The way the season is developing, it looks like being a two horse race between City and United for the title, with Chelsea and Arsenal looking off the pace and lucky to get a Champions League spot, with more than a couple of teams looking like beating them to the post. There will be many who feel City have more than made their case as contenders not pretenders for the crown, yet not all are convinced they will edge United over the finish line come May. However, the majority would agree that the top two places in the league will be taken by the Manchester clubs – in what order is debatable- and the remaining two Champions league spots remain very much up for grabs. Let’s have a look at the main contenders for 3rd and 4th place.
AVB’S side will consider themselves to be the best of the rest this season, and some diehards may even consider the title within their grasp still, yet the more realistic amongst fans and players will feel that third spot is theirs to lose. It is a season of transition for the blues, and under AVB they are seeing both the demise of their former spine and the emergence of a new and more expansive style of play – unfortunately for them, the price of this is apparently forgetting how to defend, and the rate at which Chelsea are conceding goals could well not only cost them a shot at the title but also in Europe, where the away goal is so vital.
The blues still have quality within their ranks, and despite being told he was past it, Lampard is still vital for the Stamford Bridge outfit, and his goals yet again look like being the difference, with both Drogba and Torres looking incapable of putting a solid run of form together.
The African Cup of Nations may well cost Chelsea, with Drogba, Kalou and Mikel all certainties to be called up, and a squad that already looks shaky will be further tested during a busy time in the season.
Key man – Frank Lampard. Say what you like about Lampard, but the man is nothing if not consistent and never seems to let Chelsea down on the big occasions. Players like Juan Mata may produce a moment of magic in Europe, but Lampard is there week in week out in the league, and provides the goals Chelsea desperately need.
Prediction – 3rd – just. Expect Chelsea’s experience to come through in the end, with Drogba going on a goal scoring run towards the end of the season.
For a team who are so used to playing in the Champion’s league, to be in danger of losing this honour came as a wake-up call to Arsenal players. After a difficult summer, and the departures of Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy, Arsenal had a slow start to the season, which looked like derailing to an alarming effect, yet have managed to get back on track due to inspirational captain Robin Van Persie, who has almost single handedly saved the Gunners season.
To their credit, Arsenal have produced a great run of form to climb up the table, and do not underestimate the confidence they will have gained from the victory at Stamford Bridge. However, Arsenal desperately need someone other than Van Persie to step up and start banging in the goals, and still look frail at the back when put under real pressure.
Key man – Van Persie – The one player that Arsenal fans will look at and wonder what could have been should the Dutchman have been fit on a more consistent basis. One thing is for sure, Arsenal simply cannot afford to lose their talisman this season if they want to finish in the top four.
Prediction – 5th – Van Persie will not last the season, and Arsenal will struggle for both leadership and goals without him.
Although they failed to make the top four last season, Spurs have had a taste of the Champions League and they want it back. Unlike Arsenal, Spurs managed to keep hold of want away players during the summer, and have a stronger squad than Arsenal, being more solid in defence and having more variety up front.
Spurs may not be getting much attention at the moment with Newcastle’s run of form and Arsenal’s resurgence, but they sit level on points with Chelsea and have a game in hand. Redknapp is a shrewd manager, and knows that it will be a hard slog this season if they want to finish in the top four, but has both the players and the experience to do it.
To finish fourth, Spurs will basically have to not only have a perfect home record but will have to be solid on the road, and not concede wasteful goals. Dropping points on the road, especially after Europa League games could well cost them, and Harry will be hoping King can play as many games as possible – any Spurs fan will tell you the difference King makes.
Key man – Brad Friedel – what a piece of business by Redknapp. After having Hilarious Gomes between the posts and never being sure what he will do, Spurs can revel in the knowledge that Friedel has the ability to save them 10 points a season and can be the difference between a draw and win.
Prediction – 4th – I expect Spurs to just edge local rivals Arsenal to the final Champions League place.
Last season after a disastrous start under Roy Hodgson, the scousers failed to qualify for a European competition at all, and under the guidance of King Kenny, they are slowly starting to turn things around with some decent performances and a very special player in Luis Suarez.
However they still have not managed to shake the age old problem of failing to kill of teams at home, and it is this that will see them miss out on a place in the top four yet again. With the quality their rivals possess these days, they simply cannot afford to drop points from winning positions at Anfield against teams who will finish far below them and have far less quality. A killer instinct is required if Liverpool wish to really challenge the top teams again.
Key Man – Luis Suarez. Despite being a dubious person, the Argentine has become a cult favourite at Anfield already, and does the business week in week out in the league. Sadly for Liverpool no matter how well Suarez plays, unless they can kill teams off it won’t matter.
Prediction – 6th – Liverpool will just edge Newcastle for 6th place, and may even make a real challenge for a Champions League place if they can finish sides off – they have the quality to do it. Expect an improvement come the return to match fitness of Gerrard.
For a team who let ‘the best midfielder in the country’ Joey Barton leave in the summer( the best according to Joey Barton that is) Newcastle are so far unbeaten and on a remarkable run under Alan Pardew. There seems to be a collective spirit at Newcastle this season that is making all the difference for the Geordies and it is time for the usual suspects for a top four finish to start taking Newcastle seriously.
For a club with such heritage in the Premier League, not to mention a huge and brilliant fan base, the St James’ Park faithful (or sorry Mr Ashley – the soon to be Sports Direct Arena faithful) will consider themselves to be on the way back to where they rightfully belong.
Whether Newcastle can sustain their form until May is debatable, and it is unlikely they will go unbeaten, but a run at the top four is a fantastic achievement by anyone’s standards, and it would not come as a surprise to see them win a domestic cup either.
Newcastle have a strong squad and a good manager, and look set to be the surprise package this season – or as their fans would tell you back to where they belong.
Key man- Demba Ba – A contender for signing of the season, the Senegalese player not only has bundles of pace, but the ability to finish as well. Eight goals in ten games has seen him off to a flying start at Newcastle, and if he can keep this form up some end of season plaudits are sure to come his way.
Prediction – 7th place
There you have it – my predictions have Chelsea and Spurs just edging ahead of the other clubs for those elusive top 4 spots. Do you agree? Comment below or follow me on twitter @RebeccaKnight01
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