The final international break is over and we are now, offically, in the business end of the campaign. Form now on, every weekend and midweek set of fixtures will include some do-or-die moments, and in the Premier League we are gearing up for one of the most exciting finales in the competition’s history.
Currently, nothing is decided. In what must be a first, all three relegation spots could change over the final nine rounds of the campaign; the top four and top six could swap around; and the title race looks set to go right to the wire. There is even some mild peril to be found in who makes a late push out of the middle ground for the Europa Conference League place.
In anticipation of a fascinating six weeks, here’s what to look out for in the Premier League:
Liverpool are still one point behind Manchester City in the title race but they have all the momentum. Jurgen Klopp is now presiding over his best-ever squad; Liverpool have a very deep bench that is helping them squeeze through tight matches and stay fresh, grinding out results like they did during their last title-winning peak.
With the energy of the Anfield crowd behind them, there is a growing sense of inevitability about their rise, helped by the return of Harvey Elliot and the introduction of Luis Diaz, two players ensuring Liverpool are feared by everyone they face.
What’s more, the problems that threatened to emerge for Man City at the beginning of the campaign have come back. The absence of a striker is increasingly seeing City drop points against ruthless defensive opposition, and after Crystal Palace’s recent 0-0 draw Pep Guardiola can expect almost all of their remaining opponents to follow that template.
Finally, the title clash at the Etihad may fall in Liverpool’s favour. Both teams have a Champions League tie either side, but while Klopp’s side face the easiest tie of the lot in Benfica, Man City will be physically and emotionally drained by Atletico Madrid.
For Liverpool supporters, the only thing better than winning the title is winning the title and Everton getting relegated for the first time since 1951. It could be about to happen.
Frank Lampard has so far emulated the tactical model he used at Chelsea – which is to say using a broadly expressive and attacking mentality without any of the required tactical detail to see it through. Once again he presides over a team that is extremely passive, with huge gaps in midfield and defensive holes that should alarm Everton supporters.
Being expansive on the ball, playing out from the back, and headlessly pressing in an individualistic style simply cannot work when confidence is so low in the Everton camp. His team do not have the quality that Chelsea had to paper over the cracks, and indeed all Lampard has really achieved is turn a dreadful Rafael Benitez team into one even more vulnerable to the opposition.
Don’t let the dramatic late winner against Newcastle fool you. Everton can still win another couple of games and go down. They need around 11 points from 11 matches to survive, and given how confused and chaotic they look, doing so seems highly unlikely. Liverpool to win the title and Everton to go down at 9.08/1 is well worth a bet.
Antnio Conte’s short tenure at Tottenham Hotspur has been very up and down so far, but performances are gradually becoming more consistent and self-assured – setting us up for a surprisingly strong finish for Spurs.
Harry Kane is very much back to his best, with seven goals in his last seven league games, and is worth backing to hit 18+ goals at 1.910/11. He can keep firing Spurs towards the top four, maintaining their current form of four wins from five, which has flown under the radar somewhat.
But most important is their relatively easy fixture list compared to their main rival for the top four, Arsenal. Eight of their last ten league matches are against teams in the bottom half of the table, while the Gunners – who have been winning plaudits for narrowly beating smaller clubs recently – must contend with Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham, and Spurs.
There is enough time for Spurs to overturn a three-point deficit to Arsenal. Back them to get fourth at 3.39/4.
Ralf Rangnick has won just three of his last ten matches in all competitions and things will most likely only get worse moving forward. United continue to play without any real direction, looking as though the manager’s tactical instructions are simply being ignored by the majority of a pretty toxic squad.
A slightly fotunate win over Spurs last time out has seen them move above West Ham in the table, but the likelihood is that David Moyes’s side will overtake them again. Man Utd have a tough set of games left and, with the top four moving out of sight, will face the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea with a demotivated squad.
By contrast, West Ham are buoyed by their appearance in the Europa League quarter-final and face a series of relegation candidates or ‘Big Six’ teams in their remaining matches. They are at their best when sitting deep against the big teams or bullying those near the bottom, so it is worth backing Man Utd to finish outside the top six at 4.57/2.
Crystal Palace’s superb performances under Patrick Vieira, who has performed a minor miracle moving Palace away from the stodgy Roy Hodgson football, have been masked by bad luck. They are regularly the better team only to drop points, but recently they have discovered a goalscoring touch – winning four of their last six.
That form should last. According to understat.com, Palace ‘should’ have eight more points this season, while the xPoints table puts them just six points off fourth. As Jean-Philippe Mateta continues to score goals at a decent rate, Palace ought to be able to finish above two of Aston Villa, Leicester City, and Southampton.
Palace have all three of these teams left to play. Keep up their 2022 momentum (Vieira’s side have only lost twice in the league, to Chelsea and Liverpool, since New Year’s Day) and Crystal Palace can finish in the top ten, priced at 2.77/4.