The final stretch of the Premier League season is here, and yet we have assumed for a long time that Manchester City have won the league. But, with second place still a much-coveted prize – to those who can’t contend with City – a heated battle is about to unfold.
Leading the charge is Manchester United, with rivals Liverpool in hot pursuit. The Londoners are trying to keep up with the Northern clubs, with Tottenham Hotspur poised to be the team to do so. Chelsea have been floundering for a while but could mount a surprise challenge.
Given Jose Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of his players at crunch time and the scarily good front three of Liverpool, you’d be forgiven for seeing this as an all-red race for second place.
FA Cup focus detracting from Man United’s league form
Manchester United crumbled out of the Champions League but got the better of Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup to keep Mourinho’s eyes fixed on a trophy this season. While the FA Cup semi-final will take precedent for United, they’ve come across a very favourable run of games to see them out this season.
Against their final eight Premier League opponents, Manchester United boast nine wins and one loss in all competitions. In those ten games, the Red Devils notched 24 goals while only conceding five. Overcoming Swansea, West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Arsenal, Watford, and West Ham United earlier in the season, the only blemish among their final fixtures is the 2-1 loss to Manchester City.
This time around, however, United might just be able to take all three points. City have a hellish April scheduled, facing Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League, then United at home, followed by Liverpool in the second leg, and the Spurs away. If there was ever a time for the Red Devils to strike down the Citizens, it’s on April 7th to better their chances in the race for second place.
However, Mourinho’s focus on the FA Cup appears to have troubled his team in the league. Going into FA Cup games this season, United have two wins and two losses, as well as one win, one loss, and one draw in games after FA Cup draws. This puts fixtures against Bournemouth away and Arsenal at home in question.
So, there’s a chance that the focus on silverware will result in sloppy results in the league. But, given that Mourinho has built his team to be a strong unit, one that can bully its way to a win, they should be able to come through their fixture list on top. When a team has 17 six-footers, seven of which are 6’2’’ or taller, they’re going to be hard to compete against, leading to United being favoured to finish the best of the rest.
A tough run to the finish for the Reds
Making it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League comes as both a blessing and a curse for Liverpool – with regards finishing second in the Premier League. But, with the tricky trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane on the field, they could be carried by a wave of goals to win the race for second place.
Like Manchester City, Liverpool will have to face their bitter local rivals amidst their battle for Champions League progression. With Everton neatly nestled in between the Champions League legs, Liverpool certainly have a tough run of games to start off April. The Reds could very well carry momentum from their great run of form through the first leg and to Goodison Park, or the Toffees could hold firm and bring them to a screeching halt.
Based on Liverpool’s going into and coming out of Champions League games, it’s hard to see how it will impact their game with Everton – as it is both before and after a game in Europe.
From the group stages onwards, Liverpool have won twice, drawn four times, and lost twice in games falling after Champions League ties. On the other hand, going into Champions League games seems to get the Reds amped up, with Liverpool winning six, drawing once, and losing once in games before Champions League matches.
Against their final seven opponents of this Premier League season, Liverpool host a modest five wins, three draws, and one loss. That one loss is, embarrassingly – for both sides – was only West Bromwich Albion’s sixth win of the season.
Liverpool are going to be looking to cement themselves as Champions League regulars and, as they’re not fancied to win the tournament to achieve qualification, they’ll be looking to finish as high as possible in the league to enter Europe’s elite.
Can Spurs or Chelsea contend with the reds?
Spurs are a dark horse in the race for second place behind both of the Reds, with Chelsea sitting far back at 20/1. Not only do Tottenham have a very tough run of games ahead (which includes Chelsea, Manchester City, United in the FA Cup, and Leicester City) but they’ll also remain without their talisman for many of the games.
Not expected back until April 11th – if he does indeed only require exactly four weeks out – the loss of Harry Kane is expected to hurt Spurs. While Christian Eriksen can create a chance out of nowhere and Heung-Min Son is a scoring threat, Harry Kane would almost guarantee a goal per game.
Even though Spurs can only earn a maximum of three points per game, if Kane’s fit, he’ll be gunning for the golden boot in the same fashion he did last season. In 2016/17, he returned from injury to score eight goals in his last three games, four of which came against Leicester City in their penultimate game – this season, the Foxes are Kane’s final game.
Bar a major collapse of Spurs, United, and Liverpool, Chelsea don’t seem to have a look in on the race for second place. They’ve been in decent form, but look to be too far back of the leading pack. Plus, they have the semi-final of the FA Cup to focus on along the way.
The race for second place will be a heated affair this season. Rivals Manchester United and Liverpool both have a great opportunity to claim the coveted place, and both could find success in other competitions. Spurs are in with an outside chance of snatching second, but unfortunately for Chelsea, the gap appears to be too great now.