With only 16 games left of this Premier League season, the next few weeks will go a long way as to establishing the make-up of the heralded top 4. Starting today (Tuesday 31st January), two of the top 6 will play each other in 7 out of the next 9 game-weeks, which would have been 8 had the Manchester derby not been postponed for the League Cup final.
Tues 31st Dec: Liverpool v Chelsea
Sat 4th Feb: Chelsea v Arsenal
Sat 11th Feb: Liverpool v Tottenham
Sun 26th Feb: Manchester City P-P Manchester United
Sat 4th Mar: Liverpool v Arsenal
Sun 19th Mar: Manchester City v Liverpool
Sat 1st Apr: Arsenal v Manchester City
Weds 5th Apr: Chelsea v Manchester City
With the prize of Champions League football and the transfer market muscle that it brings, every single point gained over each other is vitally important. Chelsea look home and dry in that regard but a repeat of the consecutive defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal they experienced earlier this season in their next two fixtures would get critics going. Arsenal themselves have the experience of finishing in the top 4 places but their shaky record against close rivals may mean they miss out in what is one of the most competitive seasons for years.
In third place is the in-form side at the moment, Tottenham whose surge is similar to last year and they are helped (or hindered) by the fact that most of their remaining games against their title challengers are towards the end of the season. Their only game in this run of top-club clashes is in February away at Liverpool, who are the most prominent team in these upcoming games. They will play Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal at home before a trip to Manchester City in what can only be described as a season-defining run of games. A lot rests on their previously impeccable Anfield record in the Premier League this season which last week was lost against Swansea. One advantage for Liverpool is that their record against the top 6 is currently the best in the division, having accumulated 12 points in the 6 matches they have played against their rivals this season at an average of 2 points per game.
Liverpool’s poor record against teams outside the top 6 however means that you would think that they need to better that average in their 4 remaining fixtures against the top 6 to maintain their position in the Champions League places. With Manchester United’s derby postponed they are not participating in any of these games at all. Only 4 points back in 6th, they are well placed to overtake the Reds should any capitulation occur as their next 9 fixtures are against teams all outside the top 6 (although they do include tricky trips to Leicester and Southampton as well as a home game against 7th placed Everton). They appear to be the real winners of the upcoming battles as they can realistically expect the others to all drop points against each other.
That only leaves Manchester City. Favourites for the title at the start of the season after winning their opening 6 matches but have fallen horribly short of what was expected in the ‘Pep Guardiola revolution’. This period of the season really is make or break for the blue side of Manchester as they face consecutive games against Liverpool. Arsenal and Chelsea at the end of March and beginning of April. If they can build some momentum before these games then there is every chance the season could be redeemed because they have ounces of quality within their squad but if City were to come out of those games outside the top 4 then this season would have to be considered a failure, especially after it promised so much.
For the many fans of these teams, it is going to be extremely tense to watch but for the neutrals it is absolutely mouth-watering as these teams go head-to-head with so much to play for. Surely we can expect open, exciting football with the intent to attack the opposition from the off. The pick of the games for me is Liverpool against Arsenal as they are two aggressive, fluent teams who love to score goals and last year’s affair at Anfield was a classic 3-3 draw. However, it is nearly always entertaining whenever the best teams and the best players line up against each other so any football fan should be excited.
In terms of the outcomes of these games, I have to say that I do fancy Chelsea and Arsenal to get enough points to keep their places in the top 4. I would also expect Spurs to stay in there as they only have one of these games. However, I feel Liverpool and Manchester City will fail to accumulate enough points to see off the resurgent Manchester United so it is they who I expect to be in the top 4 by April. One thing is for sure though and that is that this season is about to get even more exciting.