“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
These are the opening lines of the novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” and nothing has ever symbolized Chelsea’s 2017-18 season more aptly because unlike the 2015-16 season which had no redeeming qualities, Chelsea can still make a mark in Europe, Chelsea can still finish in the top four and Chelsea can still win the FA Cup but yet, it feels like this season has been nothing short of abject failure.
In order for you to ascertain whether Chelsea can indeed finish in the top four, one must look at all the big teams, their remaining fixtures, the difficulty of the aformentioned fixtures and their present injuries; and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re focusing on the top 5 teams because as was previously mentioned, “big teams” are going to be the topic of discussion, which means that Arsenal miss out.
Before we get delve deeper into today’s article, here are three subdivisions of the Premier League table for your perusal: 1) Complete PL Table, 2) Home Table(judges the performance of the teams at their home ground) and 3) Away Table(judges the performances of the teams away from home). This will act as the reference point in case at any point in the article, you wish to look at how a particular team has been doing at home or away from home and what kind of threat do they pose. Let us begin!
Manchester City- 1st, Points- over 9000.
Fixture List: Doesn’t matter.
Injury List: Doesn’t matter.
Verdict: They’ll finish first. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m ready to wager my non-existent Aston Martin on this prediction.
Now that’s out of the way, let us begin for real!
Manchester United- 2nd, 62 points.
Remaining Fixtures (League Position): Liverpool(3rd), Swansea(13th), West Ham (14th), Manchester City(1st), West Brom(20th), Bournemouth(12th), Arsenal(6th), Brighton(10th), Watford(9th)
Home-Away breakdown: 4 away games: West Ham, Manchester City, Bournemouth, Brighton. 5 home games: Liverpool, Swansea, West Brom, Arsenal, Watford.
Average positions of the oppositions left to be faced: 9.78
Marquee Player: David De Gea.
14 - David de Gea has conceded 19 Premier League goals this season, but based on Opta xG data for the shots on target he's faced, the average goalkeeper would have been expected to concede 33 goals. This is the biggest differential by a PL goalkeeper in 2017-18. Exceptional. pic.twitter.com/OK3RdSyQAP— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 22, 2018
Statistics: 56 goals scored, 22 goals conceded, 296 chances created.
Injury list: Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, Zlatan Ibrahimovic are out. Martial, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones also have minor knocks.
Mourinho’s men have the toughest fixture list out of the top 5, at least on paper, as their remaining opponents have an average position of 9.78. Their form has been good but nothing spectacular. They’ve won 3 and lost 2 of their last 5 games. Wins against Huddersfield and Crystal Palace were expected, so was the loss away to Spurs but United had a surprise win against Chelsea and a surprise loss to Newcastle.
These results demonstrate why Manchester City has run away with the title. It’s these inconsistencies and lack of goals which have halted United’s title challenge. Aside from a lack of a goal, on the other end, United have been underwhelming defensively as well, conceded 11.7 shots per game, most out of the top 6 and even more than Watford and Huddersfield, yet, they’ve only conceded 22 goals. This shows how important De Gea has been and if he were to go out of form or get injured, United’s campaign could derail in a very quick and coarse fashion.
Manchester United’s season has been marred by injuries and it continues to do so as nearly 7 players are unavailable for United due to one reason or other. From Herrera’s hamstring injury 10 minutes into his first match after coming back from another injury to Daley Blind’s malleolar injury to Fellaini’s knee problems, this team has it all, folks! Manchester United contribute about 40% of the entirety of Manchester’s hospital bills (not at all exaggerated).
In terms of non-PL fixtures, United is still in the Champions League as of now, as their tie against Sevilla is finely poised at 0-0. United is also in the FA Cup and will continue to do so, provided they win their quarter-final fixture against Brighton on 18th March.
Potential chances to mess up: Away games: Unfortunately for United, City needs to win 4 games to guarantee its title and if they win their next three games, City will play United in a title decider at Etihad and they will certainly try their utmost best to win the title in front of their biggest rivals making this a very difficult match for the Red Devils. Bournemouth, West Ham and Brighton are the other 3 away fixtures left for United. Brighton pose the biggest threat as they’re 8th in the Home table, winning their last 3 fixtures at home, including an impressive 2-1 win over Arsenal. Bournemouth and West Ham are 13th and 14th in the home table however, West Ham has only played 13 games at home as compared to 15 games played by the likes of Burnley et al, thus the table is a little bit skewed. West Ham also have a 38% chance(8th best in the league behind top 6 and Burnley) of keeping a clean sheet at home and considering United’s troubles in scoring goals, this could prove to be a potential banana skin.
Home games: In terms of home games, the biggest challenge that Mourinho’s men have to face is Liverpool. The Reds are impressive away from home—being 2nd in the Away table by virtue of losing only 3 of their 14 away fixtures. Swansea are 16th in the away table and normally shouldn’t pose a threat to United whereas Watford, Arsenal and West Brom have been in terrible away form of late, as all three teams have drawn one and lost four of their last 5 away fixtures, so I wouldn’t expect too much from them at Old Trafford either.
Liverpool- 3rd, 60 points.
Remaining fixtures (League Position): Manchester United(2nd), Watford(9th), Crystal Palace(18th), Everton(11th), Bournemouth(12th), West Brom(20th), Stoke(19th), Chelsea(Away-5th), Brighton(10th).
Home-Away breakdown: 5 away games: Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Everton, West Brom, Chelsea. 4 home games: Watford, Bournemouth, Stoke City, Brighton.
Average position of the oppositions left to be faced: 11.78
Marquee Player: Salah- 24 goals, 8 assists in Premier League.
Statistics: 67 goals scored, 32 goals conceded, 380 chances created.
Injury list: Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Bogdan.
Mohamed Salah has scored more goals than all the Newcastle players combined this season pic.twitter.com/Ow5E9AJR33— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 3, 2018
On paper, Liverpool’s fixtures are the easiest as their remaining opponents have an average PL position of 11.78 (2 positions lower than Manchester United’s 9.78), second lowest among the top 5 and third lowest out of all the teams in the Premier League. When you factor in their great form of 4 wins and 1 draw (2-2 draw against Spurs) in their last 5, it has to be said, Liverpool has the greatest chance of finishing 2nd out of the remaining 5 teams.
On the injury side, there is nothing substantial to focus on. English right-back Nathaniel Clyne is still out with the same back injury that he suffered in Liverpool’s preseason game against Tranmere Rovers back in July and if it hasn’t stopped them by now, it’s not going to stop them in their chase for the top 4. Goalkeeper Adam Bogdan is another one out, with cruciate ligament rupture however Bogdan wasn’t going to see much game time ahead of Kairus and Mignolet anyway.
In terms of non-PL fixtures, Liverpool, again have the advantage. Even though, Liverpool have progressed to Champions League Quarter-finals— courtesy of their 0-0 draw to Porto in the 2nd leg (5-0 on aggregate); they still have one less fixture to worry about, as compared to the other top 5 teams as they were knocked out of FA Cup by West Brom in the third round.
Potential chances to mess up: Away games: Playing away to Manchester United and Chelsea are definitely the biggest threats standing between Liverpool and a top four finish. Not only because Liverpool has to play away to these big teams who are 2nd(United) and 6th(Chelsea) on the Home table but also because these teams have the highest chance of keeping a clean sheet at home. Chelsea have kept clean sheets in 9 of their 14 home games (64%) meanwhile United have kept clean sheets in 10 of their 14 home games (71%). Everton away could also prove to be difficult as Everton are 7th on the Home Table, just behind Chelsea, as they’ve won 8 and drawn 2 of their 14 home fixtures, amassing 26 points (3 less than Chelsea).
Home games: At home, Liverpool play against Watford, Bournemouth, Brighton and Stoke City. The games against Watford(7th on the away table) and Bournemouth(9th on the away table) could be potential banana skins as well as goal fests. The last time Liverpool played Watford in PL, it ended as a 3-3 draw, whereas the game against Bournemouth was a 4-0 win for Liverpool. Even though Brighton are coming off a 2-1 win against Arsenal, I don’t expect them to get a result against Liverpool at Anfield as Brighton’s heroics against Arsenal was at home and they’ve not even drawn away to the top 6 teams all season, let alone win. Besides, this being Brighton’s last game of the season and considering their mid table status and no threat of relegation, I doubt Brighton would care if they win or lose which plays in Liverpool’s favour.
Tottenham Hotspur- 4th, 58 points.
Remaining fixtures (League Position): Bournemouth(12), Newcastle(16th), Chelsea(5th), Stoke City(19th), Manchester City(1st), Brighton(10th), Watford(9th), West Brom(20th), Leicester(8th)
Home-Away breakdown: 5 away games: Bournemouth, Chelsea, Stoke City, Brighton, West Brom. 4 home games: Newcastle United, Manchester City, Watford, Leicester City.
Average position of the oppositions left to be faced: 11.11
Marquee Player: Harry Kane- 24 goals, 2 assists in Premier League.
Statistics: 55 goals scored, 24 conceded, 375 chances created.
Injury list: Alderweireld.
After finishing 2nd behind Chelsea last season, this season hasn’t been too good for Spurs as they’ve regressed and haven’t put much of a title challenge against Pep Guardiola’s team. After losing 4-1 to Manchester City in game-week 18 and dropping to 7th on the table, 7 points behind 3rd place Chelsea, Spurs have gone on a bit of a great run. In the last 11 matches, Spurs have won 8, drawn 3 and lost 0 games; and now find themselves 4th on the table, 5 points ahead of Chelsea.
Spurs expected to finish strong in a bid to consolidate their position on the table. Of course, this is nothing new to Spurs who finished last season with a flurry as well, winning 12 of their last 13 games and scoring 40 goals in those games, at an average of 3.08 goals per match. Alderweireld is the only one injured and they’ve got capable replacements in Davinson Sanchez and Vertonghen.
In terms of non-PL fixtures, Spurs were going to be at the same disadvantage as United but as the saying goes, “Lads, it’s Tottenham”. As I am writing this, Spurs have given up a one goal lead and imploded in front of Juventus, conceding twice in 3 minutes, making them the first English team out of the Champions League. This means Spurs only have FA Cup to worry about as they face Swansea City in the quarter finals of the same, giving them an advantage over the likes of Chelsea and United who are still in 3 competitions.
Potential chances to mess up: In terms of away games, Spurs have Bournemouth, Chelsea, Brighton, Stoke and West Brom left. The only real challenge in those games is the game at Stamford Bridge as if Spurs lose, it could cut their lead on Chelsea to just 2 points.
The shift to Wembley hasn’t been as bad for Spurs as was predicted as they’re 3rd in the Home table by losing only once out of the 15 games they’ve played at home. Their remaining games at home are Newcastle, Manchester City, Watford and Leicester. Manchester City game is going to be toughest out of the lot, unless City wraps up the title in the preceding week when they play against Manchester United.
Chelsea- 5th, 53 points.
Remaining fixtures (League Position): Crystal Palace(18th), Burnley(7th), Tottenham(4th), West Ham(14th), Southampton(17th), Huddersfield(15th), Swansea(13th), Liverpool(3rd), Newcastle(16th).
Home-Away breakdown: 4 away games: Burnley, Southampton, Swansea City, Newcastle United. 5 home games: Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Huddersfield, Liverpool.
Average position of the oppositions left to be faced: 11.88
Marquee Player: Eden Hazard- 11 goals, 3 assists in PL.
Statistics: 50 goals scored, 26 goals conceded, 360 chances created.
Injury list: David Luiz, Bakayoko, Conte’s relationship with the board and Ethan Ampadu.
Eden Hazard in the Premier League in 2017:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 8, 2018
1508 passes attempted
1264 passes completed
179 take-ons attempted
134 take-ons completed
85 chances created
Chelsea’s defence of their Premier League title has been feeble to say the least. Everything was going relatively decently for the Blues as they were 2nd on the table after gameweek 21, winning 4 of their last 5 games. Then, god knows what went wrong but Chelsea have managed to win only 4 of their last 15(!) games across all competitions. Their remaining fixtures are the most favourable out of the top 5 as their opponents have the average of 11.88 position in the league, especially as Chelsea played PL giants like United and Manchester City back to back in their last 2 gameweeks.
Chelsea’s season has been marred by injuries as it began with injuries to Hazard and Bakayoko even before the season started and it has continued as almost every player in the squad has been injured at one point or another, leading to a very stop-start campaign for the Blues and they’ve struggled to generate momentum.
In terms of non-PL fixtures, Blues find themselves in 3 competitions as they’re still in FA Cup and Champions League as well. Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Barcelona is finely poised at 1-1 draw and will be decided at Camp Nou while they have to face Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals, immediately after the Barcelona game. Chelsea’s fate in these 2 competitions will be decided next week as both the fixtures will be wrapped up by 18th March. Fixture congestion has killed the hopes of many teams before and Chelsea will be hoping that they’re able to manage this aspect of the game better than their opponents in order to take full advantage of their remaining, relatively easy, PL schedule.
Potential chances to mess up: Every game is a potential chance to mess up for the Blues who are the textbook definition of a Jekyll and Hyde team. It’s difficult to predict our games as Chelsea aren’t consistently defensively miser like United or free flowing like Liverpool. The same Chelsea which limits Barcelona to one chance in the entire game has conceded 7 goals in 2 games against Bournemouth and Watford.
Chelsea have 4 away games left in the form of Burnley, Southampton, Newcastle and Swansea. Chelsea shouldn’t face too many issues against the likes of these teams as none of them are even above 10th in the Home table. However, Newcastle, especially away, has been a bit of a bogey team for the Blues as the history suggests and Blues will have to be extra careful in this match, so as to not mess up.
In terms of home fixtures, the biggest test that Chelsea face is not Tottenham Hotspur but Liverpool. Spurs aren’t the best away from home to top six teams as they’ve only won once in their last 19 away matches to the “big-six”. The other 3 home games should be easy wins for the Blues but as the last 15 games have proved, nothing is ever easy for us.
That’s all, folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed our comprehensive guide to the race for the top four and let us know if you think Chelsea can indeed beat one out of United/Spurs/Liverpool in this race.
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