06 April 2015

And then there were four: who can chase down Chelsea?

Pensions. Gunners. Devils. Citizens. We’ve gathered you here today, regardless of how intimidating your nicknames are, to sort out who will finish where in the Prem. Gone, for now, are various Saints, Irons, Reds, Swans and Capons, and so we are down to four. It might be too early to slam shut the door, but it’s not too late to narrow our focus. Among you four, three have spent and spent until drunken sailors hid their faces in shame. We’re running short on time, and the Scramble for Second will probably top-billing over the Fight for First. Enough of this. On to the rundown!

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 21-7-2
● Points: 70 (77.8%)
● Form: WDWDWW
● Last matches: Chelsea 2-1 Stoke.
I’ll just go ahead and start this bit with the same opening sentence as the last rundown: Chelsea continue to fail to impress. This time through, though, they needed help from a penalty to overcome Stoke, making one wonder just what they’ve spent all of that money on in the last few years. One way of looking at this is to admit that scoring against Stoke is never easy. Another way is to suggest that it’s another example of Mourinho’s cynical style paying off. I won’t judge; the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but it’s three points claimed if not quite earned as Chelsea continue to keep us and others at arm’s length. They’re still seven points clear with that game in hand. The best Arsenal can do is 84 points. Chelsea need just 15 points from their remaining eight matches to secure the title.
● Next match: 12 April at QPR.

● Position: 2nd
● Record: 19-6-6
● Points: 63 (67.7%)
● Form: WWWWWW
● Last match: Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool
Three goals in eight minutes were enough to obliterate Liverpool and all but consign them to hoping for Europa League qualification next season; they now trail Man City by seven points (more on them in a minute). We so thoroughly discombobulated the Scousers that they couldn’t score when they had chances, and we made them look like also-rans. Goals from Bellerin, Ozil, Sanchez, and Giroud made for an embarrassment of riches that had some of us dreaming of overtaking Chelsea. For now, we’ll have to settle for having overtaken Man City, at least for one week. Perhaps we should lose in the Champions League first leg 1-3 more often? I kid, I kid. However, we do have to admit that we’ve hit our stride at a key moment; even if first place is Chelsea’s to lose, we now have to feel that second is ours to defend.
● Next match: 11 April at Burnley.

Manchester United
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 18-8-5
● Points: 62 (66.7%)
● Form: LWWWWW
● Last match: Man U 3-1 Aston Villa
Man U labored to a 3-1 win over the Villans, needing a stoppage-time goal from Herrera to make the scoreline look a bit better than it might have. Still, it’s enough of a result to vault the Red Devils over the Citizens ahead of what should now be a pulsating Manchester derby. Man U have now won five in a row, although they’ve over-run a few overmatched sides along the way, but they have to feel good about that momentum not to mention their position. Whoever gets the result on Sunday at Old Trafford might also lay claim to third in the Prem, if not second, such would be the boost in confidence. Van Persie’s lack of fitness (be that mental or physical) seems to have given Man U’s attack greater fluidity and dynamism, almost enough to encourage Gooners to wish for his full recovery sooner rather than later.
● Next match: 12 April vs. Man City

Manchester City
● Position: 4th
● Record: 18-7-6
● Points: 61 (65.6%)
● Form: WLWLWL
● Last match: Crystal Palace 2-1 Man City
Well, well, well. How the once-mighty have fallen. Three losses from their last five outings—each away from the Etihad—have seen City stumble to fourth place. Even if they’re still just two points off the pace for second place, it’s been a doozy. Monday’s loss at Crystal Park means that City’s title-hopes are just a bit more-distant than Arsenal’s. While Arsenal and Man U are surging, City are sagging.  They had to know going into Selhurst Park that Chelsea, Arsenal, and Man U had won, and that they had to win to keep pace, but they couldn’t rise to the occasion. That lack of determination or inspiration or whatever you want to call it might just be City’s undoing—but let’s hope they do well enough next week to claim a point at Old Trafford.
● Next matches: 12 April at Man U.

That’s it. I called this “…and then there were four” not out of laziness (although, to be fair, that was one motivating factor) but out of simple maths. Liverpool and Tottenham are now on 54 points, seven points behind fourth-place Man City. As we all now, Liverpool still have to go two more matches (one of them against Blackburn in the FA Cup quarterfinal replay) without Gerrard or Skrtel. Tottenham were held at Turf Moor by relegation-battlers Burnley, and Southampton lost at Goodison Park. With only seven matches left, we’ll draw the line at four. Imagine me re-hooking the red velveteen rope to the brass-pole in order to keep out the riff-raff. First place is Chelsea’s to lose. As for second, third, and fourth, brace yourselves for the onslaught of Hurricane Barbara. And if you think that naming a destructive storm after a woman is sexist, you obviously haven’t seen the gals grabbing for items at a clearance sale...

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