Plus, Breaking Down The Table:
We haven't had a poll around here in a little while, so after Monday's offering on United and number nineteen it seemed like a good time to gauge Liverpool fans' views on the title race, as well as to perhaps step away from Liverpool a little bit to break down the title race--and the top of the table as a whole--with only five matches remaining for the frontrunners.
At the top, after Arsenal drew their fifth league game in the six tries in a six-goal North London Derby, for the first time in quite a while there's a new number two as the Gunners' struggles have allowed formerly floundering Chelsea to edge ahead on goal differential. With both Chelsea and Arsenal set to face United over the final weeks, it's even possible that Chelsea might now be the stronger contender. In any case, with United having the weakest set of opponents of the three clubs1--its other fixtures are at home to Everton and Blackpool, and away to Blackburn--and a six point lead, the only real hope for somebody other than United to take the title would appear to be if both Chelsea and Arsenal take all three points from them and then at least one of them wins out, leading to the potential for the title to be decided on goal differential.
With that in mind, it's hard to imagine this Arsenal side being able to put the results together to have a real chance, and as for Chelsea it's always possible that their apparent return to form yesterday against Birmingham was in part down to leaving Fernando Torres out entirely. That, then, brings up another potential sore spot: Fernando Torres heading to Chelsea and managing to get himself a winner's medal
for spending most of the final six matches of the season warming the bench and with no goals since his January move. Certainly it wouldn't grate as much as Manchester United winning--even if one worries about Liverpool first, it's always easier to see United lose out if everything else is equal--but seeing Torres celebrating as though he had genuinely achieved something after being about as useful for his new club as he was for Spain at the World Cup would cause a grumble or two.
As for Liverpool's chances at a Europa spot, beating Tottenham to fifth might not be be the most likely route at this point, since even if Liverpool were to win the remaining match against Spurs their game in hand would make overtaking them difficult. In short, the qualification rules2 state that if the winner of the FA Cup has already qualified for the Champions League, the FA Cup loser then gets the Europa berth. However, if City were to finish the year in fifth and win the FA cup they would be considered to have qualified for the Europa League based on that cup win, and then the sixth placed club in the league would qualify. Of course, even if Tottenham were to beat Manchester City when they meet in three weeks that alternate route to Europe would likely need Liverpool to then lose to Tottenham in the subsequent match, potentially opening up a whole new can of worms.
Though with how complicated it's starting to look at the top of the table, everything might be completely different by this time next week. And whatever happens above them, too, Liverpool will have to keep at least one eye on their crosstown rivals currently stuck only two points behind them in seventh. All the myriad complications and permutations aside, though, hopefully all of that goes some way towards making a rather confusing table at least a little easier to understand for the time being.
1 How typical.
2 Since Europe's #2 cup competition has a horribly convoluted and not easily understood set of qualification criteria, here's the long version. One: The winner of the Carling Cup gets a Europa slot. If the winner of the Carling Cup qualifies for the Champions League, an extra slot is given based on table position. Two: The winner of the FA Cup gets a Europa slot. If the winner of the FA Cup qualifies for the Champions League, the loser of the FA Cup gets a Europa slot. If the loser of the FA Cup has also qualified for the Champions League, an extra slot is given based on table position. Three: The top team in the table who has not otherwise qualified for any European competition gets a Europa slot. Depending on the awarding of slots one and two, the second and third highest teams who have not otherwise qualified for European competition may also be awarded slots. Four: If England is in the top three of UEFA's fair play rankings, a fourth slot will be given to the English team that has the highest individual fair play ranking and has not otherwise qualified for European Competition.