Premier League Title Watch: Evaluating the contenders (Matchweek 28)
With Matchweek 28 in the books, the race at the top of the Premier League table is as tight as it gets.
Chelsea currently sits atop the pile but with only four points of wiggle room ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal, and with a six point spot on Manchester City (qualified by Manuel Pellegrini’s side holding two matches in hand), Premier League fans are gearing themselves up for a title chase primed to end on the final day of the season.
Can Chelsea hold their edge or can City draw even after playing out their two additional matches? Or does Liverpool or Arsenal have what it takes to make a storybook run to upset the title odds?
Schedule, form, other competitions and injuries will all play a role in determining the champion and below we review what each of the title favorites is looking at with just 10 weeks to go.
1. CHELSEA 63 PTS (28 PLD)
Remaining Matches (10): Tottenham (H); Aston Villa (A); Arsenal (H); Crystal Palace (A); Stoke City (H); Swansea City (A); Sunderland (H); Liverpool (A); Norwich City (H); Cardiff City (A)
League Form: DWWDWW
Other Competitions: Champions League (v. Galatasaray on March 18th)
Injuries (return date): Marco van Ginkle, knee (out for season)
Vegas odds to win: 11/10
Verdict: If Chelsea and Manchester City win all of their remaining Premier League matches, City is most likely to hoist the title given their current goal differential advantage of +12. But that’s a huge ‘if’ so don’t believe Jose Mourinho when he downplays his side’s chances.
The fact is that Chelsea have a far easier end to their season, facing only three clubs currently in the Top 10 (Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool) while City face six such clubs (Manchester United, Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool, Everton, West Ham).
The Blues are further boosted by the facts that they are practically unencumbered by injury and that, unlike Pellegrini, Mourinho has already won two Premier League titles and knows exactly what it takes to get it done during the final stretch of the season.
For those reasons, they remain slight favorites.
2. LIVERPOOL 59 PTS (28 PLD)
Remaining Matches (10): Manchester United (A); Cardiff City (A); Sunderland (H); Tottenham (H); West Ham United (A); Manchester City (H); Norwich City (A); Chelsea (H); Crystal Palace (A); Newcastle United (H)
League Form: WDWWWW
Other Competitions: None
Injuries (return date): Lucas Leiva, knee (March 16th); Mamadou Sakho, hamstring (March 16th); Jose Enrique, knee (out for season)
Vegas odds to win: 9/2
Verdict: Mentally and psychologically, Liverpool couldn’t be in a better place in this title race. Their goal was to qualify for Champions League and that’s all but done and dusted. Everything else is gravy and with a favorable end-of-the-year schedule, why the heck wouldn’t you take a chance on 9/2 odds?
3. ARSENAL 59 PTS (28 PLD)
Remaining Matches (10): Swansea City (H); Tottenham Hotspur (A); Chelsea (A); Manchester City (H); Everton (A); West Ham United (H); Hull City (A); Newcastle United (H); West Bromwich Albion (H); Norwich City (A)
League Form: DWLDWL
Other Competitions: FA Cup (v. Everton on March 8th); Champions League (v. Bayern Munich on March 11th)
Injuries (return date): Nacho Monreal, ankle (March 8th); Aaron Ramsey, thigh (March 16th); Theo Walcott, knee (out for season); Abou Diaby, knee (out for season); Kim Kallstrom, back (no return date)
Other Competitions: Champions League (v. Bayern Munich on March 11th); FA Cup (v. Everton on March 8th)
Vegas odds to win: 16/1
Verdict: As reflected by their long-shot odds of 16/1, Arsenal are all but out of the title race. Their fate was semi-sealed in this weekend’s 0-1 loss at Stoke City, a result that, to be fair, could’ve happened to any other club. That’s what will keep the hopes of Gunners fans alive.
The reality is that Arsenal need to win a title and as they’re behind the Munich 8-ball in Champions League, expect Arsene Wenger’s side to focus on the FA Cup. Hoisting that title and securing Champions League for next season would mark a great achievement for a side hampered by injuries and short a striker to spell the overused likes of Olivier Giroud.
4. MANCHESTER CITY 57 PTS (26 PLD)
Remaining Matches (12): Sunderland (PPD, H); Aston Villa (PPD, H); Hull City (A); Fulham (H); Manchester United (A); Arsenal (A); Southampton (H); Liverpool (A); West Bromwich Albion (H); Crystal Palace (A); Everton (A); West Ham United (H)
League Form: WWWLDW
Other Competitions: FA Cup (v. Wigan on March 9th); Champions League (v. Barcelona on March 12th)
Injuries (return date): Stevan Jovetic, hamstring (no return date); Matija Nastasic, knee (no return date)
Vegas odds to win: 3/2
Verdict: City have a slightly harder road to the title than Chelsea but as Mourinho pointed out earlier today, City have two games in hand and the goal advantage. But six matches against Top 10 clubs won’t be easy, not to mention they have their eyes on taking down the FA Cup as well.
Losing Jovetic and Natasic make things difficult but not impossible, while bowing out in Champions League could be a blessing in disguise. Ultimately, City’s Premier League title fate will come down to just how clever Pellegrini can be in rotating his squad and keeping them focused through May 11th.