Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crunch Time in the BPL

Crunch-a-tize Me, Cap'n!

Columnist Randy only gets going when the going gets tough:

With three weeks remaining, its crunch time in the BPL. With the Manchester derby coming Monday, the race for the Premiership, Champions and Europa League spots and relegation avoidance is full on. Every point is critical and no team can afford to drop any more, so we should expect some exciting football this weekend.

Clash for the Silverware

Manchester United had a great chance to put City away with a win against Everton at Old Trafford. Offensively the Red Devils had an excellent game, netting four goals. Unfortunately their defense was exposed again. Rafael of the Wonder Twins made an excellent spectator on two costly Everton goals, the last putting Everton level at four. Now only three points clear instead of five, the Monday clash with City is for all intents and purposes a winner take all championship game. The one thing in United’s favor going forward is they have an easier final two games, with fixtures against Swansea and Sunderland, both of whom have nothing to play for. City, meanwhile, have tough matches against Newcastle, who is trying to hold on the final Champions league spot, and QPR -- who are fighting, almost literally, to stave off relegation.

League Battles

With the top two spots locked up by United and City, the fight is on for the remaining two Champions League spots. Problem is, it seems like no one besides Newcastle wants them. Arsenal, after getting beaten by Wigan last week, came back with a very poor performance against Chelsea’s backups. The Gunners are only three points clear of Newcastle, who have a game in hand. Arsenal also gave away needless points with their bruising loss to QPR, a game they should have won.  Arsenal needs to solidify their defense and regain their form and close out the season strong, with Newcastle only three behind and Tottenham six behind. Losing Mikel Arteta and the injury to Theo Walcott will not help.

With three straight loses, the Tottenham Coldspurs are fading and barely hanging on the Europa League spot. They are still within striking distance of a weakened Arsenal with a game in hand. With games against relegation-fighting Bolton and Blackburn this week,  Spurs need to quickly regain their form if they wish to catch Newcastle or Arsenal. They also must be wary of a strong-closing Chelsea.

Chelsea, after a miraculous win against Barcelona, has its best chance of qualifying for the Champions League by winning it. Only problem is most of the team is out from yellow/red cards, including Captain John Terry from his incredibly stupid move in the game at Camp Nou. That said, they are only one point down to Spurs for the Europa League spot and should have a tremendous amount of confidence going forward, which could propel them to into a fifth place finish. Chelsea has an outside chance of catching Newcastle, but considering how poorly they played most of the season and the AVB fiasco, fifth is a pretty good consolation.

Another team that has taken full advantage of Tottenham's collapse is Newcastle, who has moved into fourth in the table and the final Champions League spot. With a game in hand they could possibly catch Arsenal, especially if the Gunners keep their current form. However, the Gunners final games are all very winnable, while the Magpies still have to face City and Chelsea – both of whom have something still to play for.

The Relegation Zone

Since the Wolves have already locked in their spot for next years Championship League (the FA really should consider sending them all the way to League One) the battle is to avoid the remaining two relegation spots.

QPR has taken the “beat the crap out of you” approach to their run from the relegation zone. They have employed a very physical style -- see the Arsenal game -- that has been successful to date. The worst part of this is that it seems that the fans at Loftus Road have embraced this style for themselves, with objects being thrown at officials and the ball being kept in the stands for time wasting. I guess hooligans are back in football. With games against Chelsea and City, though, Rangers have their work cut out for them.

Wigan have also made a late charge, with stunning wins against Man United and Arsenal, to climb out of relegation. With games against Blackburn and the utterly hapless Wolves, Wigan have an excellent chance of avoiding the drop.

Bolton has a game in hand, but is going to need help. None of their fixtures are against the other teams battling against relegation, so they have to hope the teams they are playing have already decided to start their vacations.

Blackburn have the toughest route, as the they face both Tottenham and Chelsea. Even if they can defeat Wigan they will most likely need the miracle of the Wolves defeating Wigan to stave off relegation.

This is farlieonfootie for April 28.

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