The Premier League is tightening up at both the top and bottom entering Week 26. The championship race remains a four-team race, while the battle to stay out of the relegation zone has disintegrated into a 10-team morass.
With a little over one-third of the season remaining, time is running out for clubs to separate themselves. Will Matchday 26 provide any clarity to a muddled EPL picture? Here are picks for every match of the upcoming Premier League slate:
|Matchday 26 Premier League Picks|
|Fixtures via PremierLeague.com|
The sheer number of games between teams in the bottom half of the standings places the convoluted relegation picture in particular focus. But what else should football fans look for from Tuesday and Wednesday's action?
Key Matchups and Storylines
The only matchup between two teams in serious Champions League contention sees Manchester United visit Arsenal. In this instance, "serious" top-four prospects must be spoken of loosely, for David Moyes' side has disappointed, even after splurging on Juan Mata in the January transfer window.
United continue to display a stubborn reliance on crosses rather than attacking space up the middle, and the defense continues to look painfully slow. After a stunning 2-2 home draw against Fulham, Moyes expressed frustration at his team's lack of mental toughness, per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian:
Moyes has continually stated it would be a turbulent first season in charge but with United now nine points from a Champions League berth, the manager admitted he did not expect his inaugural campaign to be so dire. "Probably not, no," Moyes said. "Today was as bad as it gets. How we didn't win, I have no idea. It's goals that count. You can have as much possession as you like."
The Gunners are not exactly cruising themselves, coming off a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Liverpool. The loss may have knocked Arsenal out of first place, but a game at the Emirates against the overwhelmed Red Devils might be just the tonic to get them back on track.
Elsewhere, Tottenham continue to get outplayed, yet scratch out points. Emmanuel Adebayor's 65th-minute goal propelled the Spurs past Everton, earning a critical three points against one of their chief competitors for the fourth and final Champions League berth.
However, with an even goal differential, Tottenham do not have the appearance of a team poised to inflict legitimate damage down the stretch. Indeed, even after their important victory over the Blues, critics are still placing them firmly behind Liverpool:
The Spurs should be favored to take three points at St. James Park against a reeling Newcastle squad next week. Tottenham's troubles have come against top-flight competition, but at least for another week, the Spurs should keep the pressure on Liverpool.
However, the Reds are unlikely to drop any points against last-place Liverpool.
Indeed, many of the top squads play bottom feeders, with Manchester City hosting Sunderland and Chelsea visiting West Brom. Consequently, it is highly unlikely the top of the table will see any significant movement.
Conversely, there is a chance for mass chaos to ensue in the bottom half. Just four measly points separate 10th-place Swansea from 18th-place West Brom, and there are four contests that pit two teams between 10th and 20th against each other.
That should theoretically provide an opportunity for separation.
Teams like West Ham and Stoke play home matches with golden opportunities to provide some breathing room for themselves in the standings. Others such as Aston Villa have a chance to push teams below them even lower.
Given the relative mediocrity of the group, it seems more likely that Tuesday and Wednesday will bring plenty of draws, as it seems nearly every team in the bottom half is prone to achieving. Some clarity in the relegation race down the stretch is possible, but unlikely, making the race from the bottom as intriguing as the race to the top.
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