Apr 032017
 

On paper Liverpool have the easier run in in the race for the top four, but will they be able to capitalise on a favourable set of fixtures?

Man United dropped points, Man City dropped points, Arsenal dropped points, and even Chelsea stumbled in the face of Crystal Palace’s excellent new defensive signing, Mamadou Sakho.

Conte’s side’s lead at the top has been cut to seven points, but are still widely considered to be champions elect.

But anything could happen when it comes to the five clubs below them, and which three of this quintet will finish along with Chelsea in the top four.

Thanks to the fixture list some of these sides are sure to drop more points as the season comes to a close.

There are games in hand, domestic and European cups to contend with, but games between Liverpool’s four rivals for the Champions League spots are the biggest advantage for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Just four points separate Spurs in second, from Man City fourth, while Arsenal sit 7 points off the top four but with two games in hand on Liverpool and one on City.

It promises to be an exciting run-in which will be gruelling for all teams involved, one way or another, but who will have the endurance and quality required to see it through?

Easy Run In, Or Potential Banana Skins?

Liverpool aside, every other team in the top six have to play another top six team on at least two occasions.

Man United have a tough run-in with games against Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, and Spurs still to come, while they also have to play Everton who’ll be looking to bounce back from their Merseyside derby misery.

As shown in the table below there are plenty of games where Liverpool’s rivals face off against each other which means some of them are guaranteed to drop points between now and the end of the season.

Liverpool Spurs Man City Man United Arsenal
Bournemouth (H) Swansea (A) Chelsea (A) Everton (H) West Ham (H)
Stoke (A) Watford (H) Hull (H) Sunderland (A) Palace (A)
West Brom (A) Bournemouth (H) Southampton (A) Chelsea (H) Boro (A)
Palace (H) FA Cup FA Cup Burnley (A) FA Cup
Palace (A) Man United (H) Man City (A) Leicester (H)
Watford (A) Arsenal (H) Boro (A) Swansea (H) Spurs (A)
Southampton (H) West Ham (A) Palace (H) Arsenal (A) Man United (H)
West Ham (A) Man United (H) Leicester (H) Spurs (A) Stoke (A)
Boro (H) Hull City (A) Watford (A) Palace (H) Everton (H)
Leicester (A) West Brom (H) Southampton (A) Southampton (A)
Sunderland (H)

The extra games hadn’t been arranged at the time of writing, and are indicated in italics at the bottom of each list.

Though they all have at least one game in hand on the Reds, with Arsenal and United having two to make up, this benefit they have is more than cancelled out by the games between the rest of the top five.

Liverpool’s run in looks easier on paper, but these are exactly the type of games which have proved to be stumbling blocks to the Reds in the past.

Cups and Sorcerers

Arsenal, City, Spurs and United all have cup competitions to contend with on top of their league games, and in the case of those still involved in the FA Cup, it’s disrupting their fixture schedule.

Arsenal already had a game to make up against Southampton do to the Saints’ involvement in the League Cup.

Due to their progress to the FA Cup semi-final the Gunners have also been forced to postpone their game against Sunderland which they were due to play that weekend.

Man United also have to play Southampton, but Jose Mourinho’s side don’t have the FA Cup weekend disrupting their league fixtures as Arsenal do.

While this means Arsenal and United have more games in hand than the sides around them, converting these to points on the board could prove difficult in their respective packed schedules.

Arsene Wenger’s side have been typically erratic, and while they normally recover from any setbacks or bad runs of form to take their usual place in the top four, this season is looking like their biggest challenge yet.

Arsenal’s best player, Alexis Sanchez, appears aloof and restless as he seeks a way out of the club, but he’s still the player most likely to make things happen. The Chilean’s natural desire and will to win is sometimes mistaken for a tantrum when things don’t go his way.

If Wenger is to magically make the top four and, even more miraculously, keep his job at the end of the season, then he’ll need Sanchez on the field, but the other top four contenders might be encouraged by the saga.

Man United, meanwhile, have a whole different scenario to contend with. They’ll still play their Premier League fixtures on the same weekends as everyone else, but their Europa League quarter-final tie against Anderlecht means they’ll also have midweek games.

If they progress they’ll then have a two-legged semi-final to play in May, and they’re a side who are already suffering with injuries, especially in defence.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will return from his suspension to take part in the last ten league games, and he’ll be as important for United as Sanchez could be for Arsenal.

City and Spurs look to be in the best position to clinch a Champions League spot. Mauricio Pochettino’s side are the only team other than Chelsea to have broken the 60-point barrier, and there are whispers from some quarters that they could still catch the league leaders.

Guardiola’s City are in a similar boat to Liverpool. They can be scintillating in attack, but are susceptible to counter-attacks, defensive errors, and the occasional off day.

It could turn into a battle of the each side’s impressive three-pronged attacks, as Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero, and Raheem Sterling face off against Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane Divock Origi.

A lot could hinge on the effectiveness of Origi in Mane’s absence, but Klopp will be hoping that he can also shore up the defence and not have to rely so much in his attack scoring more than one goal in order to win every game.

Liverpool are where they are largely because of their attack — which is the most potent in the league — but they might need their defence to step up in order to cross the finish line, and achieve their aim of finishing in the top four.

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