Just like that, we’re already in the final stretch of the 2012-2013 Premier League season.
After this weekend’s results, only 10 rounds remain in the Premier League before the season finishes on Sunday, May 19, and points and places are still up for grabs for teams chasing European qualification and those looking to avoid relegation into the Championship.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the final 10 matchdays—and don’t forget to have your say in the comments below.
On Sunday, April 7, just over a month from the time of writing, QPR host Wigan Athletic in a clichéd relegation six-pointer.
Unlike in the past seasons, however, it won’t be Roberto Martinez’s charges who run out winners. It will be Harry Redknapp working his magic and securing an important win, and it will be Rangers who finish the season above the relegation zone.
For Tony Fernandes and Co., it will be vindication of their decision to replace Mark Hughes with the wily old Redknapp, whose team has already shown signs of resurrection.
For Dave Whelan, however, he will be bidding farewell to Martinez, a manager who has served him so well during Wigan’s Premier League campaign, while facing a task to get the Latics back into the English top flight at the first time of asking—the clichéd tall order.
Along with Wigan, who face a challenging run-in with games against Newcastle, Swansea City, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal, it will be two other relegation favorites that go down.
Reading, just three points from the bottom of the league table, desperately need results against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Aston Villa don’t have it too easy either, with City, Liverpool, United and Chelsea still to play.
For Wigan, who have flirted with relegation consistently in the past few seasons, and for Reading, who always faced a challenge keeping themselves in the Premier League this season, relegation won’t come as too big of a surprise for English football fans.
For Aston Villa, who have been in the EPL since its inception in 1992 and who looked to Paul Lambert to begin a new promising era at Villa Park last summer, this will be a huge disappointment.
April 20 sees the visit of Southampton to Swansea’s Liberty Stadium in a clash between this year’s footballing new boys and last year’s story of the Premier League, and while their similar playing styles might not result in a culture clash, the result could be emphatic.
Michael Laudrup’s side have won plaudits for adding variety and suitable directness to an already excellent passing base and deserved very much the 5-0 scoreline in last month’s League Cup final against Bradford City.
By contrast, while Mauricio Pochettino has instilled an impressive pressing game at the Saints, Southampton are still in danger of relegation, currently just three points above the relegation zone.
They won’t improve on that tally at Swansea, who might not be ready to make it into the England’s top seven yet, but will place at or near the top of the rest.
With sound finances, a ferocious fanbase and a pleasing footballing aesthetic, Swansea will show Southampton how they should be running their newly promoted Premier League club.
A week on from the Swansea-Southampton match, Newcastle United host Liverpool at St. James’ Park in what promises to be another entertaining affair between two of the Premier League’s most well-supported clubs.
It helps that Alan Pardew’s French revolution this January transfer window has started to take root and is threatening to become a real force in the Premier League.
It helps that Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield revolution this season has started to translate into goals, points and delightful attacking football. It also helps that St. James’ Park is capable of turning itself into a cauldron on nights like this.
With Moussa Sissoko starting to bring goals from midfield and Yohan Cabaye coming back into form, and with Daniel Sturridge beginning his Liverpool career with a bang and Luis Suarez looking to continue his superb recent form, Newcastle-Liverpool has all the elements of another Premier League classic.
But what’s new?
With 30 points on board, Newcastle currently sit in 15th place in the table and are still 10 points away from that Holy Grail of 40 to secure Premier League survival.
Yet a look at the points of their competitors and rivals in the league shows that the Magpies aren’t far from ending what began as an underwhelming season in promising fashion: 10th-placed Fulham currently have 33 points, just three more than Newcastle—a testament to the competitive nature of the EPL mid-table.
Even allowing for a strong finish from Swansea as predicted and possibly several good results to round off a very decent season from either West Bromwich Albion or West Ham United, 10th place is very much up for grabs, and we won’t bet against Newcastle getting there by the end of the season.
The other player in our predicted Premier League classic is Liverpool, and after a testy first half of the season, it looks as if they might just finish it in fine form—certainly recent high-scoring performances have done well to build up some much-needed encouragement for the Reds.
After Kenny Dalglish’s lowly eighth-placed finish last season, Brendan Rodgers’ first task was to overhaul the footballing system while steadily improving his new team.
After a productive January window, in which he brought in the thus-far explosive Daniel Sturridge and the promising Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool on their day can be one of the Premier League’s most attractive teams to watch, and that can spell trouble for their opponents.
It helps that after this weekend, when Tottenham visit Anfield, the only remaining high-profile games (on paper) are Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton. Now just five points off fifth-placed Arsenal, Liverpool might well finish in the top five this season. And that wouldn’t be too bad for Mr. Rodgers after all.
We predicted a highly entertaining game between Newcastle and Liverpool on April 27, and in years gone by, the game on the next day would be equally mouth-watering.
That this year’s Arsenal-Manchester United might not be mouth-watering says loads about the fortunes of the two teams, and conversely makes it an even more interesting match to look forward to.
We’ve all read that United have enjoyed a stellar season. In many ways it’s been a strange one, with a leaky defence augmented (or saved?) by an outstanding strikeforce, complete with a devastating winning mentality. And it is arguably the last point that is most sorely lacking in Arsene Wenger’s current Arsenal team.
With Robin van Persie’s move directly to the archrivals, the Arsenal-United rivalry charted new waters in terms of their respective positions in the English football power table. Unfortunately for Arsenal, April 28’s clash at the Emirates Stadium might consolidate that once and for all.
United might get all three points at Arsenal, and their attack will continue firing in the goals until the end of the season, but it doesn’t mean that their season will be as record-breaking as hype might be suggesting.
First, there is the small matter of upcoming fixtures. Manchester City and Chelsea have yet to arrive at Old Trafford, while trips to Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion are potential banana skins. But the bigger obstacle in their path is the number of points needed to break the Premier League points record for a season.
Currently, it is Chelsea who hold the record with 95 in the 2004-2005 season. United currently have 71 on board with 10 games to go. Simple mathematics tells us that in these 10 games, United have to win seven or more games. Eight wins will secure the 24-point difference, but seven wins will need three draws, meaning an unbeaten 10-game streak, to get to 95. And that’s only to equal the record.
But anything Manchester United get, Arsenal will be looking on in envy: United are on course for a 20th league title, while Arsenal are looking increasingly likely to drop out of the top four.
Sunday night’s north London derby confirmed the rise of Tottenham Hotspur as a genuine force in the Premier League while reflecting a long-simmering shift in power between the clubs. Chelsea, while still in rocky waters under Rafa Benitez, have game-changers in Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard and Demba Ba.
For the first time since 1998, it looks as if the Emirates won’t be featuring the Champions League anthem on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Rather, the Europa League might beckon. Or if Liverpool storm to a fifth-placed finish as predicted, might it be no Europe for Arsenal altogether?
While the mood of the day at Arsenal is either depression or rage, there couldn’t be a bigger difference at White Hart Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas has confounded his critics by leading Tottenham to an impressive rise up the Premier League ladder and has seamlessly taken over at Spurs following a potentially slippery situation involving the summer departure of fan favorite Harry Redknapp.
With Gareth Bale in world-beating form and a strong squad to support the end-of-season run-in, Tottenham have all the tools they need to secure a third-placed finish, their best ever in the Premier League.
Follow me @theredarmchair.