Premier League final stretch predictions: relegation, MVP, more

The final stretch of the Premier League campaign starts this weekend. From this point on, there are no more international breaks to halt momentum or allow teams to recharge and reset. It is the final stretch to the end, and the next matchday that kicks off this mad dash could prove pivotal for all the teams involved.

This weekend, Man City-Liverpool, Newcastle-Man United, Brighton-Brentford and Crystal Palace-Leicester are all huge fixtures that could have major implications for each team. But with just two months of the season left to run, everything is still to play for.

The title race has come down to Arsenal and Manchester City, while as many as six clubs are battling it out for the final two Champions League spots. There is also the congested battle for European qualification and the relegation fight sees nine teams separated by just four points.

With so much at stake, what can we expect during the final two months of the season?

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The Premier League title race: Arsenal or Man City?

Arsenal have built an eight-point lead at the top with 10 games to play. Reigning champions Manchester City have 11 games remaining, but their hopes of winning a third successive title are likely to rest on the outcome of their clash against the Gunners at the Etihad on April 26. It is a game City must win.

Arsenal have been so formidable this season, winning 22 of their 28 games, that they’ve given themselves margin for error in their pursuit of the title. During their final 10 games, they have two obvious hazards to overcome — the game at Man City on April 26 and a visit to Liverpool on April 9. Fixtures against Newcastle and Chelsea may also carry some danger, but if Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side can avoid defeat at the Etihad and Anfield, they can start to celebrate Arsenal’s first title since 2004.

For Man City to win the title again, they realistically must win all of their final 11 games and hope Arsenal slip up along the way. City’s best run so far this season is their current streak of five successive Premier League wins, so it will be a tall order to win the rest and make it 16 straight victories.

All of that is to say: Arsenal simply need to hold their nerve. If they do, the title should belong to them.

Top four: The race for Champions League places

Manchester United looked set for a third-place finish and Champions League qualification in early January, but a haul of 18 points from their last 10 games has seen Erik ten Hag’s team drop back towards a chasing pack that includes as many as five other clubs.

Sunday’s trip to Newcastle will be hugely significant in the race for the Champions League spots. If Ten Hag’s team win at St James’ Park, they would move six points clear of Eddie Howe’s fifth-placed side and give themselves a buffer zone, but a defeat — combined with Tottenham picking up at least a point at Everton on Monday — would see Man United drop out of the top four instead.

Man United, Spurs and Newcastle are separated by three points and appear the likeliest teams to scrap it out for two spots, but Liverpool, Brighton and Brentford are all seven points adrift of fourth-placed Spurs with games in hand.

Spurs face Man United at home on April 27 in another potentially decisive fixture, but much depends on this Sunday’s game at Newcastle in terms of whether Man United are dragged into the top-four battle or if it becomes a five-way fight for fourth place.

Will we see teams getting a debut in European football?

If semifinal favourites Man City and Man United reach the FA Cup final, the Europa League and Conference League spots will drop down to seventh position in the Premier League, which opens up the prospect of Brighton and/or Brentford qualifying for European competition for the first time.

As it stands, fifth-placed Newcastle and sixth-placed Liverpool would qualify for next season’s Europa League, with seventh-placed Brighton taking the Conference League spot. Brentford, in eighth place, but level on 42 points with Liverpool and Brighton, are also in the shake-up. But if seventh position comes into play for European qualification, Fulham (39 points), Chelsea (38) and Aston Villa (38) would also be contenders for the Conference League berth.

Chelsea could yet qualify for the Champions League by winning the competition — they face holders Real Madrid in the quarterfinals — but a four-point deficit in the league is certainly bridgeable if Graham Potter’s Chelsea can maintain their recent revival.

Qualification for the Conference League is unlikely to be enough to impress Chelsea’s new owners, but salvaging that from a miserable season so far could be enough for Potter to save his job as manager by using it to suggest a corner has been turned.

A relegation battle down to the wire

The fight to avoid relegation is likely to run until the final day of the season and could even go down to the last kick of the campaign due to so many teams being in danger of the drop.

Crystal Palace are in 12th position, but it is anything but mid-table safety for the Eagles, who sacked manager Patrick Vieira before the international break and replaced him with 75-year-old ex-boss Roy Hodgson.

Without a win in any competition in 2023, Palace are now three points above the bottom three and in real danger of sliding into the relegation zone.

Of the eight teams below them, Wolves, Leeds and Everton appear to have enjoyed a bounce under their new managers, Julen Lopetegui, Javi Gracia and Sean Dyche. Those teams have positive momentum.

Nottingham Forest and Leicester have slid towards the bottom three after a run of poor results, while West Ham are now in the relegation zone after winning just once in the league since the turn of the year. Meanwhile Bournemouth and Southampton occupy the bottom two positions, but Southampton are just two points adrift of safety despite being rock bottom.

This weekend sees some huge fixtures in the relegation battle with Palace facing Leicester, Wolves travelling to Forest and West Ham at home to Southampton. If any of those games generates a winner, the three points will be massive.

Haaland’s chase to break more records

Erling Haaland has 11 Premier League games remaining this season to smash even more goal-scoring records.

The Man City forward has already become the fastest player to record three Premier League hat tricks (eight games), and the first to score hat tricks in three successive Premier League games. He was also the first player to hit 20 league goals in the first half of the season.

With 28 goals in 26 Premier League games, he is on course to win the Golden Boot — Tottenham’s Harry Kane is second with 21 goals — but the next target within his grasp is the all-time record for most goals in a Premier League season. Alan Shearer and Andy Cole share the record with 34 goals, each managing it in a 42-game season when the Premier League was a 22-club division, so Haaland is closing in on that milestone.

Can he become the first player to score more than 40 league goals in England’s top division for more than 60 years? English football legend Jimmy Greaves was the last player to manage that when he scored 41 goals for Chelsea in the 1960-61 season.

The Premier League manager-sacking record is close

Ten Premier League managers have lost their jobs this season. If another goes before the final weekend, it will set a new record for managers being sacked in one season.

Right now, West Ham’s David Moyes and Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers appear to be the most likely to become a record-breaker for all the wrong reasons. Chelsea’s Graham Potter might also be vulnerable if his team exit the Champions League against Real Madrid.

Southampton have contributed most to the sacking race by dismissing two bosses in Ralph Hasenhuttl and Nathan Jones, while Bournemouth acted quickest by firing Scott Parker after just four Premier League games.

Will there be one last dismissal or can Moyes, Rodgers and Potter all hang on?

The Player of the Year race is still wide open

Let’s end on a positive note: the 2022-23 season has thrown up a long list of players who deserve to end the campaign as Player of the Year.

By this stage of most seasons, a clear candidate usually leads the pack, but there is no obvious front-runner.

Haaland will be a strong contender because of his goals for City, but if Arsenal win the Premier League, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard could leap ahead of Haaland in the voting.

And what about Marcus Rashford at Manchester United? The England forward has scored 27 goals in all competitions this season and bounced back spectacularly from the worst campaign of his career 12 months ago.

Kane, with 21 Premier League goals and the new record of being England’s all-time leading goal scorer, will also earn votes for his consistency and professionalism. Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope have been crucial to Newcastle’s push for Champions League qualification this season, while Ivan Toney has netted 16 goals to help Brentford chase European qualification for the first time.

Haaland, Saka and Odegaard are the leading contenders, but it’s a wide open race.

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