After consecutive defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal, the hope that Liverpool would make the Champions League had diminished. They sat 7 points behind Manchester City, the Citizens in 4th, and Pellegrini’s men still hadn’t travelled to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace. Since then, though, their fate has been as good as can be.
Manchester City surrendered to 2 of the most in form teams in the EPL (Crystal Palace is 4th in form, Manchester United is 2nd) and Liverpool reduced the gap to 4 points with a routine win against Newcastle (20th in form). City doesn’t have the most challenging schedule remaining on paper, with a trip to White Hart Lane seemingly the toughest match they have left, while Liverpool still has to travel to Stamford Bridge.
The key to remember is that City does not have momentum, and they are the same distance away from Liverpool as they now are to Manchester United in 3rd (4 points). While United and Arsenal won’t hesitate about each other before looking up at Chelsea, Manchester City doesn’t have that opportunity to take risks anymore. The problem is that the City we all know and respect is the team that pushes for goals and risks until the 90th minute. To be honest, they don’t know it any other way and most other teams in their run of form would be shutting up shop at Old Trafford. Before we conclude and say they are falling out of the Champions League, we should take a closer look at the fixtures.
The Run In:
Manchester City will host West Ham, Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton and visit Tottenham and Swansea. The latter three matches are definitely the hardest matches to play there, while Queens Park Rangers away from home is literally THE worst team (split home and away) in the EPL. West Ham has had a phenomenal year, but they are on a down turn. I can comfortably say that even out of form City can win these 2 games and get 6 points. Tim Sherwood’s Villa team can hurt their defence on counters and City will struggle the same way they did against Crystal Palace. As for the other matches, Southampton looks just as poor as City but their defence is strong, so they’re tough to beat. Tottenham is weak in the exact same area as City (defence!), except their defence is in extremely poor form so City should pick up 3 points if they can keep Harry Kane quiet. Swansea is in great form, and likely to beat City. I can safely say, though, that City can get 10 or 11 points from the other 5 matches.
Liverpool, meanwhile, has to play West Brom, Aston Villa and Hull away from home. They will, just like City, host QPR, and they will also host Crystal Palace. That doesn’t mention trips to Stamford Bridge and the Britannia Stadium to play Chelsea and Stoke City (respectively). Liverpool will ultimately find wins away to West Brom, Aston Villa, Hull and will destroy QPR at home. History dictates they’ll draw Crystal Palace, which seems accurate considering Alan Pardew’s side is playing superbly. They will really be pushed against Chelsea and Stoke, so we’ll say they take 1 point from those 6.
There’s a wild-card that I haven’t mentioned until this point: Southampton. The Saints making it in would be a Cinderella story, as they still have to play Stoke, Tottenham and Manchester City. They also don’t have the same big team ability to get routine wins. This leads me to think they will struggle against Aston Villa, though they should still beat Leicester and Sunderland. Southampton will fight out 3 points from Villa and should win one of the other 3 matches, leading me to believe they should get at least 12 from the last 18. They currently trail City by 5 and Liverpool by 1.
Assuming this comes somewhat true, Southampton will take 12 points, City will take 11 too and Liverpool will take 14. This leaves Liverpool one point behind City. So, as the classic prophecy goes, either Liverpool will have to win at Stoke, Chelsea or Crystal Palace, or two of Southampton, Swansea and Aston Villa have to beat Manchester City.
When Arsenal comfortably dispatched Liverpool at the Emirates, we thought the “rat race” (as per Louis Van Gaal), much like the title race, was over. Once again, the tale has taken a twist, and if City doesn’t pull themselves together, Brendan Rodgers may have one last chance to make it right this season.