With seven games remaining in the 2011-2012 Premier League season (eight if you’re Aston Villa or Bolton), the final standings are starting to take shape.
It’s been a season of few surprises. Top clubs that started slowly have predictably found their form, while other contenders have hit rough patches. Plucky new promotions from the Championship have at times each shown that they deserve to stay up, but not all will. A title race that began in Manchester will no doubt end there, the only difference being the ribbon colors on the trophy.
We still have until mid-May to discover the league table’s final shape, but for those impatient football fans out there, I have gazed into the future in order to reveal it here. If you don’t want the season’s finale spoiled for you, look away.
Here now is the final Premier League standings, along with finishing point totals for each team. For reference, here's the current table.
20. Wolves: 24 Points
Winless in 18 of their last 20 games—including a humiliating three-game stretch against Fulham, Blackburn, and Manchester United in which they lost by a combined score of 12-0—bottom of the table Wolverhampton Wanderers are almost guaranteed the drop at season’s end.
The firing of manager Mick McCarthy after a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of West Brom has not improved the club’s fortunes; in fact, Terry Connor’s side is an abysmal 0-1-5 after McCarthy’s mid-February sacking.
Wolves face even more bad news, with the recent surgeries of Jamie O’Hara and Jody Craddock earning them even more time on the sidelines.
Their remaining schedule does them no favors, with games against Arsenal, Manchester City, Everton and Stoke still to play. With the Gunners, City and Everton all vying for prime finishing position, don’t expect them to send in undermanned sides when points must be taken from Wolves.
19. Wigan: 30 Points
It’s a shame that Roberto Martinez, who is by all accounts a decent up-and-coming manager, will see his team relegated this year, but I just can’t see Wigan winning enough in their next seven to stay up.
Their next five league fixtures practically nail a Premier League eviction note to their door. In consecutive games, Wigan will face Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Fulham, and Newcastle, teams that all will aim to bury the Lactics for much-needed points.
Winners of only six games this season, Wigan have put in gritty performances against good teams, but most of the time they’ve shared the points instead of taking all three.
Don’t let recent wins over Liverpool and Stoke fool you, the Lactics will have to put in an outstanding effort over the home stretch to avoid the drop zone. Against determined opposition going forward, Martinez will learn to bear the Championship next year.
18. QPR: 31 Points
For the third and final relegation spot, I’m penciling in Queens Park Rangers to return from whence they came. Despite big moves this season (Joey Barton, Booby Zamora, etc), QPR will get the drop over Blackburn, Bolton and Aston Villa, three teams teetering on the edge of despair.
Super Hoops’ win over Arsenal was impressive, but don’t expect other skilled sides to take them lightly. They’ll face four top-five teams in their final seven games, and of their other three fixtures, QPR have only picked up three points against one club (a 3-2 win over Stoke City in November) in previous meetings.
Unlike Swansea and Norwich, QPR haven’t won enough to earn mid-table security. At times this season they’ve been the best team on the park, but have settled for draws more often than not.
If they can harness the momentum from beating Arsenal going forward, they might escape the bottom three. But with two trips to Manchester on the docket, they simply won’t have enough points.
Narrowly avoiding relegation are Blackburn Rovers, a team that showed pluck in a 2-0 loss to Manchester United. By virtue of a softer final schedule than QPR, Blackburn have a chance to earn enough points to stay up for another year.
Despite ranking near the bottom of the league defensively, Rovers showed they can keep even the best at bay for long stretches. United required a spectacular strike by Antonio Valencia to break their backline, rendering Ashley Young’s goal minutes later relatively unnecessary.
Blackburn have been a bit of an enigma this year, showing verve in a 3-2 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, while being blown out 7-1 by Arsenal at the Emirates just weeks later. Facing possible relegation, I see them pulling it together down the home stretch, bagging three points against beatable clubs like Wigan and West Brom.
Their attack, spearheaded by a physical Yakubu and a creative Junior Hoilett, is one to be reckoned with no matter which team is in defense. Rovers will score goals, so it’ll be down to their defense to keep shots out of theirs.
With a game in hand, Aston Villa are also hovering around the drop zone, but they should be able to avoid it with a handful of wins. They’ll need to take all three points against a floundering Liverpool side this weekend because their remaining schedule is no picnic.
Still to play are fixtures with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, but those are the only real landmines they have left. They should be able to manage points against West Brom, Norwich and Stoke, but might have trouble with an emotionally charged Bolton side. As you’ll remember, the Wanderers had to reschedule their encounter due to Fabrice Muamba’s hospitalization.
Unfortunately, Villa had to deal with a medical emergency of their own recently. Captain Stiliyan Petrov, once a lynchpin to Aston Villa’s midfield, has left football upon being diagnosed with acute leukemia. Petrov’s experience, leadership and skill will be missed, but Villa should put in some inspired performances with him in their thoughts.
Although some have predicted Aston Villa to go down, I believe they’ll have enough in the end to stay in England’s top flight.
Bolton Wanderers, winners of their last two league games, are currently abreast of the relegation zone by a single point, but don’t expect them to stay that close.
With a game in hand, I see Bolton winning their tie with Aston Villa to give them some breathing room. The rest of the schedule is favorable, with fixtures against Newcastle and Tottenham the only places they probably won’t manage any points.
Buoyed by the progress of fallen Fabrice Muamba, Bolton go forward with a positive mentality even though goals have been a problem for them. Their leading Premier League goal scorer Ivan Klasnic has been inconsistent as of late, and hasn’t gone the full 90 in league play since mid-December.
If Bolton can find the back of the net against mid-table sides, they should stay up.
Norwich City has taken full advantage of their recent Premiership promotion, surprising many who didn’t think they had the quality to avoid relegation. The Canaries have not only done that, but they’ve flourished, highlighted by a stunning 4-2 win over Newcastle in December.
Since then, Norwich has handled their business against lower-table teams while occasionally taking points away from quality opposition. However, with Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham left to play, along with feisty Blackburn and Aston Villa, points will be scarce going down the stretch.
Luckily, the Canaries did most of their heavy lifting earlier this year. Boasting an attack spearheaded by Grant Holt, England’s best forward not named Wayne Rooney, Norwich has been able to stay with many high-octane offenses, and even outgun a few.
They won’t be breaking away from the mid-table anytime soon, but it’s better than a return ticket to the championship.
It’s a wonder to watch West Bromwich Albion battle through the league this year. How this team wins games, or even stays competitive, is entirely the doing of manager Roy Hodgson, because goodness knows the players taking the field aren’t the cream of the crop.
Hodgson, who’s been helming football clubs since the mid-1970s, has made something out of pretty much nothing in the Black Country. Absent of a true star, his team gets by on sheer will and belief in the head man’s tactics, and it has kept them away from relegation for another year.
Despite going winless in their last four games, the Baggies have bagged some impressive results this year. The side has dealt losses to Chelsea (1-0) and Sunderland (4-0) in successive weeks, held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw, and even humbled Newcastle 3-2 up north.
The Baggies’ remaining schedule favors them, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City the only troubling fixtures left. If they can take care of business against bottom table teams, West Brom should post a respectable finish.
Without question the most impressive of the recently promoted teams, the success of Swansea City this year was as unexpected as it was pleasurable to watch.
The Welsh side has played a positive, valiant brand of football, especially at home. Only three teams (Manchester United, Everton and Norwich) have taken all three points from the Swans at Liberty Stadium, and it’s a big reason Swansea will finish solidly mid-table. Top sides like Arsenal and Manchester City were handed defeats in Wales, while Tottenham and Chelsea could only stumble away with a point.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has done wonders for the Swans, navigating the side through a brutal 2010-2011 Championship season in which the team won promotion via playoff. Only a year after barnstorming all over the United Kingdom, Rodgers (who at 39 should be getting offers to coach elsewhere) has made his team believe they belong, and at times have played like it.
On-field credit should be handed out to leading goal-scorer Danny Graham (10) and the ever-dangerous Scott Sinclair, who have both turned in applause-worthy seasons.
Swansea have Newcastle to deal with in the immediate future, but beyond the Magpies, only Manchester United and a slumping Liverpool side stick out as difficult fixtures. Matches against QPR, Bolton, Blackburn, and Wolves are all winnable.
Oh, and on semi-unrelated note: Swansea wins my award for “Best Premier League Holiday Destination”. London’s great, but can you honestly say no to this?
World-beaters one day, pedestrian the next, Stoke has been a mixed bag this season since Day One.
Even amidst Europa League play, the Potters have earned results points Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City, yet have played poorly against Wigan, QPR, Swansea and West Brom.
Employing a physical brand of football absolutely no team wants a piece of, Stoke has muscled themselves nearly out of the bottom ten. Peter Crouch has brought attacking skill from Tottenham, and the defense is tough as nails. City found out, to their cost, what happens when the Potters fire on all cylinders at Britannia Stadium.
Their most recent loss to Wigan broke a respectable run of form for Stoke over their last five games, taking eight out of a possible 15 points against the likes of Spurs and City. With four of their last seven games to be played at home, Stoke seemed primed for a mid-table finish. Their pathetic 2-0 loss to Wigan probably cost them a repeat appearance in Europe.
Another team that likely won’t return to Europe next season is Fulham, a team that edges Stoke in my final rankings not because of ease of schedule, but due to more quality players.
Clint Dempsey—a.k.a America’s greatest international sporting hero not unknown to most Americans—has turned in a season worthy of praise by any standard. The first American to score a Premier League hat trick, Dempsey’s 13 league goals and fiery play have won him streams of admirers in southwest London, but few plaudits from the generally football-ignorant fellow citizens.
However, the Texan isn’t going at it alone at Craven Cottage. A Brede Hangeland-captained defense as well as fellow attackers Bryan Ruiz, Danny Murphy and newly acquired livewire Pavel Pogrebnyak have made the Cottagers a tough nut to crack this year.
Fulham’s final seven games do them no favors, with trips to Goodison Park, Anfield and While Hart Lane all upcoming. Their recent run of form (three losses in four games) doesn’t bode well, but a win over a decent Norwich side last week shows there’s hope yet.
With a few upsets, the Lilywhites will finish dead center of the Premier League table.
Hired midseason, Martin O’Neill breathed new life into a struggling Sunderland side, moving them into solid mid-table position and within shouting distance of Europe.
After the former Aston Villa manager was hired, the Black Cats won four of their next six games, including a 1-0 shocker over then league-leading Manchester City. O’Neill guided them to the FA Cup quarterfinals, where they eventually lost to Everton, but not before bouncing Arsenal to get there.
Sunderland have relied on a three-headed attack to burn opponents this season, with Sebastian Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon each on seven league goals. Captain Lee Cattermole bosses the midfield on a routine basis, with splendid ginger Jack Colback seemingly everywhere at once.
This is a squad that no team is safe from, as Manchester City learned last week. It took an uncommon effort to dig the Sky Blues out from a 3-1 hole to earn a draw, a result that likely left the Black Cats ruing their lot.
Sunderland will be tested against Tottenham next week, with Everton and Manchester United also left to play. They’ve shown the type a quality needed to beat such teams this season, making no remaining fixture outside the Wearsiders’ reach.
Winless in seven of their last eight league games, Liverpool are spiraling out of the Premiership’s upper-echelons. If their current form persists, they will finish outside the top six, and behind Merseyside rival Everton.
What exactly ails the Reds is a bit of a mystery. No one area on the pitch is blatantly suspect, but it all has added up to a slew of dreadful performances. Some outsiders point the finger at manager Kenny Dalglish, but the man is so revered by Liverpool supporters that there is little internal call for his head.
A team that perhaps is best epitomized by their fantastic yet utterly detestable Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, Liverpool are at once capable of spectacular play and frustrating defensive mistakes. The absence of Lucas Leiva has undeniably factored into the Red’s inconsistency, but to lay the blame on one player is a bridge too far.
The club’s most striking statistic: If the Premier League season had begun on New Year’s Day 2012, Liverpool would be in 19th place with eight points, beating out only pitiable Wolves.
Something has to change, and a soft remaining league schedule gives the Reds a chance to finish the season strong. Liverpool will only face three teams currently in the top 13, with only Chelsea (a side they’ve already beaten at Stamford Bridge) above them in the table.
If they can find their form, Liverpool can still push for a top six finish. Right now, that might be too much to hope for.
One of the hottest teams in the Premier League, Everton are in the mix for European qualification and domestic hardware, with an FA Cup semifinal fixture against rival Liverpool fast upcoming.
Excluding their league match loss against the Reds (which David Moyes essentially conceded in favor of resting players for FA Cup play), the Toffees have lost only once in their last ten league matches. In the process, the People’s Club have bested Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham by a combined score of 4-0. Since losing to Arsenal 1-0 for the second time this season on March 21st, Everton have won three straight by a score of 2-0.
Moyes has worked his magic yet again, crafting a winning side on a total budget less than some teams have allocated for a single player. In a league where money buys something close to happiness in the eyes of club boards, Everton have proven week in and week out that you can win despite being dirt poor.
Spare parts like Royston Drenthe, Denis Straqualursi and Darron Gibson have meshed nicely with quality players like Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic to form a blue collective capable of beating anyone, anywhere.
If Everton wish to break into the top six, they’ll need to continue this strong run of form against the likes of Manchester United and Newcastle, teams that have their own European dreams in mind. They’ll also need to win on the road, something the Toffees have struggled with this season, as four of their last seven league fixtures are away from Goodison Park.
As they always do, Everton will put in gallant performances worthy of song, but ultimately come up short.
While some questioned the logic of selling fan favorites Andy Carroll and Joey Barton, it’s hard to argue with Newcastle’s results. With the money they earned from those transfers (among others), the Magpies have reloaded for a legitimate shot at Europe.
Powered by players like Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Leon Best, Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi, Newcastle started the season on a 13-game unbeaten streak. The side has since suffered some garish losses (5-0 to Spurs, 5-2 to Fulham, 4-2 to Norwich), but overall the positives have outweighed the negatives.
Alan Pardew has done a remarkable job up north especially considering the rebuilding he had to do at the season’s start. His team is always dangerous on the attack, and with captain Fabricio Coloccini manning the defense, Toon Army has been tough to overpower.
Their remaining schedule ends with key games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, three teams they’ll need to take points from if Europe is the goal. In my estimation, Newcastle has proven they’re good enough to do it.
The firing of Andre Villas-Boas, as sinisterly motivated as it might have been, seems to be exactly what Chelsea needed to improve overnight. Since Roman Abramovich gave the young Portuguese manager the sack, Chelsea have won seven of their last nine games across all competitions.
Now guided by John Terry marionette Roberto di Matteo, Chelsea are in good form, even stamping a ticket to the Champions League semifinals where Barcelona await. In the Premiership, only Manchester City have gotten the best of them recently, even with their attention fixed on Europe.
Suddenly, a leaky Chelsea defense has proven airtight, and Fernando Torres looks closer to the man he once was. The goals have begun to flow, thanks to inspired play by the Chelsea veterans. It’s something that should keep them solidly in the top six, but outside qualification for the Champions League.
As for their remaining league schedule, the Blues face opposition highlighted by Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool. If their form holds true, no team will be beyond their capability to defeat.
Once a contender for the Premiership title, Tottenham Hotspur have fallen decidedly off the pace, winning their first league game since mid-February last weekend at Swansea’s expense.
Down the stretch, Spurs haven’t been the team they once were, with no clear answer as to why. Arsenal’s comeback 5-2 win in the North London Derby clearly shook their confidence, especially since they were up 2-0 early.
Tottenham played well enough earlier this year that they’ve earned a top-four finish, but Spurs cannot afford to drop points with Chelsea and Newcastle gunning for their final Champions League spot.
Their final seven games give me reason to think Spurs will hold their fourth spot, or even manage third if Arsenal’s form wavers. They have perhaps the easiest final stretch of fixtures of any top Premiership team, facing no team inside the current top eight.
Look for newly minted English captain Scott Parker to man a tight defense, while Emmanuel Adebayor and Gareth Bale wreck havoc up top.
Arsenal’s season has been a mirror image of rival Tottenham’s, emerging from a club in crisis to top-four material. Where Spurs dominated early but have slowed as of late, the Gunners were once deplorable, but have since caught fire.
Now that his team is winning matches, Arsene Wenger’s job seems secure, but it wasn’t always that way. After being obliterated 8-2 at Old Trafford, losing 4-3 to Blackburn and 2-1 to hated Spurs, many supporters began calling for the Frenchman’s head. However, the side slowly began posting positive result after encouraging result, and Wenger looked the genius once again.
Despite Tottenham’s ease of schedule, I see Arsenal edging them table-wise on goal difference alone. Both clubs boast potent attacks, but if it’s a battle of goals we’re talking about, my money’s always going to be on Robin van Persie, who currently tops the league in goals with 26.
As for their remaining fixtures, the Gunners poor play in Domestic and European Cups has seen them eliminated from all competitions save the league, placing their focus solely on winning Premiership games.
Chelsea are still to come on the docket, but the real test will be at home next weekend against Manchester City. If Arsenal can best a slumping City, third place is theirs for the taking.
Once shoo-ins for the title, those hopes largely lie in ruins. Manchester City have crumbled down the stretch, encapsulated by their 3-3 escape against Sunderland last weekend.
Weakened by the absence of Sergio Aguero, the insanity of Mario Ballotelli, the inconsistency of Edin Dzeko and the fatigue of David Silva, the Sky Blues have self-combusted down the stretch. In a move of sheer desperation, Roberto Mancini brought back Carlos Tevez from Argentina, the same attacker who, after he refused to come on against Bayern Munich in 2011, Mancini vowed never to play again.
The City headman has made other odd statements concerning his team’s chances at a title now that their Manchester rivals have passed them in the standings. Instead of a never-say-die attitude, Mancini essentially conceded the title by marking a clear point margin as a point of no return. Could you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson saying such a thing?
Still, City’s inspired run through most of the season has earned them enough points to all but insure a top-two finish. As long as they continue to win some games, the Sky Blues are a lock for second place and another shot at the Champions League.
Meanwhile, in the red side of Manchester, the defending champions look to make it two Premier League titles in a row. Seemingly given no chance after a 6-1 loss to Manchester City, Manchester United have resolutely climbed the table all the way back to its summit, leaving City to crash and burn.
This come-from-behind title run would have been remarkable for most clubs, but for United it’s business as usual. Buttressed by veteran players who knew what it takes to win the league, the Red Devils never panicked, and have been rewarded for their perseverance.
Currently five points ahead of the Sky Blues with seven games to play, Sir Alex Ferguson’s club will need to collapse mightily for the title not to return to Old Trafford. Of their final set of fixtures, only City and maybe Everton lurk as possible losses. Otherwise, as long as Man U takes care of business against inferior opposition, they’ll be hoisting the trophy at the end of the day.
Contributions for the run have come from everywhere. Paul Scholes came out of retirement to hold United’s midfield once again. Antonio Valencia has been a menace on the right, and it was his stonker of a goal that broke Blackburn’s back. Ryan Giggs continues to defy Father Time with productive performances and indispensable leadership. Patrice Evra has managed a solid defense even without the Teutonic Nemanja Vidic. Recently, David de Gea has the look of a keeper worth £20million.
But above them all, of course, is Wayne Rooney. Second only to Robin van Persie in league goals with 21, Rooney has proven invaluable as always with pace, creativity, and a will to win the ball back wherever it is on the pitch. Even with all the unquestionable talent that surrounds him, a United side without Rooney would be in the tall grass.
Manchester United might leave a few points on the table as the season draws to a close, but expect the title coronation to take place in City’s house at the end of April. Don’t think for a second United has forgotten the beat down they were handed at Old Trafford. Sir Alex has a long memory.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2011-2012 Premier League Champions. Don't shoot the messenger.