The run-in for the 3rd/4th Place Trophy:
Like most of you I sat aghast in front of the telly on sunday, watching my beloved team getting utterly neutered and sent home with a 0-2 defeat. Last night the Alpha Primate of our local neighbours once again singlehandedly secured his team three points. We now find ourselves in fourth with a resurgent Arsenal team snapping at our behinds, and I am not at all comfortable with this situation especially with thoughts to our remaining fixture list.
With that in mind here is a little comparison of the remaining seasons fixtures for the three teams scrapping for the two CL places. I have discounted Everton here, because they are deflating pretty badly at the moment, even worse than us it feels.
Our own run in looks like this:
West Ham (home)
Swansea City (home)
Man Utd (away)
Aston Villa (away)
On paper we should be aiming for a run of 5 wins leading up to four extremely tough matches against Spurs, Pool, Swansea and United. But honestly I'm not feeling good about a visit to Saint Mary (just ask Man City), or for that matter our match vs West Ham, a team that destroyed us at their ground early in the FSW's tenure.
I watched our match at White Heart Lane earlier this season while vacating in Mauritius and got to gloat over the three Spurs fans present in the lounge. For me that match stand as the pinnacle of our entertaining and attacking brand of football displayed under RDM. For the rematch I'm more than a little fearful of an asskicking. Although Spurs have not looked frightingly strong as of late, especially in the striker department, they are carried by a spectacular Gareth Bale in the form of his life, while we have deteriorated badly. If we can take five wins on the trot before we hopefully snatch a draw at the Lane, that should leave us in a decent position.
Liverpool have looked like a whole other team since signing Sturridge, and a match at Anfield is always a tricky fixture, especially for Chelsea who have an awful record vs Pool for the past few years.
Swansea has shown to be more than a match for us a few times already, so a draw at their place might be a decent result. Ironically I'm more optimistic for the United game. We always seem to rise to the ocassion and lift our game against that lot. Hopefully we can do the same, this time with no dodgy refereeing. Hopefully we can finish strong in the last few games including Villa and Everton.
There is however one major problem with our remaining fixture list compared to that of Spurs and especially Arsenal, and that is the potential for major fixture congestion. In the best/worst case scenario (depending if you value trophies or a TOP4 finish) we could end up with as much as 18 matches in the remaining less than three months of the season. Compare that to Arsenal who have crashed out of every cup (I'm including the CL here, because seriously) and need only to concentrate on their remaining 11 league matches. That includes a lot of winnable games (which off course can go either way, this is Arsenal after all). Spurs are still alive and kicking in the Europa League but face Inter Milan and have crashed out of the domestic cups.
The most tricky of our opponents remaining fixtures look like this:
Arsenal: Spurs (A), Everton (H), Swansea (A), Man Utd (H), Newcastle (A)
Spurs: Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A), Swansea (A), Everton (H), Chelsea (H), Man City (H)
Arsenal looks to have the easiest path left in their quest for the 4th place trophy, and with no other matches to focus on but the PL, they will surely mount a challenge. I sincerely hope we can hold them off, but it's going to be tough and most likely come down to the wire.
What if we miss out on Champions League next season?
The prospect of missing out on CL money next year when our squad is clearly in a state where it needs major overhaul on a select few positions is indeed a sobering one. Qualification to the CL group stage for an English club will net around £25m (Man Utd got £28m when they crashed out of the group stages in 2011/12). That money is probably the minimum of what we could get from the CL, and would allow us to sign a great player in the summer. So missing out on the CL will probably cause us to miss out on said great player, because we need to balance the books in regards to FFP.
However, we are in a situation where expiring contracts will free up quite a bit of money in the wage department. Assuming no renewals, the wage-heavy trio of Benayoun, Malouda and Lampard are all headed for the exit door.
The Sun has previously reported Benayon to be on 90k/pw which I believe is utter bull, but based on a breakdown of Arsenals wages when he was on loan there (by ArsenalTruth), I believe he's on 70k/pw which adds up to £3,64m a year. A slew of sites have reported Malouda to be on 80k/pw so I'm just going to run with that. That´s £4,16m a year.
Finally we have our hero, the legend with the number 8. As sad as I am to see him go, his wages are among the highest in the club. I have seen them reported as 150k/pw a lot of places, which is probably about right. That´s £7,8m a year.
Apart from those three, I'm pretty certain that Turnbull, Hilario and Feirrera will all see their contracts run down. Their wages are probably negligent, let´s say a combined 50k/pw for £2,6m a year.
If we add all that up, we will free up £18,2m on the wage budget. This summer will also see the payout from the new mindboggling TV deal with SkySports. Combined, I believe these available funds would allow us to survive a season without CL money and still be able to strengthen in the summer. The timing is pretty good for us, should the worst come to happen. If there ever was a time for us to miss the CL, now would probably be the "less worse" time.
(Even so, let´s just hope that it doesn´t come to that.)