The race has tightened, which certainly works in our favor. The more pressure there is on Spurs and on Chelsea, the more likely one or both is likely to break. Over the last three weeks, only us and Everton have maintained consistent momentum, each winning all three matches. The key to a top-four finish is, of course, keeping all the points you’re expected to keep and occasionally nicking a few that were unexpected. Chelsea really shouldn’t have lost to Southampton, but doing so is enough to temporarily drop them to 4th. Spurs have righted their ship by defeating Swansea but have also dropped points they really should have kept. In other news, I’m dropping Liverpool off the chart. They sit in 7th, but they’re seven points out of 4th with only seven games left to play. Only they and Spurs have played 31, so the gap is simply too wide for them to span it.
The news from the other side of Liverpool is a little cheerier as Everton has ridden a three game winning-streak to force a virtual four-way tie for 4th place. Putting Spurs in a time-machine sees them fall a point behind Chelsea, a point ahead of us with Everton only two back of us. A tidy little cluster there, with only Spurs’ extra match to give them some temporary separation. It is imperative, of course, that we keep up our momentum in order to catch them. If both teams run the table, we still fall a point short of Spurs.
Both Chelsea and Spurs face incredibly clustered schedules, with both of them still competing in the Europa League and Chelsea still in the FA Cup. Benitez seems to have rested too many players against Southampton in order to prepare for the Monday match with Man U, and he’s paid a price for that. He’s gone after the season anyway, so I wouldn’t blame him if he chucks the Prem League entirely and focuses on the FA Cup and the Europa. He might as well go for some silverware even if it costs Chelsea a top-four finish. I say this in support of him; he deserves far better than he’s been treated and it’s been made clear to him that he has no future with the club even if they do win trophies and qualify for next year’s UCL, so why should he bother with Chelsea’s future?
On a more cynical, self-serving level, I do hope that both Chelsea and Spurs go quite far in the Europa League; each match they play saps their energy and distracts their attention from the Prem. I can’t say that I know much about their upcoming matches; Spurs face FC Basel and Chelsea faces Rubin Kazan on Thursday, and I’ll be cheering heartily for both London clubs to win close matches, close enough to force each to treat the second leg very seriously.
As for us and Everton, our schedules are much less-cluttered, with only our shared rescheduled match to cause any congestion. We each have eight games to play, while Spurs have at least nine, if not more, and Chelsea has eleven, if not more. We’ll take a closer look at whom each team faces in a separate post. For now, I rather enjoy the role the hunter; the prey we pursue is looking more and more haggard with each passing week.