We’ve been getting a lot of comments here on EPL Talk recently and it’s great to hear from the readers.
So let’s keep it going. Who do you think is going to end the season in fourth place and snatch the Champions League spot that goes with it? After this weekend’s games, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, and Aston Villa are all tied with 39 points and Blackburn is within reach at 36. Portsmouth are hanging on right now with 34 points but face a difficult month ahead as they’ve lost some key players to international duty in the African Cup of Nations.
Starting with whom I believe is most likely to end up in fourth place and progressing to the least likely, here’s a breakdown of the contenders:
Liverpool: I picked the Reds to finish third at the beginning of the season and while that may be out of reach now, I’m still going to stick with my guns and go with them to get back into the Champions League. Whether that’s good enough for Rafa Benitez to keep his job is unclear at the moment, but in my opinion everyone involved would be better off if he left.
The squad he consistently rotates has more collective talent than any of the other contenders and boasts the two best players in that group of teams in Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. To me, it’s that overall talent that will prevail despite Rafa’s Premiership incompetence. As long as he puts those two players and Jamie Carragher in the lineup at the same time to form that spine right up the middle of the field, Liverpool have a good chance to win every single league game they play in. They have the huge advantage of hosting Manchester City (awful away from home), Everton, and Aston Villa and it’s nearly impossible to win for visitors to win at Anfield.
Aston Villa: Aston Villa, aka the future England national team, have been very impressive at times this season. However, they may still be a season or two away from breaking into the ranks of the top four. I’m not sure if they’re consistent enough to end up ahead of schedule this year. Are they the team that got walloped at home by Manchester United 4-1 or the side that has taken four points out of six from Chelsea? Games at Portsmouth, Manchester United, Arsenal, and West Ham will tell us. Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor are stars in the making.
Portsmouth: The month of January and the beginning of February will be a make it-or-break it slate of games for Pompey. They’ve lost some important players (John Utaka, Kanu, Sulley Muntari) to the African Cup of Nations and need to tread water until those guys return. Luckily for the South Coasters, the schedule after early February shapes up nicely with home games against Fulham, Sunderland, Birmingham, Wigan, and Newcastle. Five games, must take 12 points (at least) to have a chance at finishing fourth.
Manchester City: If this club could win away from the Eastlands, they’d have a legitimate chance to wind up in fourth place. As it is, they’ve claimed full points on the road just twice in eleven games and that’s not good enough to break the stranglehold on the top four. They lost at fellow contender Everton today and that’s the type of game they simply can’t afford to lose. The overall talent is there, the coaching is certainly there; the consistency is not.
Everton: The Tim Cahill Show is back on a roll after their 1-0 win over City today. The Australian midfielder is the King of Clutch (as I’ve previously written about) and for Everton to mount a serious challenge, he’ll need to carry the load with Yakubu gone for at least the next month. The Yak’s presence up top will be sorely missed and I’m not sure who they have (other than Cahill) to replace him. It certainly isn’t Andy Johnson, at least not on a regular basis.
Blackburn: Out of all the teams battling for fourth place, let’s be honest, Mark Hughes is getting the most from the least amount of talent. This is a group of experienced, veteran players who are the definition of “steady”. Blackburn aren’t flashy but they get it done. Difficult games against Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal are still to come, but the schedule is relatively light in March. Blackburn have five winnable games and need to take care of business to be in with a shout.
What say you, everyone?