10 May 2015

City thinks it'll come down to goal difference? Sigh. Guess we'll have to take all the points...

In a dazzling, dominant display, Man City absolutely obliterated QPR, scoring six goals against the hapless Hoops, who will now be relegated to the Championship. More relevant to our priorities though is what the result means for the other end of the table—City are now three points clear in second place, and their goal difference has climbed from +35 to +41. It's hard to tell from the result whether this was City ascendant or QPR capitulant (yes, I know it's not a real word. Give it time. For now, bear with me); in either case, our game in hand has become that much more important than it was before.

It's hard a bird in the hand, though, and we'd be foolish to count the chickens before they've hatched. We do have to play against Swansea, Man U, and West Brom, Sunderland, after all, and each of these for its own reasons poses challenges. Our +33 goal difference, once cheek-and-jowl to City's +35, is unlikely to rise to that gaudy, new +41 (and rising). Their trip to face Swansea next week and visit from Southampton to close out their season suggest that City can and will finish on 79 points and with a goal difference approaching somewhere in the +45 range. Much as I'd love for us to go on a scoring spree, I don't see us eclipsing City. Let's say they win their remaining two matches by one goal. They finish on 79 points with a +43 goal difference. We'd have to outscore three of our opponents by a combined twelve goals while losing against the fourth by one just one goal in order to match City's 79 points but surpass them with a +44 goal difference. Those of us inclined to worry about another trip to Old Trafford might have already taken out their abacuses (abaci?) in order to figure out just how we can still manage our best finish in a decade.

There's an easier way, one that involves far less maths and far more fun. Assuming that City do in fact win out, there's just no realistic way for us to score roughly one-fifth of the goals we've scored all season in the remaining 2/19ths of it in order to overcome that goal difference they'll have. Instead, let's blow our wad on winning all four of our remaining matches. That is, after all, the easier task. If we can start simply by beating Swansea on Monday, Man U will have to concede that they will finish in fourth place. We'd have 73 points, and the highest Man U can finish is 74. We'll have three more matches to play and just two points to earn to stay above them—if we end up doing things the hard way, though, and end up level on points (win once, draw once, lose twice while Man U win their two), goal difference might just become a concern; their +25 is just as far behind us as we are behind City.

Again, however, we can throw the abaci aside if we can just win three and draw one. That gives us ten points and allows us to finish on 80 points—one more than City can earn, goal differences be damned. For those who cling to their abaci, though, let's have quick look at who we'll face:

  • 12 May: home against Swansea. Tricky. They're on the cusp of Europa League qualification, trailing Southampton by four and Tottenham by five. However, they'll visit Man City next weekend to end the season and would need to win out while hoping that the Saints and Tots collapse completely. 
  • 17 May: Old Trafford. Fiendish. Man U have essentially earned a top-four finish, barring a freakish sequence of results for them and Liverpool, but they must crave some measure of revenge after we dumped them from the FA Cup in our last visit. If rumours are to believed, they'll be without Rooney, Di Maria, Carrick, Shaw, and Smalling. Rumours also had us signing Higuaín. 
  • 20 May: home against Sunderland. A low simmer. They're just two points above the drop-zone but have a game in hand over Hull. This one could get tetchy; the Black Cats have beaten Everton and Southampton in recent weeks and might be feeling a bit bolder in the run-in. If Sunderland beat Leicester this weekend, they'll be all but assured of staying up regardless of how they do against us at the Emirates.
  • 30 May: home against West Brom. Tepid. The Baggies are comfortably ensconced mid-table with nothing to play for. Then again, they've gotten there by beating Liverpool, drawing at Old Trafford, and drawing again at St. James' Park. A bit of a mixed bag, there.
We have four matches left, three of which are eminently winnable. They're at home against squads that may or may not be fighting for something but whom we should certainly be able to defeat. One thing's certain: we're top-four. We'll skip the rigmarole of fighting for Champions League qualification and are now setting our sights on bigger, better prizes. Finishing second might not be dramatically different from finishing third, but either is far-better than finishing fourth. 

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, what might it mean to transfer-targets to hear us say, "we finished second in the Prem, and you could be the key to us finishing first?" That's worth a few moments' consideration...

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