total: 66 (8 more)
Tottenham were expected to beat Sunderland, so this comes as a setback to Spurs. Victories against Bolton and Burnley should be somewhat elementary — however Spurs still have to play each of the four teams above them on the table, with only two of those matches at home. It's hard to say with any confidence that they'll take many (if any) points from those games. However, I will say that they'll pick up a point at home to Arsenal and away to City, giving them a total of 66.

6. Liverpool
Games played: 33 (one more than City)
Goal difference: +21 (three less than City)
Recent form: 2 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses. 7 points from 15 possible.
Position: Weaker
Points: 55 (four less than City)

Upcoming fixtures:
H Fulham (12th)
H West Ham United (17th)
A Burnley (19th)
H Chelsea (2nd)
A Hull City (18th)

As we've mentioned, Liverpool have the kindest draw of all those remaining, and still have play three of the bottom four teams. However, they're quickly running out of games. Even if they do manage to win all of their remaining fixtures — which on current form is extremely unlikely — that's only a maximum total of 15 points, which still may not be enough to overcome the teams around them.

Predicted points total: 68 (13 more)
Wins at Fulham, West Ham, Burnley, and Hull, with a possible draw against Chelsea. But they don't have anything to work with — any less than maximum points in all of their remaining fixtures and it's pretty much season over for the Dippers.

7. Aston Villa

Games played: 32 (same as City)
Goal difference: +12 (12 worse off than City)
Recent form: 2 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss. 8 points from 15 possible.
Position: Stronger
Points: 54 (five less than City)

Upcoming fixtures:
H Everton (8th)
A Portsmouth (20th)
A Hull City (18th)
H Birmingham City (9th)
A Manchester City (4th)
A Blackburn Rovers (11th)

Villa kept their slim Champions League ambitions alive with a tidy victory at Bolton — and don't have too many difficult games to come. However, only two of their last six games are at home. It could really go either way for Villa — but they may just be too far behind City to make a charge.

Predicted points total: 67 (13 more)
Wins at Portsmouth, Hull, Birmingham, and Blackburn, while drawing at home to Everton. They're in a similar position to Liverpool though in which they have to win just about all of their remaining games. The game against City though will be one of the most crucial of the season.

The Fearless Prediction
The main advantage that Manchester City has over Tottenham and Liverpool is the "flexibility" in their run home. For instance, if City were for some reason to slip up and lose to Birmingham, there would be a great chance to pick up those points elsewhere, like against Manchester United or Spurs at home.

However, if Tottenham were to lose a match they were expected to win, such as that at home to Bolton, to make up those three points they would have to pick up a victory against one of the current top-four because of their incredibly difficult draw. And if Liverpool were to drop points in the same circumstances, because of their easy draw, there is little opportunity to get those points back that they were expected to get. (This makes sense in my head, although I can't explain it...)

And as for Villa, although they've made up some ground on those above them, they're probably a little too far back to make a charge for fourth. An away win over City though, would put them well in the mix.

So with six games to go, Manchester City are in pole position — but not home by any means.

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