Sunday’s Premier League results have left this season’s Premier League title race open for all of the top four teams. Arsenal’s win at home to Leicester sees them move two points behind the leaders, whilst Spurs’ triumph at Manchester City sees them ahead of their North London rivals on goal difference, with City a further four points back.
With the situation as tight as it is, it’s time to look ahead to the final 12 games to see who has what it takes to survive the run-in and be crowned champions of England.
Leicester, 1st, 53 points
Leicester have defied belief by staying top of the table for this amount of time. Many expected the underdogs to simply fall away as we reached the new year, however their recent 3-1 demolition of Manchester City showed that they are genuine title contenders. The Foxes have arguably the easiest run-in of the four contenders, only having to face 3 of the current top 8, plus a trip to Chelsea. Being knocked out of the FA Cup means that Leicester’s 12 remaining league games are the only ones that they have to play, meaning more rest in the hectic Easter period and during the run-in.
Added to this, 7 out of their remaining 12 games are at home, more than any of the other contenders. However this may not be beneficial for their counter-attacking style, and it could see them struggle against teams that sit deep and let them have possession.
Much has been made of Leicester’s final three games, trips to Manchester United and Chelsea either side of hosting Everton. Despite claiming 7 points from the reverse fixtures, this tough end to the season could see them give up their lead.
Tottenham, 2nd, 51 points
Due to Leicester’s success, Tottenham’s progression has gone largely under the radar this season. Maurico Pochettino has cleared out a lot of the deadwood and replaced it with a hard-working core of young players. The key to Spurs’ success this year is that their squad contains no real superstars, no player that could walk in to a Champions League team, but instead they work hard for each other.
Spurs have five of the top 8 still to play, whilst also visiting Chelsea, so have the toughest run-in of the title contenders. They will also be facing Newcastle on the final day, which should be a guaranteed win, despite the Tynesiders potentially needing the points to avoid relegation. Tottenham have conceded the least goals this season, and their goal difference of +27 betters Manchester City’s +20, Leicester’s +19 and Arsenal’s +18. However, they will be sweating on the return of Jan Vertonghen after his recent injury. Although Kevin Wimmer has performed well in his absense, Vertonghen is one of the few Spurs players to have won a domestic title before, so his experience could prove vital.
A potential dent in Spurs’ title hopes is that they could potentially still have 27 games to play this season, according to Sky Sports. Whether the added Europa League and FA Cup fixtures will tire a relatively thin squad or boost the team’s morale by picking up win after win remains to be seen. Pochettino may attempt to solve this by rotating in the cup competitions, but he should be prepared to justify himself should that not lead to Spurs winning the league.
Arsenal, 3rd, 51 points
Arsenal’s win against Leicester has brought the Gunners within two points of the Foxes, and arguably in to the strongest position to win the title. The squad is more experienced than either Leicester’s or Tottenham’s, with World Cup winners Mertesacker and Ozil, as well as title winners Sanchez, Welbeck, Cech and Giroud. Arsenal seem to have shaken the stigma of being ‘bottlers’, winning consecutive FA Cups, so it is really time for them to win their first title since 2004.
Arsenal only have to face four of the current top 8 sides, however all four of those are away from home. Having taken only two wins from those reverse fixtures will be a concern for Arsenal fans, however they have taken the most points from games against the other top four teams with 10. The Gunners’ strikers will have plenty of ammunition, with Mesut Ozil having created the most chances (106), the most clear-cut chances (23), and the most assists (17) in the league so far this season.
Arsenal’s last five games seem especially favourable, as they face Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, before a trip to the Etihad and hosting Aston Villa on the final day. With this in mind, should the title not be sewn up by the middle of April, Arsenal should be the favourites. It is also unlikely that they will have to worry about European games, as they face the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona in the Round of 16. A hammering in the Champions League could damage morale, however it didn’t seem too evident in the draw at home to Tottenham after the 5-1 loss to Bayern earlier this season.
Manchester City, 4th, 47 points
Manchester City’s late loss at home to Tottenham sees them sit in fourth, six points behind Leicester. City are no strangers to trailing in the league, with their previous title wins coming from a 7 and a 8 point deficit. However, this year’s side looks different. Manuel Pellegrini’s departure seems to have some players already on their holidays, with only a win at Sunderland to show for in the three games since the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take charge in the summer.
City haven’t been bad at either end of the pitch, but the midfield seems the problem as it comes to the business end of the season. Joe Hart has kept 11 clean sheets, one behind league leader Cech whilst Vincent Kompany is returning to full fitness, with City having kept 7 clean sheets in the 9 games that he has played. At the other end, Sergio Aguero’s 14 goals see him joint fifth in the scoring charts, despite only playing in 19 games. But Kevin De Bruyne’s absence in midfield has been felt, especially with Yaya Toure playing as if he knows that he will not be at the club next season. David Silva has 8 assists, but neither he, nor Toure, or even Raheem Sterling have chipped in with enough goals. The centre midfield duo that started the game against Tottenham, Fernando and Fernandinho, shows the lack of genuine quality in midfield that stops City from becoming a powerhouse.
With Dynamo Kiev in the next round of the Champions League, it can be expected that City will have to negotiate at least four extra games on top of the League, the FA Cup and the Captial One Cup Final. In the league they face four top 8 opponents, as well as a trip to Chelsea. Fortunately, they only have 5 home games left this season, as four of their 7 defeats have come at the Etihad this season, more than in Pellegrini’s previous two seasons combined (3). They face trips to Manchester United and Southampton in their final five matches, as well as hosting Arsenal, so if Manchester City are to recreate the highs of 2011 and 2014, they will have to do it the hard way. It is worth noting that City have the poorest record against the other top four sides, amassing only one point so far.