07 April 2013

Race for 4th, I mean 3rd

Bit of a silly-looking chart this week, as Spurs have played one more and Man City one less than the other three teams. I'm about to "promote" City off the table as being too far ahead to worry about anymore. On to the three that matter.

Having dispatched West Brom thanks to Tomas Rosick√Ĺ, we can now take our weekly look at the table, which sees a tight cluster of teams between 3rd and 5th. After Chelsea's win over Sunderland and Spurs' draw with Everton, Chelsea and Spurs are tied for 3rd with 58 points, and Chelsea has a game in hand. We sit at 56, just two points back of the the two of them, and we also have a game in hand on Spurs. Therefore, on the surface, it might seem that we're merely in 5th place all over again. However, if we win our game in hand, we go up to 59 points, one ahead of Spurs. Then, the race is on for 3rd, and Chelsea is only two points ahead of us with trickier matches coming up for them. In other words, with seven left to play (and only six for Spurs), it's become a toss-up among the three, with Everton still in shouting distance.

Chelsea and Spurs still have the Europa League to deal with, further sapping their energy. Spurs have their work cut out for them after the 2-2 draw. Both Lennon and Bale will miss the Tuesday second-leg as may Defoe, but Lloris was back to face Everton and will probably play as Spurs aim to secure advancement; the Europa League is their last chance at a trophy this year, and I heartily encourage them to get as close to that one as possible. Chelsea is sitting pretty after their 3-1 win against Rubin Kazan and should be able to advance without too much trouble. Again, we wish them well. They also have the FA Cup to deal with a match on April 14 against Man City (which postpones their match with Spurs. The postponement means that Bale will probably return for the rescheduled match instead of potentially missing it as he recovers). With both clubs still active on these fronts, their head-to-head match hasn't been rescheduled yet.

There's therefore a lot that can happen between now and them. We're one of the hottest teams in the Prem right now, having won five of our last six and dropping only 3 of 18 points. Chelsea has dropped an astounding six of 18 points in their last six matches, and Spurs have done the worst among the three, with only three wins, a draw, and two losses, dropping eight of 18 points. This has seen the table tighten dramatically. Each team simply has to take all points from teams below them and knick and steal points from those above them. Spurs and Chelsea have forgotten this, with Spurs losing to Liverpool and Fulham, and Chelsea losing to Southampton.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the schedule favors us, and it's up to us to seize that advantage. 4th place is now ours for the taking. If we win that game in hand, we vault Spurs. At the risk of boosting the optimism, our toughest remaining match is against Man U, who look to have sewn up the Prem by then. Not that they'll be doing us any favors, of course, and the same logic applies to Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford the following week, but they might be feeling complacent by then. We face five other teams whom we really should take maximum points from each time, giving us 15 and leaving six that we could keep us well if we play well against Everton and Man U. I'm not saying we're going to run the table, but taking those 15 points sends us to 71 on the season, forcing Spurs to take 14 of their remaining 18 points. We have the goal-differential advantage on them as well. On the other hand, Chelsea needs only 13 of their remaining 21 points to tie us. They're one better on goal-differential, so that could go either way. With Spurs and Chelsea set to face each other, one or both will drop points. Depending on when that match happens, and what happens in each of the three teams' other matches between now and then, we might find ourselves rooting for a Chelsea win, a Spurs win, or a draw. Crazy. Just crazy.