Premier League schedule as title, relegation and Champions League places at stake
Manchester City‘s potential title-decider against Arsenal on Wednesday rightly takes top billing in a crucial round of Premier League games this midweek, but the clash at the Etihad is not the only fixture that could make-or-break a club’s season in the space of 90 minutes in the days ahead.
Every key issue — the title, Champions League qualification and relegation — is reaching a definitive moment and, for some teams involved, it could come this week.
If Arsenal or City emerge victorious at the Etihad, they will become overwhelming favourites to win the title, while Leeds United fans could legitimately argue that the stakes are even higher in the game between their team and Leicester City, who sit 16th and 17th respectively and on the brink of the bottom three. Lose and relegation to the Championship looks likelier than ever.
Some clubs bounce back straightaway — Burnley are heading back to the Premier League after just one year away — but Leeds spent 16 years fighting to return after relegation in 2004, so there are no guarantees of a short stay out of the top flight.
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Both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, who meet in London on Thursday, would love to be in the position of their local rivals, Arsenal and City. The reality is that a win for United will all but seal their top-four spot and leave Spurs facing up to a battle for Europa League or Europa Conference League qualification. On the other hand, a Spurs win would blow it all wide open again by reducing the gap to fourth to just three points.
Here are the games to watch this week in the Premier League, from potential title-deciders to teams in trouble and relegation scraps.
The Leeds vs. Leicester clash is the standout fixture, with Leicester’s 2-1 win at home to Wolves on Saturday securing three points for the first time in over two months. Leicester had lost nine of their previous 10 league games — a run that cost manager Brendan Rodgers his job and led to former Aston Villa and Norwich boss Dean Smith being appointed earlier this month.
It lifted Leicester out of the bottom three, moving them ahead of third-bottom Everton on goal difference, and another victory at Elland Road would take them above Leeds, who are in woeful form under Javi Gracia.
Leeds have lost five of nine league games under Gracia, including their past three, which include 5-1 and 6-1 home defeats against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. If Leeds are to stay up, Tuesday’s clash with Leicester and Sunday’s trip to Bournemouth are likely to be crucial — because then they face Manchester City and Newcastle United.
Another significant game is Wolves vs. Palace. Both sides have pulled away from relegation trouble in recent weeks, but neither are yet safe. With 37 points, Palace arguably need just one more to be confident of avoiding the drop, while Wolves (34 points) need another win to put a comfortable gap between themselves and the bottom three.
And Aston Villa’s home game against Fulham may become a fixture with Champions League implications if Unai Emery’s side claim all three points. With a trip to Old Trafford next up for Villa, two wins in their next two games would suddenly put them straight into the fight for a top-four finish and keep them clear of seventh-place Liverpool, who they face at Anfield on May 20 — a week after a home game against Spurs.
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All eyes will be on the Etihad when reigning champions City face an Arsenal side that have led the season virtually uninterrupted since August, but who have now drawn three successive games and handed the momentum to Pep Guardiola’s team.
City are displaying relentless form, as they often do in the second half of a season, and are unbeaten since losing at Tottenham on Feb. 5. A run of 13 wins and three draws, including eight victories in nine Premier League games, have put City on course for a Champions League-Premier League-FA Cup treble, while the Gunners appear to be fading.
Despite their recent wobble, Arsenal are still five points clear at the top, albeit having played two more games. Yet if Arsenal avoid defeat at the Etihad, the pressure will then intensify on City to win their games in hand.
Right now, it seems that the odds are stacked in City’s favour. They play Arsenal at home, have their games in hand and know how to win the title, having been crowned champions in four of the past five seasons. But if City fail to win on Wednesday, Arsenal’s advantage may prove to be a decisive one. At this stage of a season, with games running out, points already won become a priceless commodity and Arsenal have those.
And if Arsenal win to move eight points clear, City’s treble hopes will suddenly look forlorn.
Also on Wednesday, Nottingham Forest vs. Brighton & Hove Albion has implications at both ends of the table. Forest, winless in 11 games, have dropped to second bottom and desperately need a win. Facing a Brighton team that will be physically and emotionally drained after losing an FA Cup semifinal penalty shootout against Man United on Sunday could be perfectly timed for Steve Cooper’s team. But Brighton are chasing European qualification for the first time, so they can still make their season a positive one. A win at Forest would put them back on course after the FA Cup exit.
Chelsea vs. Brentford offers Frank Lampard the chance to win his first game as caretaker-manager at Stamford Bridge — or maybe even deepen the gloom with another defeat — while West Ham against Liverpool is an opportunity for Jurgen Klopp to keep alive Liverpool’s hopes of European qualification.
Another night of hugely important games led by Tottenham’s home matchup against Man United. After Sunday’s 6-1 humiliation at Newcastle, Spurs are on the brink of implosion. But despite everything that is wrong at the club — the sacking of manager Antonio Conte, the surprise move to a four-man defence (which failed miserably) at Newcastle and uncertainty over Harry Kane‘s future — a win on Thursday would put Spurs back in the top-four race.
As it stands, Spurs are six points adrift of fourth-place United having played two more games, so a defeat on Thursday will surely signal the end of Tottenham’s pursuit of a Champions League spot.
United have also been inconsistent in recent weeks and their record away from home against teams in the top 10 is woeful, with Erik ten Hag’s side losing on the road to all of the current top seven. Can fifth-place Spurs complete the set? November’s 1-0 win at Fulham, secured by a last-minute Alejandro Garnacho goal, was United’s only win on the road against a top-10 side.
So this game could really give us anything because it involves two sides out of form. And United have a lengthy injury list to overcome too.
Everton vs. Newcastle impacts on the relegation battle and pursuit of Champions League qualification, but the stakes are arguably much higher for the Toffees in this one. Newcastle’s win against Spurs has given Eddie Howe’s team a six-point cushion (and boosted their goal difference) in the race for a top-four spot, and a win at Goodison Park would still be important, especially if Spurs beat United to keep pace with the top four.
For Everton, though, they start this game in the bottom three and they could be further adrift of safety if results go against them on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Everton’s home form since Sean Dyche took charge in January has seen them win three, lose two and draw one. But they haven’t won any from home under Dyche, so survival depends on what they do at Goodison — which makes the Newcastle game so important. With a trip to Leicester next up, Everton’s fate might just rest in the outcome of their next two games.
Bottom-of-the-table Southampton look to be heading for relegation, though a win against Bournemouth on Thursday would throw the Saints straight back into the mix to stay up. A Southampton win would deny Bournemouth the chance to pull clear of the bottom three, and keep them in the relegation picture.
That is the opportunity which presents itself for Gary O’Neil’s Bournemouth. If they win the South Coast Derby, they will move to 36 points and within touching distance of Premier League survival.
So it’s a midweek programme full of huge fixtures. It really isn’t all about City vs. Arsenal, especially if your team is involved in a game that could decide success or failure.