Handicapping the EPL Home Stretch

As of today, the Premiership field is effectively narrowed to four teams. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool are within four points of each other. Tottenham Hostpur, lost (deservedly) to Norwich today and now sit six points behind Liverpool. They may yet rally and finish in the top four, but their title challenge is over. It’s all down to the big four with eleven matches to play. Who’s going to win it? Let’s take a look!

Before we get started, I would like to state for the record that I’m a Leicester City supporter, so I don’t have any particular interest in who wins the EPL title. I normally don’t pay that much attention to the Premiership, but it’s a great race this year and my club are, barring a massive collapse, going to be in the top flight next year.  After all, I need to see who’ll be battling against us for the title* next year, right?

Here are the teams in order of current table position:

Chelsea

Position: 1st

Points: 60

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 28

Competitions: Champion’s League

Big Matches Remaining: Home to Arsenal (22 March), Away to Liverpool (26 April)

Why Chelsea will win it: They’re currently top of the table and they have their manager is the best single-match tactician in the Premier League. Chelsea have the best defense in the league and they play a very physical brand of intimidating football. They’re out of both domestic cups and have only Champion’s League football to distract them from their title challenge.

Why Chelsea won’t win it: Chelsea are an old team without a lot of depth and a suspect attack. They’re difficult to beat, but they drop points from time to time against mediocre competition because they lack the ability to break down determined defenses.

Arsenal

Position: 2nd

Points: 59

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 25

Competitions: Champion’s League, FA Cup

Big Matches Remaining: Away to Chelsea (22 March), Home to Manchester City (29 March)

Why Arsenal will win it: They’ve led most of the year and responded with big wins every time their season has been in jeopardy. Arsene Wenger is a cagey manager with a better eye for tactics than he’s given credit for. Olivier Giroud is one of the most ruthless finishers in England.

Why Arsenal won’t win it: They’re wafer-thin in attack and not exactly stocked at the other positions. They have the least-impressive goal differential of any of the contenders and Ozil’s form is dipping at exactly the wrong time.

Manchester City

Position: 3rd

Points: 57

Played: 26

Goal Differential: 42

Competitions: Champion’s League, FA Cup, League Cup

Big Matches Remaining: Away to Arsenal (29 March), Away to Liverpool (12 April)

Why Manchester City will win it: They have incredible depth at all positions. Manchester City reserves could probably finish in the top four. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They’re marvelous balanced with the second-best attack and second-best defense in the Premiership. If they win their game in hand, they’re top of the table.

Why Manchester City won’t win it: City are still active in both domestic cups and the Champion’s League. Sergio Aguero has been struggling with injuries all year. Their confidence seems to have taken a dip recently.

Liverpool

Position: 4th

Points: 56

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 35

Competitions: None

Big Games Remaining: Home to Manchester City (12 April), Home to Chelsea (26 April)

Why Liverpool will win it:  Even though Man City’s attack got most of the press, Liverpool have actually scored the most goals in the league. They have no other competitions to distract them and only home matches against the top clubs in the league.

Why Liverpool won’t win it: Their defense is merely average and manager Brendan Rodgers has yet to be tested at this level. Their schedule has more banana peels than that of the other leaders and, besides, they are currently in 4th. Making up four points is no big deal, but overtaking three teams is.

So there you have it. I think you can make an argument that any of them. I’m a big believer in goal differential as a measure of a team’s quality. It’s a better predictor of results than table position/points. It’s a myth that champions “win the close ones.” As a rule, great teams do slightly better than poor teams in close games, but the real advantage comes in blowouts. This is as true in football as in any other sport.

Manchester City have the best goal differential in the Premier League. They have the deepest squad, the best balanced team, and they’re a game in hand away from being top of the table. They have a lot of distractions, and they’re not playing at their best right now, but they’re the best team in the league. They’re my pick.

I love this Arsenal team but they have the weakest goal differential, the least depth, and they’re still active in two other competitions. I think they fade and finish fourth.

The tough call, for me, is “who finishes second?” Liverpool have played better, have the easier schedule, and have no distractions. Chelsea have the better defense, the better manager, and a four point edge. I want Liverpool to finish 2nd, but I think it’s probably going to be Chelsea.

Final Premiership Table

1. Manchester City

2. Chelsea

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

Any thoughts?

* And, by “title”, I mean “kicking our teeth in as we try to ensure our survival in the Premier League.” I’m a fan, but I’m not stupid.

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