Note: This is the final piece looking at the title/relegation races across English football. Click on the links to see the Championship, League One, and League Two.
With the completion of the midweek “Boxing Day” matches, all the clubs in the Premier League have now played 19 matches, and begin the second half of their schedules with matches beginning on Saturday.
As a reminder, the top four clubs in the Premier League qualify for the Group Stage of Champions League, while the fifth place team does the same in Europa League. These competitions are great for worldwide exposure – not to mention the prize money – but it’s also for bragging rights across Europe. No English club has won the Champions League since Chelsea did so back in 2012, though we are only two seasons removed from Manchester City claiming the last English Europa League title.
League placement is important for clubs beyond the top five as well. Last season, due to cup winners qualifying for continental competition based on league position, England’s final two Europa League spots went to the next highest finishers in the league, with Arsenal (6th place) and Burnley (7th) making it into the tournament.
The Race for Champions League
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what the top of the league table currently looks like:
The four clubs in the Champions League zone are the same four teams that were there the last time we looked at this, though the order has changed a bit. After 12 matches, it seemed that Manchester City was well on their way to repeating, surrendering only five goals and only having two losses on the season. But Liverpool was nipping at their heels, also having surrendered only five goals with three draws.
Since that point, however, the champs have lost three matches (4-0-3), including their last two to mid-table Crystal Palace and just #7 club Leicester City. That has precipitated their fall to third place, and are now closer to fourth-place Chelsea than they are to Liverpool. They are still tied for best goal differential and have scored the most goals in the league, and they should turn things around the second time through the schedule.
Liverpool, on the other hand, remains the only Premier League team that hasn’t lost on the season, and have won eight straight matches. Since that last look at the standings, they’ve only allowed two more goals. They are six points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur, so they will enter the New Year in first place regardless of the outcome this week.
Alisson has 12 clean sheets, and Mo Salah is just off the league lead in scoring. It’s not quite at the point of asking if the Reds will lose; the chances of them remaining unbeaten through another 19 matches is probably pretty low. But each match they win or draw from this point out – and their second half starts with a tough matchup against #5 Arsenal – the question changes from when to if.
A title by either one of the top two clubs would be their first league title in the Premier League era; Liverpool’s last title in the top tier was the 1989-90 season, while the Spurs last won in 1960-61. The Spurs have finished 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd the past three seasons, and they hope to break out of that pattern and come through this season, though they currently sit six points behind Liverpool in second. Of all the seasons…
Arsenal currently sits in the auto-qualification spot for Europa League, which would be their third straight season in the European competition (unless they win this year’s version). Prior to 2017, they hadn’t finished outside the top four since 1995-96, so they had to have hoped for a better showing this year, especially in a season with Manchester United struggling a bit so far this season. Nevertheless, they are only two points behind Chelsea – who they will play again on 19 January – so they have to hope to keep pace by then.
Back to the Championship
The bottom of the table is filled with terrible offenses and terrible defenses, as well as two clubs that came up from the Championship after last season. But along with two clubs that finished just above relegation last season, there’s also a club that qualified for Europa League after finishing 7th last season.
Here’s how the bottom of the Premier League looks right now (Southampton has another loss since this snapshot was taken, but they are still in the same spot regardless):
Fulham earned promotion from the Championship last season after winning the promotion playoff after their third-place finish in the league. This season has been a different story, however, with their two wins sandwiching a 0-2-7 stretch at midseason, and a current six match winless streak (0-3-3) since their second win. But at least they are no longer in last place, thanks to…
The Terriers of Huddersfield Town. The two bottom clubs kick off the second half of the season with a match at Fulham. One of the Terriers two victories this season came in their first matchup against the Cottagers, but playing on the road may be a different story. Huddersfield remains the lowest scoring club in the league, which won’t help them win at all. They just have to hope to grab some ugly 1-0 wins against some lower table clubs to avoid relegation.
Burnley finished a surprising 7th last season, securing that surprise bid to Europa League (where they lost prior to the group stage). This season has been a much different. They’ve won once since our last update (1-0-6), with their last loss an ugly 5-1 loss to Everton at home. Burnley is only in their fifth season ever in the Premier League – and their third straight – and it seems that last season’s finish was truly a fluke.
Cardiff City came up with Fulham (and Wolverhampton Wanderers) from the Championship after last season, and just like their last (and only) time in the Premier League, they could be right back down after one season. The absence of Cardiff City or Swansea City (currently in 13th place in the Championship) in next season’s Premier League would be the first season without a club from Wales since the 2006-07 season.
Until next time…