The two stand-out fixtures from this weekend’s Premier League games are Arsenal vs. Chelsea and Southampton vs. Tottenham. Arsenal bout with Chelsea is the main source of focus, but just because we want to cling to the belief that there’s still a title race to be had. In actual fact, Southampton hosting Spurs is definitely the bigger game.
Realistically, Chelsea won’t lose the title from here. They’ve been so far ahead for so long, and last weekend really needed to go against them if Arsenal were to have any chance. It was never just about the Gunners beating Chelsea, it was about Chelsea collapsing. And having to play Manchester United at home was a real chance for a slip up.
Sunday afternoon was a crunch time for Spurs and Southampton.
As Liverpool were sent crashing out of the FA Cup semi-final, Aston Villa booked their place in the Europa League for next season, leaving only two places available for those teams qualifying through their league position. Had Liverpool won that game to face Arsenal in the final, Liverpool, Spurs and Southampton could all have qualified as seventh place would’ve been given a spot. As it stands, only fifth and sixth will be given a Europa League berth for next term.
And so there are three teams vying for two spots, making Southampton Spurs a must-win for both these teams if they want European football for next season.
For all the talk last week of Liverpool chasing City for the final Champions League spot Liverpool are still level on points with Spurs, the team in sixth and only one point ahead of Southampton who are a further place back.
How short-term the Premier League is – last week it looked as if Liverpool were chasing a Champions League spot again after two defeats in a row. Because of City’s poor form, Liverpool looked to be closing in. But that was last week. Now they don’t look as close to City. The Reds are seven points behind them, albeit they have a game in hand.
It shows just how tight this part of the league is. Southampton and Spurs are so close to Liverpool, and a win for either of those two puts Liverpool on the back foot. They do have a game in hand though, so they still look the favourites for fifth, and if not fifth, then definitely sixth – barring something disastrous in their last six games, they should qualify alright.
And this is why Saturday becomes such a big day for the others. A draw would suit Liverpool, and Spurs would remain a point clear of Southampton. So it’s presumably a result that would please Spurs more than Saints. But it certainly wouldn’t give them any breathing space and any slip up could still see Saints make their move. Whether Spurs actually do want to play in the Europa League next season is perhaps up for debate, but finishing seventh would put them out of Europe altogether and that is surely still unacceptable.
Southampton on the other hand can go above Spurs, and at this stage of the season it could be huge psychologically as much as anything else. The pressure is on Spurs to qualify for Europe – at the start of the season fourth place was their objective. Southampton, on the other hand, have a different situation. Before the season started, we thought the depleted Saints would be sucked into a relegation battle. Now they’re on the verge of Europe, bettering even last season’s exploits. The pressure is off Southampton and is squarely on the shoulders of Spurs. So this game is just as big for the psychology of the race as it is for the race itself.
If Liverpool have fifth place sewn up then that race is for sixth place. Seventh is no good to anyone and so the pressure is on. But it’s on Spurs more that Southampton.
Saturday is a big game, make no mistake about that. If you watch only one game this weekend, maybe it should be this one, and not the one at the Emirates.