With under a month and a half to go
We took a look around our Premier League historical almanac to figure out who's making the top four
It’s the spot that all the smaller clubs want. A shot at playing against some of the biggest clubs in Europe – and Celtic. We already know that Leicester and Spurs are in so we’re not going to talk about them. History shows that since 2000, the top four at this stage of the season is usually a good reflection of the final league table. Only on three occasions have a side in the Champions League places on the 25th of March not finished in the top four – Spurs got Arsenal-itis twice and bottled four and five point leads respectively in 2006 and 2012 to allow their North London rivals to snatch 4th and Liverpool had it back in 2000 as they let a 2 point lead slip.
Arsenal and Manchester City have both been shaky, and while both are still favourites to make the top four (Gunners at, City are) we’ve found some value in the chasing pack.
Before we tell you who is best placed to catch City, we’re going to tell you why. At the beginning of February City were second, within striking distance of Leicester and eight points clear of 5th. All of a sudden, Pellegrini announces he is leaving and City have won just once in the league since – against Aston Villa. They’re an alright-ish run in but still have trips to Chelsea (who are good again), Newcaslte (who badly need the points) and host Arsenal (who have their number in recent years).
They top the league in points vs middle and bottom third teams – but are joint bottom against the top third with just three points from 11 games. In their last eight, they have to play five of the top ten in form teams. A disinterested manager, star names playing absolutely crap (you don’t deserve birthday cake this year Yaya!) and a Champions League quarter final to come without Hart and Kompnay? City could be in big trouble.
Before last weekend people might’ve laughed if you said Southampton still had a chance of reaching the top four. This time last month they were seven points off having lost two on the bounce. But they’ve been the Saints’ only two defeats in their last ten games and now sit just four points off City, albeit with a game extra played. The return of Fraser Forster at the back has been key. When England’s number one/two/three/four came back Southampton strung together six clean sheets together and have conceded just five times since.
In their final seven games they play three of the bottom five, three of the top six and Everton. After a remarkable comeback against Liverpool, they’ll be full of confidence when they come back from the break. They’re probably not going to catch up, but keep an eye on their odds of especially if they can get something off of Leicester next Saturday.
The Red Devils may have had an under par season but would a top-four finish having been six off as we headed into March save LVG his job? The win in the Manchester derby left the gap at just one. Unlike their neighbors, United have thrived against the bigger teams this year, taking on average 2 points per game against sides in the top seven. Their run in sees them against the better teams (Leicester and trips to Spurs and West Ham) as well as a couple of nice home games.
You would expect them to pick up points against Aston Villa who have only 1 win at Old Trafford since 1955 . But before backing them at odds of, keep in mind that United have lost a third of their games against the bottom seven – two against Bournemouth and Norwich who they still have to play again.
West Ham are the best value in the race at odds of. Five unbeaten and in reality should be two points clear in fourth (curse you Fabregas and your ability at penalties). They’re arguably the player of the season in Dmitri Payet and are in the home stretch in their final season in Upton Park. On paper they’ve probably the easiest run in.
Five home games from seven , three of which are against bottom half sides, plus a mouthwatering clash against United in the final game in the Boleyn Ground. That’s likely to be a decided as to who’ll take the final spot, particularly if City haven’t picked up their form. Consecutive games against Arsenal and Leicester won’t faze them because they top the league for points taken against the top half (25 from 14). They’re on course to top the fair play table for the second year running.Unlike their bubbles, their challenge won’t fade and die.
Snigger all you want but Liverpool are only six points off with games in hand over everyone above them. One of those is against Everton at Anfield and they haven’t lost that tie since 1999. It’s true that their defence was leakier than Gazza after being hit with tear gas against Southampton but Jurgen Klopp should have learned from that. They’ve only two fixtures against top half sides after next Saturday when they play Spurs.
Six of their nine remaining league fixtures are at Anfield, where Liverpool have been trigger happy (their tally of 244 shots is beaten only by City, Spurs and Chelsea). The Reds have a chance as long as Martin Skrtel stays away from the team – the Slovak has made less tackles than both Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren when on the pitch. Our traders aren’t ruling them out either as their odds of make them possible dark horses. But will a Europa League tie with Dortmund distract Klopp?
- Disagree with us? Find our full betting for the top four race right here