Premier League top six set for thrilling finish

18 Have your say

    Everything has changed in the last few days, as the English Premier League’s top six teams look set for one of the best season finishes in living memory.

    Sure, the race for the title itself is well and truly down to two horses. But they could be Dunaden and Red Cadeaux, so closely are they tied in their exhausted slog down the home straight.

    Manchester City’s dramatic 1-0 defeat of Manchester United on the weekend has left the sides on 83 points apiece with two games to play.

    After two months playing second fiddle, City are suddenly top of the table again, the small matter of goal difference putting them in prime position for a drought-breaking Premiership win.

    City had earlier spent 20 matches in first spot, losing just three, before a run of one win in five matches surrendered the lead to United.

    Now, they’ve won four in a row, scoring 13 goals and conceding one. Crucially, aside from the points, the run has also taken their goal difference a comfortable eight goals clear.

    United have lost only five times this year, but two of those in their last four matches, coupled with Everton’s desperately late goals to snatch that extraordinary 4-4 draw, has been enough to see them slip to second.

    From here, United has Swansea and Sunderland, strong mid-table contenders at 11th and 12th. City has the tougher task in quelling Newcastle, followed by a relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers side that conceded six goals to Chelsea last start, but beat Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Swansea in seven matches before that.

    On the face of it, fifth versus sixth shouldn’t be enough to shape a table, but it could well be the case tonight, Australian time, when Newcastle take on Chelsea.

    The gap from second to third may stand at 17 points, but there’s plenty going on in the pack adrift of the ladder leaders.

    At present, Arsenal sit third with 66 points, Tottenham and Newcastle fourth and fifth with 62. While still sixth, Chelsea’s late-season resurgence sees them lurking one point behind those two, with a superior goal difference to both.

    Arsenal should hold its spot, with a home game against a modest Norwich followed by a trip to West Brom, though the Baggies are now 10th and have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool, and Newcastle this season.

    But late-season panic is a factor. Crucially, the three lower teams have three games left to play, while Arsenal has only two.

    Which is where tonight’s game comes in. A win for either Newcastle or Chelsea will push them to fourth, either one or two points adrift of a club that still has moments of fragility.

    So closely balanced is the table that had Chelsea snagged a goal against Arsenal the previous weekend, they would now sit fourth, looking to a win over Newcastle to displace Arsenal in third.

    A draw between their rivals would suit Arsenal, but still push Tottenham from fourth to sixth. Tottenham’s fate is in their own hands, and the equation is simple. They must match the efforts of Newcastle and Chelsea over the remaining three rounds, in winnable games against Bolton, Aston Villa, and Fulham.

    Their Bolton match starts not long after that of their top-six rivals, so if they can win, any demotion would be fleeting. But two more wins will need to follow.

    If Newcastle lose tonight, their hopes are gone. Their final two matches are against Manchester City and seventh-placed Everton, by far the toughest run-in.

    Liverpool have underwhelmed this season, but could prove Chelsea heart-breakers again. The modern rivals face off twice in four days starting this weekend, in the FA Cup final and then the league. Chelsea’s final league game is against likely relegation victims Blackburn.

    There is a lot at stake for all these teams. Fourth place, of course, gives entry to the Champions League, with its lucrative pay-days for club owners, its invaluable television coverage, its appeal to top-line players, and its undeniable prestige. The bright lights are alluring to all.

    Tottenham had cruised comfortably in third place for 18 matches, before one win in nine games saw them drop abruptly to fifth. Their win against Blackburn last weekend lifted them back to fourth on goal difference. For them to surrender their hard-fought campaign in what has been a breakthrough year would be devastating.

    Newcastle, too have had a season of coming good, after so many struggles in the past. They’ve just won six in a row to surge into the top four as a genuine contender for the first time in many years, before their aimless loss to Wigan last start cost them an invaluable three points.

    As for Chelsea, Roman Abramovich’s thirst for European football is well documented. His side have a terrific chance to ensure their place by winning this year’s final, which if they did finish outside the top four at home, would cost the fourth-placed club its spot.

    But that certainly can’t be taken for granted when the opponent is a strong and confident Bayern Munich, and the draw is so unfortunate as to stage the final on German soil. A top-four finish at home would ease that element of pressure leading into the final.

    The fact that Chelsea are still in contention for either is remarkable. By early March, their season looked utterly shot. They’d just lost 3-1 in the Champions League away leg against Napoli, drew 1-1 in the FA Cup against Championship side Birmingham, and lost in the league 1-0 against West Brom.

    The arrival of caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo saw a dramatic upswing. On March 6 Chelsea beat Birmingham in the FA Cup replay, edged Stoke in the league, then overturned Napoli’s European advantage in a remarkable 4-1 home triumph sealed in extra time.

    From there they’ve proved unstoppable in cup competitions. Successive five-goal FA Cup scores brushed aside Leicester City and Tottenham, while they also won through their four Champions League ties; two matches against Benfica and two against the might of Barcelona.

    Their league campaign has stabilised, but hasn’t afforded quite the same momentum, with the seven matches since that momentous Napoli win beginning with a tough 2-1 away loss to Manchester City. A draw and two wins followed, before two more draws saw Chelsea drop to sixth as Newcastle surged.

    But as Newcastle fans know only too well, a surge doesn’t take you home. Only a sustained performance can. As to who can deliver that performance, we can only tune in tonight to see.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

    Do you find yourself logged out of The Roar?
    We have just switched over to a secure site (https). This means you will need to log-in afresh. If you need help with recovering your password, please get in contact.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (18)

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 8:19am
      Tangles said | May 2nd 2012 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Small fact issue – Chelsea didn’t win all 4 CL games, the away leg with barca was 2-2..
      Good story tho’..

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2012 @ 9:22am
        Geoff Lemon said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Well, it felt like a win… I may have got carried away. Noted.

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:53am
      Mals said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Geoff, I’m a Chelsea fan so I’m stoked with their recent run of good form & glad to see Torres playing with confidence. Both Chelsea & Bayern will be missing a number of players for the CL final, how do you see the game playing out?

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2012 @ 1:52pm
        Geoff Lemon said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        Great home form for Bayern this season, Mals, and they’ll be tough, but I think that the Barca and Real semi-finals both showed that home grounds don’t mean so much when the anxiety of really big games takes over.

        Bayern will start favourites, and rightly so – their attacking power is immense, with Gomez, Robben, and Ribery. But Robben is a temperamental character, known to moments of hubris, and it remains to be seen whether his fall-out with Ribery has any effect. In any case, Chelsea faced an even richer attacking side in Barca, and made them struggle to find a way through.

        Both sides have some weaknesses at the back, and will have slightly makeshift backlines. Terry is gone, Cahill and Luiz may struggle for fitness; Lahm may have to play out of position, Badstuber and Alaba will be missing for Bayern. Chelsea’s attack is working well at present, with Drogba confident as top dog again, Torres finding form, and Lampard producing quality through-balls to link up. I think perhaps even more than Terry, Chelsea will miss Ramires, who has been the spark so often this season.

        I’d expect cautious tactics, as in so many finals, but Chelsea will be even more than usual, looking to their tactics against Barca, though I think they’ll be slightly more expansive than that game. For the most part though, they’ll look to first nullify the attacking trio for Bayern, to frustrate them, and then try to use the power and one-on-one skill of Drogba and Torres on the counter. Bayern will probably have more of the ball and be more inclined to set up play.

        The odds say Bayern, but the gut says you can’t write off Chelsea, after all their Champs League disappointments so far.

        • May 2nd 2012 @ 8:14pm
          Colin N said | May 2nd 2012 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

          Ramires will be a miss, but Sturridge has been one of Chelsea’s best players this season, yet has hardly played under Di Matteo.

          What’s even more frustrating is that Kalou has been favoured over him, yet has shown nothing in particular which merits his inclusion over Sturridge.

          Kalou played and scored against Benfica, but otherwise did nothing of note. Sturridge came on for 10 minutes and created far more opportunities.

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 10:13am
      Matt F said | May 2nd 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      It’s certainly leading to a grandstand finish. I’m guttd that we (Newcastle) got hammered by Wigan. I always expected it to be a very tough match given their form of late but 4-0 was a bit much! I’m worried that our momentum has been compeltely eroded now. It’s a must win for us tomorrow morning against Chelsea and given how the two teams played over the weekend it’s difficult to look past Chelsea sadly. However there have been plenty of unpredictable results so far this season so we’ll wait and see!. Even a point will realistically kill off any Top 4 chance given our run home. That being said it’s still been a fantastic season for us.

      It’s been a very funny last 24 hours with the amount of Man U supporting mates suddenly becoming Newcastle supporters. I didn’t realise we were so popular in Australia 🙂

      I can see Tottenham getting 4th spot. They’ve got the easiest draw and it’s in their hands now. Newcastle have an awful run home and Chelsea have a tough, and crowded run home as well when you include the FA Cup final. If this happens it’s going to be a very nervous week for Spurs supporters leading up to the CL final!

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2012 @ 1:15pm
        Geoff Lemon said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        Yes Matt, it would be agonising for Spurs to do the work to finish fourth and then see it taken away by the most unlikely of Champions League victories to Chelsea. Tottenham have the draw, but their recent form has been so dire it could go either way.

        As for the Newcastle match, the weekend does say Chelsea, but they’ve specialised in dropping games they should have won this season, so I’d take nothing for granted. They’d still need another win against City or Everton though, or draws against both, if Chelsea win their last two.

        • May 2nd 2012 @ 1:51pm
          Matt F said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

          I’m certainly not writing us off. We beat Man United 3-0 at home earlier this season so at our best we’re a chance of beating Chelsea, however Chelsea’s confidence is absolutely soaring right now. It’s a proverbial 6 point game

          • May 2nd 2012 @ 8:26pm
            Colin N said | May 2nd 2012 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

            Tonight might play in Newcastle’s favour. They showed against West Brom they’re a very good counter-attacking team.

            Versus Wigan, they probably felt they had to take the initiative and were duly punished, although their defensive display reminded me of Newcastle of old. Even when Newcastle were successful under the legendary Sir Bobby, they weren’t averse to shocking defensive errors!!

            What’s great this season, though, is the emergence of Newcastle and to some extent, Tottenham. For me, Spurs have underperformed as I feel that they have a better side on paper than Arsenal

            • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:26pm
              Matt F said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:26pm | ! Report

              Possibly. We also showed our counter-attacking qualities against Swansea. We certainly struggled to break down Bolton when we played them on Easter Monday. They came in with an defensive mindset and we struggled, despite eventually getting over the line. That being said we only conceded one goal during our 6 game winning streak, so to concede 4 in one game was a bit unexpected!

              • May 3rd 2012 @ 6:53am
                Matt F said | May 3rd 2012 @ 6:53am | ! Report

                I’ll never doubt Newcastle again! CISSE!!

              • May 3rd 2012 @ 9:33am
                Colin N said | May 3rd 2012 @ 9:33am | ! Report

                Ha! When that second goal went in I had a Gary Neville-style goalgasm!

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 10:15am
      totti said | May 2nd 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      no cricket on geoff?

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2012 @ 1:15pm
        Geoff Lemon said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        Got to fill in the hours, totti 🙂

    • Roar Rookie

      May 2nd 2012 @ 1:12pm
      afishcalledyoussuf said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

      So disappointing from Liverpool – need to bounce back with a decent creative signing:

      LIke these guys

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2012 @ 1:16pm
        Geoff Lemon said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

        Been enjoying your EPL wraps, Fish. Keep them coming.

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 3:09pm
      Savvas Tzionis said | May 2nd 2012 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    , , , , , , ,