For all but Chelsea and Leicester just 10 Premier League games remain to define the season and the battle to make the Champions League places is extremely fierce. Joe Dyer looks at the contenders…
With Chelsea having a game in hand to complement their five-point advantage it’s very hard to argue with their status as champions-elect or their odds of 1.152/13 to lift the trophy in May. The Blues are the most reliable outfit in the league and are the only team who deserve to finish top going on what we have seen so far.
Immediately below them, however, a battle royale is on to land the three remaining Champions League spots. Odds of 1.041/25 and 1.251/4 suggest Manchester City and Arsenal are near certainties to be playing in Europe’s premier club competition next year while the market struggles to separate 2.0621/20 Manchester United and 2.1411/10 Liverpool for the other spot.
And neither Mauricio Pochettino’s never-say-die Spurs (6.411/2) or Ronald Koeman’s faltering Southampton (8.8]) have been written off quite yet.
Here is our guide to the six teams chasing those three places.
P 28 – 58pts
Top Four Finish odds 1.041/25
Last six game form – DDWWLW (11pts)
The run-in (five home, five away)
@ Crystal Palace
@ Man Utd
Verdict: City have the cushion to ensure they’ll get home safely but the very short price is for the layers only. It’s been a largely disappointing season for the reigning champions and news stories concerning Manuel Pellegrini’s future are rife. All that rumour and uncertainty will not help during the run-in which, unlike most of their rivals, is an equal balance of five home and five away games. The fixtures at The Etihad look pretty straightforward and while road trips to United, Spurs and Swansea are tricky there’s not enough in the ten remaining games to convince us they’re going to falter. That said, each pound you lay is just a 4p liability so a City implosion is hardly going to break the bank.
P28 – 54pts
Top Four Finish odds 1.241/4
Last six game form – WLWWWW (15pts)
The run-in (six home, four away)
@ Man Utd
Verdict: All told, it’s been another unconvincing season for Arsene Wenger’s perennially disappointing outfit. There’s so much class throughout the side, especially in the midfield and attack, but the Gunners have come unstuck too often to contend right at the top, which is where they arguably should be doing their business. Once again, however, they look to be doing enough to achieve another top four finish with recent form second only to Liverpool. Six of Arsenal’s last 10 are at The Emirates, and the away games aren’t particularly scary, although the penultimate game of the season at Old Trafford could be very interesting!
P28 – 53pts
Top Four Finish odds 2.0621/20
Last six game form – WDWLWW
The run-in (six home, four away)
Verdict: For all the anger being directed at Louis van Gaal, United are still in control of their top four destiny and it is a huge advantage that six of their last games are at home. United’s record at Old Trafford is ultra-strong – their 11 wins matched only by Chelsea. That said, their run-in is the toughest of all the Champions League chasers. Spurs visit next weekend, then it’s Liverpool at Anfield; April brings the Manchester derby then a trip to Stamford Bridge. Any lost ground could be made up in the final five, although that mid-May date with Arsenal could be make or break.
P 28 – 51pts
Top Four Finish odds 2.1411/10
Last six game form – WDWWWW (16pts)
The run-in (four at home, six away)
@ West Brom
Verdict: The league’s most in-from side have not been beaten in the top-flight since a visit to Old Trafford in mid-December but they can’t afford to slack off at all if they are to again finish in the top four. Unlike United and Arsenal the majority of Liverpool’s games come on the road and the next three could see a first Premier League loss in three months with a trip to the ever dangerous Swansea followed by the visit of United then a trip to Arsenal. For that reason it may pay to hold off backing them in Betfair’s Top Four Finish market until that run is over. If you’re convinced Brendan Rodgers has cracked it with this Liverpool team take the 2.1411/10 now.
P 28 – 50pts
Top Four Finish odds 6.411/2
Last six game form – WWLDWW
The run-in (four home, six away)
@ Man Utd
Verdict: Odds of 6.411/2 make Spurs the most attractive option for those who prefer to bet at bigger prices but are highly representative of the north London side’s top four chances, which are sporting at best. In their favour is a good away record and the form of genuine Golden Boot contender, Harry Kane. For all Kane’s goals, however, Tottenham possess a worryingly leaky backline that fails to convince (just six clean sheets in the Premier League so far). Like their rivals, Tottenham are capable of putting strong runs together and the fixture list looks kind. Next Sunday’s game at Old Trafford is, of course, huge. Win or draw and Spurs are right in the fight but a loss will see their Top Four odds double.
P 28 – 49pts
Top Four Finish odds 8.88/1
Last six game form – LWDLLW (7pts)
The run-in (home, away)
@ Man City
Verdict: Backed at a low of 1.635/8 Saints are now out to near double figures after a run of three defeats in their last six dropped them down to seventh. Next up is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge so there’s every chance that Ronald Koeman’s side will be well adrift of the leading quartet following that match. It’s a good sign that, while results have gone against them in recent weeks, Saints have not been getting destroyed and they remain a very effective defensive unit. A resurgence in Graziano Pelle‘s form would be very welcome.