We are now moving into the business end of the season, what Sir Alex Ferguson referred to as “squeaky bum time”, and while Chelsea have run away with the title there is all to play for at both ends of the table. Seven teams are locked in the most fascinating relegation battle we have seen in years, while another five teams are slogging it out for the remaining three Champions League places. Things are balanced on a knife-edge and it is shaping up to be a thrilling final quarter of the season.
Race for the top four
Man City, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd all harbour hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, along with Chelsea. But only three of them can make it (unless Man Utd win the Europa League and qualify that way, which could increase the quota). The bookmakers are having a field day as the odds constantly shift along with the various teams’ form, and many are offering free bets to win customers at this competitive time of year. Chelsea are 1/1000 to make it, so you can rule them out. The bookies think City and Tottenham will join them, as the odds on them are just 1/6 and 3/10 respectively. City and Tottenham are second and third, and the bookmakers see Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool fighting it out for fourth. Currently Arsenal and Man Utd are both even money, with Liverpool out at 11/10, so it is looking really tight indeed. Arsenal are fourth currently, a point ahead of Liverpool, and Man Utd are one more point behind, although Liverpool have played one extra game. Given Liverpool’s horrendous form since the turn of the year – they have won just once in 2017 and were battered by Leicester last time out – you would fancy them to miss out. Arsenal usually come good at this time of year, when they cannot hope to win the league, and Man Utd are on fire, having put together a fantastic string of results. Both look a good bet at evens, as both could also well rein in Tottenham, who are poor away from home, and City, who are poor defensively and distracted by the Champions League.
Bournemouth have been absolutely dreadful in 2017 and have slipped from a comfortable top-half position in the table to 14th. They are just seven points ahead of bottom club Sunderland and in freefall, and any of the seven teams from 14th to 20th could go down. Hull, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Leicester are all in the mix, and each team has different reasons to suggest Premiership survival is a distinct possibility. Hull are vastly improved under Marco Silva and have posted some strong results of late. Ditto Swansea, who have clawed their way out of the relegation zone since Paul Clement, their third manager this season, took over. Crystal Palace are finally showing signs of a revival under Sam Allardyce and have a better attack than all of the teams around them, bar Leicester. The Foxes sacked Claudio Ranieri and responded by beating Liverpool 3-1 to move out of the drop zone, and they surely have the firepower to escape relegation. Middlesbrough defend well but lack a goal scorer. Sunderland have an extraordinary one in Jermain Defoe, but are terrible defensively. The bookmakers currently anticipate Sunderland, Hull and Boro will go down and that makes a lot of sense. Sunderland are just not consistent enough and concede far too many goals. Hull are plucky but have not invested enough in the squad. Boro have defended really well all season, but have only scored 19 goals in 26 games, the lowest in the league, and that is likely to cost them. An interesting outside bet could be Bournemouth at 11/2 though. They have been dreadful since the turn of the year and have been conceding a ridiculous amount of goals, so their fans should be worried.