04 March 2013

The Race for 4th:

Now that we've had some time to convince ourselves that a 2-1 loss to Spurs is not the latest sign of Armageddon, it's worth taking a moment to assess what this means. Does it mean that Spurs have leap-frogged us in this historic rivalry and are now the superior North London club? Perhaps. Does it mean that our chances for 4th place have disappeared? Less likely. The fact remains that our schedule still gives us reason for hope. The chart above shows where the key teams stand (with apologies to Liverpool). Yes, today's loss has blunted our momentum, but it was not a shocker.

After 28 games last year, we already sat in 4th, one point behind Spurs, 53-52. This year sees us having sagged off our pace while Spurs essentially maintains theirs, 54-47. Can we still overtake Chelsea as we did last year? The turmoil around Benitez can't be helping them any, so it's a possibility. Can we still overtake Spurs as we did last year? This one is a much tougher call. It'll come down to us not dropping points against teams below us (including Everton) and Spurs perhaps dropping a few points here and there. They travel to Liverpool next weekend, sandwiched between their Europa matches with Inter, while we wait for Everton to play their FA Cup match, meaning we'll have a game in hand until April 16-17. Between then and now, we'll face Swansea away, host Reading, and go to West Brom, while Spurs host Fulham, go to Swansea, and host Everton. This string of games will give us a more accurate and more-complete sense of where we stand, literally and figuratively. Take a quick look at these fixtures (Man City still excluded unless they collapse):

We might reclaim a little optimism from this. Despite the rescheduling of the Everton match, we still have a favorable schedule. We have as many as eight winnable matches ahead of us whereas Spurs can claim only five and Chelsea six. Chelsea has slumped to 4th, and with six winnable matches, has to worry about holding onto that. It's no guarantee, of course, but it does suggest that our quest for Champions League Qualification remain strong. Catching Spurs, however, will require that we not drop any points from our games in green while hoping that Spurs don't snatch many points from their games in red. Still to be accounted for are potential Europa matches for Spurs and FA matches for Everton, matches that can further erode these teams' energy and concentration. That might sound like sour-grapes, so I'll thrown in a "and we have UCL matches to worry about, as well".

There's still reason to believe, is all I'm saying.