Breaking down the Premier League race

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The 2011-2012 season in England began with Manchester United spotting Manchester City a lead in the Community Shield, only to storm back, assert themselves down the stretch and walk away victorious.

The Premier League campaign is unfolding in a similar manner. 

Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Blackburn Monday capped what could prove to be a decisive week in the race for the Premier League title. With Manchester City battling back just to salvage a 3-3 draw with Sunderland, the Red Devils carry a five-point edge with seven games remaining.

While the focus is on the two Manchester Clubs, races behind them and at the bottom of the table are just as furious with teams jockeying for position either for places in Europe or just to remain in the top flight.

Here's a look at the pressing races as the Premier League season winds down:

THE CHAMPIONSHIP

It's a two-horse race between the Manchesters, with the Red Devils holding a five-point, 76-71 edge atop the standings.

What was supposed to be a rebuilding year has turned into another championship-caliber campaign for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, even though that domestic success did not translate into European competitions. Even so, the club is finding its form at the right time as winners of seven straight league matches. With David de Gea finding his footing in goal, United has conceded just three times in those matches and none in the last four games.

City, meanwhile, has dropped points in three of their last four league matches, opening the door for United to gain some breathing room. The April 30 match between the two rivals at Etihad Stadium figures to be the decider, but City has to make sure it can stay within striking distance before then to give that match true meaning. The club's three games prior to that match are against West Brom, Norwich City and Wolves, so Roberto Mancini's side should be in the clear as long as it can avoid a loss at Arsenal this weekend.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Manchester United

EUROPEAN SPOTS

The Premier League crown is essentially out of reach for everybody else, but the race for the remaining two Premier League spots in the Champions League and the one Europa League spot is a tight battle between four clubs.

Tottenham's recent slide allowed Arsenal to creep up into third place, as the Gunners hold the slimmest of goal-differential edges over Spurs with both sitting on 58 points. Chelsea and Newcastle are five points behind both of the other London clubs, duking it out for the league's final place in Europe.

Chelsea has league matches against Arsenal and Newcastle remaining, and if the Blues — still alive in the Champions League — can take care of business in those battles, then they can certainly salvage what has been an otherwise disappointing domestic year. Tottenham and Arsenal have vastly easier roads over the final seven matches, though, meaning a climb to the Top 4 may be a bit too steep at this juncture.

Don't sleep on Newcastle, either, with the club on a three-match winning streak. Consecutive matches against Chelsea and Manchester City at the beginning of May will be make-or-break for the Magpies, who to their credit have stayed in the mix for the duration of the season.

Everton, 10 points behind Chelsea and Newcastle, is mathematically still alive but would need a minor miracle to make up that deficit while having their competitors sputter along the way.

PREDICTED UCL SPOTS: Tottenham, Arsenal

PREDICTED UEL SPOT: Chelsea

RELEGATION

As it stands, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic and Wolves are in position to bid farewell to the Premier League and head to the League Championship, but Queens Park Rangers, Bolton and Aston Villa aren't out of the woods just yet.

Wolves seems destined for last place, with a 1-10-3 record since the turn of the new year and a six-point climb over three teams to reach safety. 

Spots 18 and 19 are currently occupied by Blackburn and Wigan, who are level on points with 17th-place Queens Park Rangers but trail on goal differential. QPR's schedule to end the season, though, is brutal, with matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea among the final seven games.

Villa, which is five points clear of the drop zone, and Bolton, which is one point clear, are still in danger and must be on their toes, but they each have the luxury of having a game in hand, so their respective margins for error are a bit larger than those of QPR, Blackburn and Wigan.

PREDICTED TO DROP: Wolves, Wigan, QPR

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Who do you see winning the league? Which four do you see making it to next season's Champions League? Who will get relegated?

Share your thoughts below.

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19 Responses to Breaking down the Premier League race

  1. rob says:

    As a point of clarification, Chelsea’s match remaining against Tottenham isn’t an EPL match but FA Cup semi-final. So while a victory there could greatly help salvage the season, it doesn’t really factor in where they will ultimately place in the league, other than perhaps to help generate a little momentum to close the season.

  2. Ivan says:

    It’s a bad indication for the quality of the Premier League when the league has only one team left the 1/4 finals in Europe and the likely champion, Manchester United, got humiliated in Europe by Basel, a team that subsequently lost 0:7 to Bayern Munchen, and then Athletic Bilbao, a mid-table team in the allegedly two-team La Liga…I know the media in the US is obsessed with the Prem, but with the exodus/retirement of Alnos, Bergkamp, Ronaldo, Henry, the league is severely lacking in quality and creativity…long balls and kick-and-run style reign supreme…

  3. Consigliere says:

    I think you are underestimating Villa’s plight. First, that “game in hand” is against Bolton. Relegation 6-pointer there. Second, their run-in sees them (this is not in order) away to Liverpool, Manchester United, and home to Tottenham. They also have Midlands derbies against Stoke and West Bromwich. Martin O’Neil will be making his return to Villa park with Sunderland, and the final game is away to Norwich. Throw in the fact they are managed by a man that has led teams in the last two seasons to a total of 9 wins and so far 1 relegation in the league and they just lost their Captain, who was diagnosed with cancer.

    Chicago, Philly, and Portland may be hosting a Championship club this summer.

  4. Andy says:

    Who do you have 3rd? Spurs or Arsenal? Also, hopefully Bolton stays up with more and more Americans headed over there. Also, it’s a great place to loan players. (Sturridge, Wilshere, and Ryo)

  5. eddie says:

    Man U were no challenge against Athletic Bilbao. Bibao supposedly a mid level team who were much more technical in their ability, showed so much creativity.

  6. Jamie Z. says:

    As a Villa supporter, I tend to agree with you. If I had to guess, I’d say Villa just barely stay up, but I also believe they are in far worse shape than many seem to think. I have no faith in McLeish as a manager, to call the back line “makeshift” would be generous, the midfield is full of inexperienced academy boys, and the strikers…well, the less said about the strikers, the better.

    If not this year, I can see Villa being prime candidates for relegation the next time around unless there are major changes at every level from the top down, including replacing McLeish with someone who can revitalize the team on the pitch and in the locker room. Unfortunately, I just can’t see Lerner doing what needs to be done. In fact, I can see Lerner sticking with McLeish even if Villa do go down, as he has “proven Championship experience.”

  7. divers suck says:

    It’s funny how all the usual candidates at the top of the table are not where the excitement is. The real soccer passion and excitement is the race to stay alive at the bottom with 4 or 5 teams fighting for survival.

  8. Consigliere says:

    I too am a Villa supporter. If you look at the Cleveland Browns and Lerner’s hiring history at Villa (MON was basically in place before he bought the club) you will see he is awful at judging managerial talent on both sides of the Atlantic. I also do not know if he realizes that you don’t get a good draft choice for finishing at the bottom of the table.

    I honestly think they go down this year.

  9. ManicMessiah says:

    Two points on the European spots.

    If Chelsea win the Champions League, only the top 3 spots will get in. Also, if Liverpool win against Everton, they’ll face Chelsea or Spurs, which means 6th place in the league will get a Europa League spot.

  10. K Bone says:

    One bad year in Europe really only indicates that the Premier League had, surprise, one bad year in Europe. If the trend continues, then yes, the quality of the EPL is decreasing. Seriously, United were in the finals last season. Bad years happen. I’m not saying they won’t continue to have bad years, but why don’t we wait and see…

  11. K Bone says:

    What a groundbreaking comment. No one has noticed that three weeks ago…

  12. K Bone says:

    Also, it’s not really that uncommon for teams struggling in their league to do well in tournaments. Schalke made it to the semis on the CL last season, and they were terrible in the league. And look at Liverpool in the FA and Carling Cup, and they suck in the league. Bilbao is doing a great job in the Europa League and are in the final of the Copa Del Rey. Sometimes that happens…

  13. Chupacabra says:

    In other words, you think the table is going to stay exactly where it is right now with the exception of QPR. What illuminating insight!

  14. PD says:

    Olympique Marseille is a great case in point. they’ve been a non factor in Ligue 1 all season and yet lasted until today in CL.

  15. johnnycougar says:

    At least he gives good reasons for it, unlike your pointless comment.

  16. johnnycougar says:

    So which do you like more before the big Manchester Derby? QPR, @Wigan, Aston Villa, Everton; or @Arsenal, West Brom, @Norwich, @Wolves?

    The 1st is United’s schedule, the 2nd is City’s. City’s is pretty clearly harder (though Wigan and Everton have been on a roll lately), especially considering that they play 3 of 4 on the road where they have only won twice since mid-November, 1-0 victories against Villa and Wigan. There is a good chance United will be even farther ahead of City than they are now by the time the Derby rolls around.

  17. marco says:

    I thought City and Mancini were out a while back when I saw Mancini sub in defenders in tie matches. At the same time SAF and United were subbing in more attackers all 90 to get the three.

  18. dgoshilla says:

    What race? 4 teams have won 100% of the championships. Why we continue to pay attention to the EPL makes no sense to me.

  19. Alan says:

    By that logic, no one should pay attention to presidential politics. Only TWO parties have won 100% of the races since 1850 (hello Millard Fillmore!).

    A race between four competitors is still a race.