Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Premier League Races As Play Resumes

The slate of international matches is winding down with Premier League stars heading back to their domestic clubs after a Tuesday slate of matches which includes England hosting Belgium at Wembley Stadium in London. Awaiting players and supporters is a Premier League run in with races up and down the table.

Supporters will be instantly rewarded for their patience over the break with a massive match at the Etihad with Arsenal visiting Manchester City Sunday at the Etihad. Arsenal is top of the table just as the Gunners were when the league reconvened in March of last year. Manchester City, however, returned from the break last season to run off nine consecutive victories, overtaking a faltering Gunners’ side and salting away a third consecutive Premier League title. Saturday’s match at the Etihad thus carries enormous psychological weight as the Gunners hope to prove themselves built to last this season and ready to end Manchester City’s run of titles.

Unlike last season, there are three teams in the race for the Premier League title. Liverpool is behind the Gunners on goal differential and ahead of Manchester City by a point as the Reds seek a second Premier League title for outgoing manager Jurgen Klopp. As the top three battle for silverware, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur are fighting for the remaining guaranteed Champions League berth. Beyond prestige, the Champions League is a financial windfall for clubs. Tottenham Hotspur Manager Ange Postecoglou has thus been mocked for remarks that downplayed the importance of Champions League, claiming he is only interested in a Premier League title. His club is not winning the Premier League title this season but is only three points outside the top four with a match in hand on Aston Villa.

Of course, both clubs might qualify should the Premier League receive a fifth Champions League spot based on the results of this year’s European competitions. Beneficiaries of that potential fifth Champions League berth might have West Ham to thank. The Hammers advanced to the Europa League quarterfinals by eliminating German side Freiburg. The Premier League and Bundesliga are both competing for one of the two additional Champions League slots being added. Italy has all but wrapped up one of the spots with either Germany or England expected to secure the lucrative second new berth. Only the top three teams in the Premier League have earned more points in Europe this season than West Ham. The top three, the Hammers and Europa Conference League participant Aston Villa still have an opportunity to increase the European points haul for the Premier League. West Ham is currently seventh in the Premier League table which could result in a Europa League berth for next season if as many as eight Premier League sides qualify for Europe.

Manchester United’s chances for even an expanded Premier League delegation to the Champions League are fading. United are currently six points back of Spurs, nine points behind fourth place Aston Villa. Sneaking into Champions League qualification in the coming weeks could be the only way that Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag returns for a third season in Manchester.

Brighton and Hove Albion is currently eighth in the table but is only two points behind West Ham with a match in hand. The remaining weeks could be tumultuous, however, for Europa League and Europa Conference League slots. Four clubs are within four points of the Seagulls, extending all the way to 12th place Fulham after the Cottagers won three of four league matches heading into the break. Wolverhampton are just a point behind Brighton after also winning three of their last four matches.

Completing the quartet are Newcastle and Chelsea. Further down the table is a suddenly interesting relegation race. The three promoted sides have been expected to head right back down for much of this season. That might still be the case and would be a fair result based on performance. Off the pitch factors, however, may determine who gets relegated this year.

Nottingham Forest has dropped into the bottom three, elevating Luton Town, after a four-point league-imposed penalty for financial violations. The (Not So) Tricky Trees are appealing. Everton have already absorbed a six-point penalty and are facing a second penalty from the league. The Toffees are currently four points above the drop line. A second penalty could thus theoretically trigger the first Premier League relegation in Everton’s history.

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