Race for the Top Four: Liverpool Edging Arsenal for Third, Chelsea Remain Title Favourites

Michael Regan

Liverpool fans may be justified in looking ahead rather than behind them in the table, but the odds for a title challenge remain very much against them—and very much in favour of Chelsea and Manchester City.

As it stands, Liverpool are sat in second, four points off league leaders Chelsea. It might seem a small gap at first glance, but with ten games to go and assuming Chelsea and Manchester City can maintain something like their current season-long form, it's actually rather daunting. The good news for Liverpool, though, is that a Champions League return seems increasingly likely as the top four sides begin to separate from any challengers.

Showing the value in having secured the points over having games in hand, league leaders Chelsea are currently averaging 2.25 points per game with ten games to go in their Premier League campaign, putting them on pace for an impressive 86 point season. If Manchester City win their two games in hand they'll equal Chelsea, but right now they're slightly back on 2.19 points per game and projecting to an 83 point season.

Liverpool and Arsenal, meanwhile, are both on 2.11 points per game and, if they maintain their current season-long pace, both will be expected to hit the 80 point mark. For Liverpool, that's a marked improvement over the 1.96 points per game they were averaging a month ago, and it reflects the fact that the club have been on title-winning form over the past ten matches, averaging 2.3 points per game.

If Liverpool do the same over the final ten games of the season—meaning a record of seven wins, two draws, and one loss—they will end the season with 82 points. All of which goes to show just how daunting that seemingly tiny four point gap between Liverpool on one side and Chelsea and City on the other really is: even title winning form likely wouldn't be enough to secure Liverpool the title at this stage.

Making matters worse, while Liverpool have gone on the kind of form that would get a side 87 points over an entire season, Chelsea and City haven't exactly been slacking—over their past ten matches, Chelsea have recorded 26 of a possible 30 points while City have taken 25 of 30. Liverpool's form may be up compared to their season-long points per game average, but Chelsea and City's are up, too.

Still, things could be made more interesting by the fact Liverpool host both Chelsea and City in the final weeks of the season. That gives them an outside chance, but there would still be eight matches Liverpool would need to be better than both over—and that's assuming they beat both. Holding Chelsea and City to a draw might have been a good result early in the season, but it won't be any more, at least for the Liverpool's title hopes.

Both sides being involved in other competitions will also give Liverpool fans some slight hope, but then Chelsea and City both have far deeper squads to call on than Liverpool does. If any clubs in England are equipped to handle a title push amidst a congested fixture list, it's Chelsea and City. Hope is one thing, but the reality is that Chelsea should end the season with between 86 and 89 points and City with between 83 and 87.

A four point gap may not look like much, but the numbers remain very much not in Liverpool's favour. However, there is some good news in Arsenal's slightly dipping form—they have managed only two points per game over their past ten games—and along with the Gunners' congested fixture list and Liverpool's goal differential advantage, Liverpool now have to be considered favourites to finish third.

In addition to promising automatic Champions League qualification, it means Arsenal become the side at risk of missing out should one of the sides below them make a late charge. That, however, seems highly unlikely. Arsenal are currently on pace for 79 to 80 points this season, and to reach that mark, Tottenham need at least 26 points the rest of the way. Similar to Liverpool's title hopes, it's not impossible—but the odds are heavily against them.

In sixth and with a game in hand, Everton can only drop two points the rest of the way if they want to get back into the conversation. Manchester United, even were they to take maximum points from their remaining games, would end the season with 78 points—less than any of the current top four sides are projected to get, leaving only the truly deluded to think David Moyes' side have any chance of playing in the Champions League next season.

With ten games to go, a likely final table is starting to take shape, with Chelsea holding a slight edge over City in the title race and Liverpool holding a slight edge over Arsenal for third. Tottenham, meanwhile, are relatively secure in fifth, and with a second Europa League slot on offer via table position, seem a lock for Europe's second cup competition while Everton and Manchester United battle it out for that second invite.

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