For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the Premier League looks set for a photo finish at both ends of the table.
The title race is neck-and-neck between two familiar heavyweights, bitter North London rivals are fighting tooth and nail for the final Champions League qualification spot and two sleeping giants of English football are at a very serious risk of being relegated to the Championship.
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It’s why there can be no room for slip-ups from any side with just a handful of games remaining in the season.
Foxsports.com.au analyses the upcoming fixtures for the teams who have everything still to play for and, with a little help from the statistical gurus at FiveThirtyEight, predict the outlook for the clubs in question.
FiveThirtyEight takes a multitude of factors into account when devising their predictions and you can read more about how they crunch the numbers here.
FAMILIAR FOES FACE OFF IN TITLE RACE YET AGAIN
1st: Manchester City (83 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), West Ham (a), Aston Villa (h)
2nd: Liverpool (82 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Tottenham (h), Aston Villa (a), Southampton (a), Wolves (h)
For most of the season, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the title would once again be heading back to the Etihad.
But all it took was a draw against Southampton in January and a 3-2 loss to Tottenham in just a few weeks later to nudge open the door for Liverpool to creep back into the title race.
The two sides came to blows in Gameweek 32, but the match resulted in somewhat of an anticlimactic 2-2 draw, with three of the four goals scored in a pulsating first half.
City will be gunning for a fourth Premier League title in five years, a remarkable achievement that highlights just how dominant Pep Guardiola’s side have become.
The title is theirs to lose and won’t need any reminding that any hiccups between now and the end of the season will be happily taken advantage of by Liverpool, who are on the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple.
Both teams must play Wolves and Aston Villa in the run home, but perhaps Liverpool has the hardest remaining fixture with a home match against the Champions League-chasing Spurs.
If anything, the final day could have a twist of Hollywood-esque proportions as Steven Gerrard, a Liverpool legend who now manages Villa, could snatch a result against City and provide a helping hand for Liverpool to leap into the lead.
However, stats ha
ve no time for dream scripts, with the gurus at FiveThirtyEight giving City a 68 per cent chance of locking up the title and Liverpool with a 32 per cent chance.
However, could City’s Champions League collapse against Real Madrid have a lingering psychological effect on the squad?
If the ghosts of the Bernabeu are still in the minds of Guardiola’s side, then they must vanquish them against Newcastle or risk bottling the title race too and keep Liverpool’s quadruple hopes alive.
THREE-HORSE RACE FOR COVETED FINAL UCL SPOT
3rd: Chelsea (66 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Wolves (h), Leeds (a), Leicester City (h), Watford (h)
4th: Arsenal (63 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Leeds (h), Tottenham (a), Newcastle, (a), Everton (h)
5th: Tottenham Hotspur (61 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h), Burnley (h), Norwich City (a)
Since Gameweek 15, Chelsea have occupied third spot on the ladder. But since the beginning of April, Thomas Tuchel’s side have won twice, drawn one game and lost three.
It’s allowed Arsenal to close the distance and shift the discussion from the Gunners looking at the final Champions League spot to pushing for third.
But Mikel Arteta can’t afford to look forward too much, because Tottenham are hot on their heels and just two points behind.
It seemed that Spurs had crashed out of the top four race after a tumultuous run of four losses in five games at the beginning of the year.
However, on the back of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son rekindling their lethal partnership as well as January signing Dejan Kulusevski making an instant impact, Antonio Conte’s side refuse to go quietly into the night.
Of course, the date that everyone will have pencilled in for this race is May 12, as Arsenal take on Spurs in the final North London derby of the season.
The result of that fixture could very well decide the make-up for the English contingent in the Champions League.
All three sides face two relegation strugglers in the run home and should be expected to pick up three points in those encounters, but nothing can be taken for granted against teams fighting for survival.
With a seven point advantage over Spurs in fifth, it seems Chelsea will, at worst, finish in fourth spot and FiveThirtyEight agree, giving the Blues a 99 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
It could also be argued that Chelsea have the easiest remaining fixtures of the three teams, with the average table position of their final four opponents being 14th.
Arsenal’s is slightly higher at 12.5, while Spurs have the toughest based on the table with 10.5.
The difference in difficulty of fixtures is what’s likely helping Arsenal to a 71 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League compared to Spurs’ 30 per cent.
RELEGATION BATTLE SET FOR EPIC CONCLUSION
16th: Burnley (34 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Aston Villa (a), Newcastle (h)
17th: Leeds United (34 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (a), Chelsea (h), Brighton (h), Brentford (a)
18th: Everton (32 pts)
Remaining fixtures: Leicester City (a), Watford (a), Brentford (h), Crystal Palace (h), Arsenal (a)
Did Burnley expect to be in a relegation battle this season? Perhaps.
But did Leeds or Everton? Almost certainly not.
Ahead of their second season back in the Premier League, Leeds fans were dreaming of what this campaign would look like after Marcelo Bielsa led the side to an impressive 9th-place finish in 2020/21.
But it has been nothing short of a nightmare for the Elland Road faithful, as an injury-ravaged squad never quite recaptured the form of last season and Bielsa was ultimately sacked.
As for Everton, a disastrous off-season in which the club appointed former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez spilled into the regular season.
In fairness, Everton enjoyed a decent start and had four wins from six games to start, but from that moment on, the club’s record makes for depressing reading.
The Toffees have lost 18 games from 26 played, with Frank Lampard, who has never managed in a relegation fight, being brought in to keep the club in the Premier League.
At different stages in recent
months, all three clubs looked safe bets to be relegated for one reason or another.
With a handful of matches left on the calendar, it’s going to go down to the wire with the trio almost all on equal points, although Everton have the crucial advantage of a game in hand.
You only need to glance at the respective fixture lists to know which team clearly has the hardest run-in to complete the season.
Leeds’ final four opponents have an average table position of 7.5, a figure that is notably higher than Burnley’s opponents (10.25) and Everton’s (12).
And even though Jesse Marsch’s side may sit above the dreaded relegation line for the time being, it hasn’t stopped FiveThirtyEight from tipping them for the drop, with Leeds sitting at a 45 per cent chance of being sent back to the Championship.
In comforting news for Evertonians, if it can be of any comfort, the Toffees are a slightly lower chance than that, sitting at a 34 per cent chance of being relegated.
As for Burnley, it seems the shock decision to sack Sean Dyche could be the one that retains their Premier League status, with the club a 21 per cent chance of being relegated.