Premier League Run-in Predictions 2013-14

As clichéd as it sounds – this year’s English Premier League season has been quite unlike any other. The last few years have seen several occasions where there has been a three-way title challenge long into the season before closer two-way battles take over.  However, this year there are four genuine title contenders even at this stage of the season with only ten matches to go.  Even at the bottom, things are exciting: with 10th placed West Ham only 7 points above the relegation zone – not an altogether safe margin.  Although it is nigh-on impossible to predict, here are my best efforts at gazing into the crystal ball at what will unfold in the closing stages of the Barclays Premier League in 2014 along with the dates and kick-offs of the biggest games (N.B. – TV arrangements haven’t been sorted for the last two games of the season – but this post will be updated when they are):

Relegation Battle

The iron law of relegation for well over a decade has been that 40 points will see a club safe from the threat of relegation and there is no reason to suspect that there will be an exception to the rule this season.

It is also true to say that form plays a big part in determining who will be at the bottom of the table.  At the moment Cardiff City and Fulham are rooted to the foot of the league and with only one win and two draws for each team in their last ten games their chances of survival are slim.

However, the recent arrival of Felix Magath to Fulham could see them pick up the critical mass needed to win them some points.  They have a relatively forgiving run-in, playing Hull and Crystal Palace at home in the last three games of the season and Man City being the only top four club they face in the next ten games.  Contrast that with Norwich’s horror final stretch with visits to Man Utd and Chelsea while hosting Arsenal and Liverpool and you can see that they will struggle to pick up points.  Similarly, Sunderland have a tough set of games ahead after Sunday’s heartache of League Cup final defeat – with Liverpool, Everton, Spurs and Man United on the horizon.

So, my picks for the drop are Cardiff City, Norwich City and Sunderland.

The big games:

Date Game Kick-Off TV
Sat 8th March Cardiff v Fulham 3pm
Sat 15th March Sunderland v Crystal Palace 3pm
Sat 22nd March Norwich v Sunderland 3pm
Mon 31st March Sunerland v West Ham 8pm SS1
Sat 5th April Cardiff v Crystal Palace 3pm
Sat 5th April Norwich v West Brom 3pm
Sat 12th April Fulham v Norwich 3pm
Sun 27th April Sunderland v Cardiff 12pm SS1
European Battle

Normally there is some competition for the Europa League spots in England, but this season it is only a three way fight with one of the clubs almost home and dry.

Tottenham lead the chasing duo of Everton and Manchester United by 5 and 8 points respectively – and with an easier run-in on paper than both sides, I reason that they will be able to hold on to that lead until the end of the season.  They are only 6 points off the Champions League places (assuming that Man City win one of their games in hand on the teams above) and if they pick up enough points against the weaker teams they have left to play they will be in with a chance of pipping one of the current title contenders to the post if they dip in form, maybe Arsenal if they can’t recover from their defeat to Stoke last week and their inevitable Champions League exit.

Ironically it is Spurs’ current European campaign that is the biggest threat to another one next year.  They face Benfica in the Last 16 of the Europa League this month, and getting past one of the best sides in the competition would make them one of the favourites to go all the way to the final.  This would give them more and more games to play, which could cost them in the way of draws and defeats as a tired side against more fired-up but weaker opposition.  They do have one of the best squads in the league, though, which should see them performing well even if they have a busier April and May than other teams.

Thanks to Man City’s win in the League Cup, both Everton and Man United will fight it out for the other spot in the Europa League next year.  It will be a close fight between the two – with plenty of tricky ties for each team to go through before the end of the season.  Both teams could potentially qualify for the Europa League depending on what happens in the FA Cup.  Everton winning, Everton and Man City reaching the final or Arsenal and Man City reaching the final would all see both sides through.

Assuming that none of those scenarios happen though and it’s a tight race to call.  The two clubs face each other with four games to go, and I’d suggest that the winner of that encounter would be the Europa League team this year.  But I’m not going to sit on the fence and so I’m going to predict that Man United will take 6th position in the league.  With more games against teams in the lower reaches of the league, and players’ experience of fighting in the run-in I think they will take it.

Tottenham Hotspur will definitely qualify for Europe this season, and I think Manchester United will too – but I wouldn’t count out Everton altogether.

The Big Games:

Date Game Kick-Off TV
Sun 16th March Man Utd v Liverpool 1.30pm SS1
Sun 16th March Spurs v Arsenal 4pm SS1
Tue 25th March Man Utd v Man City 7.45pm SS1
Sun 30th March Liverpool v Spurs 4pm SS1
Sun 6th April Everton v Arsenal 1.30pm SS1
Sun 20th April Everton v Man Utd 4pm SS1
The Title Battle

It’s a relatively safe assumption that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City will all qualify for the Champions League this year – but only one of them can take the big one and take the title.

You could make a strong argument for any of the four winning it.  Each team needs to play 2 of their title rivals along the way, and these games will be the key factor in deciding where the championship will go.

Arsenal should be happy to be involved in the run-in, but I don’t think they’ll be able to manage it.  Arsenal are stuttering at the moment, and with West Ham being their next easily ‘winnable’ game in mid-April I think they will have to pull off something special in their games against Everton, Chelsea, Spurs and Man City to be in contention for the trophy.  Their squad isn’t as strong as Chelsea or Man City’s – so any FA Cup run could also hurt them a little.

For each of the other three teams there are reasons why you can suggest they will win the title.  Liverpool have a run-in with most of their big games at home and have no FA Cup or Champions League distractions.  Chelsea have a manager who has been there and done it with winning the league and should be able to come away with wins in the final weeks of the season against Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff City (my picks for relegation).  Man City have a squad that have tasted Premier League victory only two years ago.

My pick for the title will be Chelsea, though.  Liverpool have pushed themselves this season and I think that with the quality of the teams ahead of them that making up that four points over both the other teams could be a challenge.  There is an over-reliance on the SAS of Suarez and Sturridge whose unbelievable form might suffer as they prepare for the World Cup.  Their bigger games are at Anfield, but I think that Mourinho will be able to handle the onslaught Chelsea will face and that Man City will be able to out-attack them if needed.  Man City’s number of tough away games is what tips the balance against them in my mind.  Facing United, Arsenal and Everton away will be a challenge for them – with all three having a grudge to settle against them.  Chelsea have big home games left, a strong defence and the Mourinho factor which I think will see them through.

My endorsement comes with a few caveats.  Chelsea going far in the Champions League would give the edge to Man City, with their defeat to Barcelona only a formality.  And, as I’ve said, the title will be won and lost in the games between the teams involved at the top.  But if all goes as form would suggest, the title will be going to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea will win the league.

The Big Games:

Date Game Kick-Off TV
Sun 16th March Man Utd v Liverpool 1.30pm SS1
Sun 16th March Spurs v Arsenal 4pm SS1
Sat 22nd March Chelsea v Arsenal 12.45pm BT Sport
Sat 29th March Arsenal v Man City 5.30pm SS1
Sun 30th March Liverpool v Spurs 4pm SS1
Sun 6th April Everton v Arsenal 1.30pm SS1
Sun 13th April Liverpool v Man City 1.30pm SS1
Sun 27th April Liverpool v Chelsea 2.05pm SS1

So there’s what I predict (and now hope) will happen in the English Premier League in the final 10 games.  No matter what, I’m sure that there will be plenty of entertainment in three races that will go down to the wire with some cracking matches to behold.  Whether there will be an Aguero moment this year though, I’m not sure.

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