Make no mistake. The battle against relegation is far more interesting but since glory hunting is cooler, the battle for European glory aka the Champions League is our goal for today. With eight games left in the season, nine for those who play on Monday, who can make the cut before the bell rings?
Chelsea P4, Pts 51
Reasons to be hopeful and joyous: Thomas Tuchel. An unbeaten run.
A formerly unbeaten run. German tactics and it’s enterprising hope for the future. Chelsea have nothing but reasons, and lots of them, to be hopeful about. Especially when you consider the fact that not even three months about, many had them pegged for Europa League football. It’s some turnaround that the German manager has managed but now, on the back of his biggest defeat, what does he change?
The answer? Absolutely nothing. This was a one off, or so Chelsea fans should hope, caused by the surge that West Bromwich Albion had before they eventually gave up. One last fight so to speak with Bournemouth doing just that against Leicester City last season. Expect one from Sheffield United soon even if Paul Heckingbottom is destined to finish at the bottom. Back to the Blues, and they’ve got little to fear, especially given the way this team is slowly clicking to life. Their real problem is the balancing act that they’ve got going on with the FA Cup, Champions League and the top four race.
Reasons to fear the future: That balancing act, that defense and their ability to not find the net consistently.
Thomas Tuchel did indeed sort that out or so it looked like until they went down to ten men. Now ten men isn’t the worst situation in the world, especially against a relegation threatened side. But something clicked for Chelsea and they just fell apart like a pack of cards. Problem number tres and that has a lot to do with Timo Werner and his shot confidence.
Everyone saw that during the international break and it looks like, so far, that things haven’t changed even if passing to Mount was the sensible move. Kai Havertz as a false nine does work but the German isn’t a center-forward or someone capable of playing inside the six yard box. Goals apparently win football games but Chelsea need to figure out how to score it.
Key factor: Their fixture list, their history and their summer spend.
Compared to everyone else, Chelsea’s final eight games aren’t a death wish. Their worst fixtures are Manchester City and Leicester City, plus Arsenal if you want to be funny. And then there is everything else. History suggest that Chelsea won’t just finish in the top four but have atleast one out the two trophies that they’re in contention for. That’s either the Champions League or the FA Cup and it’s not a bad haul. And, as we all know, history almost always repeats itself.
Tottenham P5, Pts 49
Reasons to be hopeful and joyous: Jose Mourinho, that potent front-line and the Harry Kane factor
Three months ago, Tottenham were in title contention, so their drop from that has been long, hard and very very ugly although Gareth Bale’s resurgence along the way was nice to see. But with them out of the Europa League as well, this remains their last chance for Champions League glory. And boy do they have a lot of reasons to be happy. Reason number one, nobody knows how to treat nine games as cup finals more than Jose Mourinho.
That has its pros and cons as well but it’s a story for another point. The Portuguese boss will manage to motivate his team and get them back to their best even if it does mean doing whatever it takes. But the real question is, will he be willing to sacrifice defense for attack and just let that incredible front-line roam free, destroying teams?
Because in the end, that could make the biggest difference for Spurs. Well that and if they can keep Harry Kane fit for the rest of the season. That could be a gamechanger, especially when you consider their tough(ish) but a manageable fixture list.
Reasons to fear the future: Jose Mourinho, Tottenham’s moniker and their fixture list.
Jose Mourinho has his pros and cons although of late, his cons have been showcasing themselves rather nicely especially in regards to Tottenham’s results. Sure, the 1-0 win over Fulham ended what was a torrid week of football for them but the fact that the week was even possible isn’t good even when you consider the Dinamo Zagreb loss as a one off. You could even add the draw to Newcastle United to the list but, again, one-off right?
Mourinho tends to have this effect on his teams, good or bad, and it usually manifests towards the end of his second year. But in a pandemic infused season, it all becomes the same and time warps itself which is why we’re seeing the effects halfway through his first full season. Combine that with Tottenham’s moniker, one that shan’t be typed out here, and it doesn’t make their future look too bright.
Then there is their fixture list because with games against Manchester United, Everton, Leeds United, Wolves and Leicester City, things don’t look good for Spurs. But then again, only time will tell.
Key factor: Jose Mourinho, Harry Kane and just the weirdness that is this season
If Jose Mourinho gets things right, if Harry Kane stays fit and if everyone else in a better position for a top four berth screws up, then Tottenham have a chance in hell. Otherwise, things are iffy at best.
Liverpool P6, Pts 49
Reasons to be hopeful and joyous: Diogo Jota, their midfield clicking into place and what looks like a decent defense.
The hopes and dreams Liverpool entered this season with only they know but halfway through and the Reds hopes had all but disappears with their dreams turning into nightmares. But now, things aren’t that bad as compared to what it was say about a month ago. They’re no longer languishing in mid-table mediocrity but instead are two points off top four and hope is seeping back in again.
That and the fact that playing midfielders in midfield actually help a midfield has transformed their entire game-plan with Thiago thriving and Fabinho being Fabinho. Then there’s that problem of scoring goals and as Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and even Sadio Mane showcased against Arsenal, it’s no longer a problem. Especially with Trent Alexander-Arnold playing like a man hell-bent on proving Gareth Southgate and his haters wrong.
All that, combined with Kabak slowly adjusting to everything, has seen the defense click into place but again, this is all on the back of a few games.
Reasons to fear the future: That defense, the Champions League rotation policy and no real vocal leader in the team.
While they did suffocate Arsenal and force them into submission, Aston Villa and the rest won’t be that easily handled and that could prove a problem. Especially with that defense slowly moving out of their teething phase, they need time and not another disaster to unsettle them. It could mean moving Fabinho out of midfield and into defense which unsettles everything else and that’s just a domino nobody wants to pull.
Then there’s the Champions League and Real Madrid which could cause even more problems. Have Real Madrid been good this season? Not really but they’ve more than made up for it with high class players doing their best to make sure their team doesn’t fall short. It means more games for an already overworked team and that just raises their levels closer towards that scary red mark. Then there’s the no Jordan Henderson bit which hasn’t caused problems so far. Will that change? Nobody knows.
Key factor: Their fixture list, Mohamed Salah’s desire to score goals and the slow return to normal.
As far as fixture lists go, Liverpool have the best possible chance of making the cut if you base it purely on their games left to be played. Not exactly tough times ahead and combine that with Mohamed Salah, it makes for a good time ahead. It’s exactly what the Reds need in this final run up especially with things slowly returning to normal.
West Ham P7, Pts 49
Reasons to be hopeful and joyous: Scottish charm, Jesse Lingard and just the weirdness of this season.
If anyone had told you that West Ham and David Moyes would be in contention to not just finish in the top half of the table but finish amongst the top four, chances are that you'd have laughed it off. But that’s exactly what the Hammers’ potential future holds and it has a lot to do with their manager somehow managing to figure out exactly how to win far more games than possible.
Only Leicester City, Manchester United and Manchester City have won more and only Chelsea have lost fewer games, top four and below, than West Ham. It has placed the Hammers in a rather lovely place in the race for the top four although some may say that Jesse Lingard has played just as big a part. The loanee has been a sensational hit since arriving from Manchester United and it has completely transformed their team.
Shocking how one player who has barely played managed to do that but it just adds to the weirdness of the season, much like Athletic Club playing two cup finals in two weeks. The same cup final, Copa Del Rey, mind you but that’s just the way the times are and you roll with it. Which is exactly what the Hammers are doing.
Reasons to fear the future: A lack of goals, a restless defense and their fixture list.
The sheer fact that Jesse Lingard has managed five goals in as many games hasn’t been lost on anyone and neither has the fact that he is overperforming his xG by quite a bit. Now that isn’t a perfect stats measure but it simply points to the fact that it can’t continue. But that isn’t the only problem because that happens to be the Michail Antonio of it all with him their second top scorer with seven league goals.
Tomas Soucek and his penchant for headers leads that race with nine with Jarrod Bowen behind Antonio with six goals and that’s that for the Hammers. After that Craig Dawson, Pablo Fornals and the now playing for Ajax, Sebastien Haller all step into the fray and that is a major concern. Especially when they’ve had a defense that conceded three goals so very easily against Arsenal.
Sure, they have one of the better defensive records with 35 goals conceded but six of those goals have come in their last five games with half of them in that Arsenal draw. It doesn’t make for good reading and it is definitely something that David Moyes needs to sort out, especially when you consider how tough their fixture list is. They have games against Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Wolves and Southampton in the run up to the end. Not uber tough but definitely not easy.
Key factor: There’s just something about West Ham, the weirdness of this season
Nobody is sure what exactly it is, whether it’s their occasionally really impressive defense or their offensive line that does well(ish) every now and then or if it’s just David Moyes working his voodoo on the team. It’s weird but it is working for them and it all just plays into this season’s weirdness factor especially when you consider that they’re doing it without a player like Dmitri Payet. Sure Lingard counts but he's no Payet.
Wildcard pick: Everton P8, Pts 46
Reasons to be hopeful and joyous: Carlo Ancelotti, their formidable striker duo and a manageable run of games
Everton at the start of the season looked like a force to be reckoned with. Everton now, look like a team in pieces, fighting for what is left of their season and not a lot is left. They’re outsiders for the top four but could very well make a top six place if they play their cards right. They’re helped out by the fact that their final nine odd games aren’t the worst in the world.
If anything, it’s manageable and under a manager like Carlo Ancelotti, with the right tools at his disposal, you could even say winnable. Maybe not all nine but definitely more than half with hope for a few more points. Beyond that, the rest depends on Ancelotti and whether he can figure out how to get the best out of his inconsistent front-line and survive without James Rodriguez.
But that's always helpful when you've got Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scoring goals although he could do a little something, something about their inconsistent nature but even then a combined 25 goal contributions is nothing to dismiss.
Reasons to fear the future: That building injury list, no James Rodriguez and their lack of goals
Nine players out injured and that includes James Rodriguez, Jordan Pickford, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and their two backup goalkeepers although Carlo Ancelotti has said that things are changing. Even then, it’s scary when you consider that Everton will have to finish their season without half their first choice players and a few back up men.
Combine that with James Rodriguez’s iffy fitness issues and you get an even bigger problem especially with them struggling to score goals. Five goals in their last six games and they’ve conceded six in the same amount of time with the Toffees losing half of the same amount of games. More not good signs for the club and even with a good fixture list, it is not something they can afford.
Especially when their dynamic striker duo has struggled to find the net. Calvert-Lewin hasn't netted anything since early February while Richarlison has gone on a two game drought although, to be fair, that was preceded by three goals in as many games from the Brazilian. The Toffees could most definitely use another run like that from both their stars.
Key factor: Hope and the magic sponge
There is quite literally very little that Everton can do at this point in time. Had it been about fifteen games ago, then maybe things could have been different. But now? Hope is their best option, well that and hope that their injury list drastically reduces in time to help their cause.