That was the long weekend that was.
1. Rafa is still absolutely adamant that Man Utd will slip up twice on the run in to let Liverpool sneak in and win the title. Looking at their final four games of Man City (h), Wigan (a), Arsenal (h) and Hull (a) there is certainly some potential for dropped points but I don’t see them losing twice or drawing three times which is essentially what Benitez needs to happen. Even if they lost to Arsenal, it’s difficult to envisage a scenario where they don’t get the required seven points they need for the title. The run of three games in six days will be a tough ask but with the Champions League out of the way after this week until the end of the season, there should be enough within the squad to cope. Of course Liverpool can’t concede while it’s still mathematically possible to win the title but I suspect that it will remain false hope. They should win their three remaining games (West Ham [a], West Brom [a], Spurs [h]) but United haven’t won the Premier League ten times in sixteen years without knowing how to close things out.
It'll take more than a sneaky handshake to mug the title off me Rafa.
2. All of the bottom eight lost this weekend meaning it is as you were in the battle to avoid relegation but with just three games left. Stoke, Portsmouth and Blackburn all had varying degrees of poor performance but such is the inability of the clubs below to win that it would be most surprising if they were dragged back into it. West Brom are six behind with nine to play so will go down officially next week leaving the at risk north-east foursome to battle it out.
3. Middlesbrough face a trip to St James Park next weekend in what could be a winner stays up scenario. What price a 0-0 draw that does neither of them any favours? Boro have scored nine measly goals away from the Riverside this season yet face a Newcastle side that have scored once since Shearer’s return. I remember the images of when he returned, with his boots on the dashboard as he drove to the training ground. Clearly he’s been unable to teach any of his old dogs up front new tricks. I saw a terrible film over the weekend called Like Mike, in which a kid finds a pair of Michael Jordan’s old trainers and gains the ability to play basketball like him. It’s only worth watching for the cameos by NBA stars like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. Anyway, I digress but it got me thinking about how maybe some Newcastle’s strikers need to steal those boots on the dashboard. As the joke goes, the only way Shearer will be on Match of the Day next season is if he returns as a pundit, as it sure doesn’t look like Newcastle are staying up.
Those boots are made for talking. But not walking.
4. That is unless Hull continue to make things interesting. I know I talk about the north east four, but if anything Sunderland having a four point advantage over Newcastle means they have to screw up twice in the remaining three games to be caught. This perhaps leaves Hull as the only catchable team. You can talk about 40 points being the safety mark all you want but I think that this is a season where it will be exceptionally low. Now is the time for threatened teams to be scrapping for points not losing every week. Given the bottom four in the form table are the four aforementioned teams (Boro ‘lead’ with four points from six games, Sunderland have three, Hull and Newcastle two) you could see a scenario where 35 points keeps you up. Boro or Newcastle would need just a win, draw and defeat from their last three games to achieve that but even that seems beyond them right now.
5. The remaining point of interest is the battle for UEFA Europa Cup qualification with West Ham, Man City, Fulham and Spurs separated by a point. Of those four I think the teams managed by Zola and Hodgson deserve it most but the teams managed by Hughes and Redknapp have the squads to cope best. Given that the latter two managers didn’t give two shits about it this season, I don’t see why they should be rewarded with a place next season. Both Zola and Hodgson have done wonders with small squads and even smaller budgets and I would be delighted if either of them got the spot. I worry for Fulham getting it simply as I could see an Ipswich syndrome where they overachieve but then don’t have the players to compete on two fronts and face a relegation struggle the next season. All four teams face quite tricky run ins (all play top six teams twice except Man City) so it will be interesting to see who comes through.
6. A word for the end of the Championship season too. Wolves and Birmingham come back up and will no doubt go straight back down if they stick with their current managers Mick McCarthy and Alex McLeish. Of the playoff bunch, Burnley or Reading look the most likely to survive in the top flight from what I’ve caught this season. Meanwhile, at the bottom Norwich, Southampton and Charlton all went down into League 1. All were in the Premier League as recently as four seasons ago. Something to note for the threatened clubs this time round.
Alan Smith prepares his relegation tears, yet again.