The Premier League “Playoffs” and the Fight for Seventh

In the two weeks since we last looked at the middle of the Premier League, we’ve had some developments.

Liverpool is joined by Manchester City in clinching a spot in the top four – and a trip to the Champions League group stage next season – while Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur are at least on their way to Europa League. The battle for seventh place remains the best fight in the league at the moment, and we have a new leader in the race.

As a reminder, seventh place will be important should Manchester City win the FA Cup final at the end of May. Since they are already on their way to Europe – and favored to win the FA Cup final – the 7th-place club will find themselves in Europa League in their stead, similar to how Burnley played in the tournament this year after their own 7th-place finish last season. Of course, Watford could make the race for 7th moot should they upset Manchester City at Wembley, but since the regular season ends before that game, it makes the race for seventh something to watch.

Some Culling at the Bottom of the Middle

Last time, eleven clubs were still technically in the running for seventh. After two weeks of results, that list has been pared down to nine officially:

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That said, it still looks like a four club race, with the bottom five clubs needing miracle finishes for them and disastrous results for the clubs above them. For example, Burnley would need to win all three games down the stretch, while simultaneously hoping that everyone above them lost every match down the stretch… oh, and that pesky -18 goal differential to overcome as well. So, while it is technically possible, they probably have better odds (also slim) of falling into relegation position.

The First Eliminations

Even with the benefit of a fourth match, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion cannot match the 49 points of the current 7th place club. The Saints max out at 48 points, while the Seagulls can only reach 46 points. They are also less than two games clear of the last relegation spot, though Cardiff City remains the overwhelming “favorite” to clinch that honor.

Both teams will get their first crack at shoring up their staying power later today with some Tuesday action. The Seagulls have the pleasure of heading to London and playing in the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, while the Saints head off to Watford for a match against the Hornets. If they can somehow find three points against higher-placed clubs, they would all but ensure that Cardiff City will be back in the Championship next season. Doesn’t seem likely but you never know.

Likely to Join Them This Week

In addition to Burnley’s extremely long-shot mentioned above – which is not helped with this Sunday’s match against Manchester City – there are two clubs that have extremely long odds of reaching at least 49 points, let alone somehow leapfrogging the clubs above them.

The Cherries of AFC Bournemouth likely blew their shot at a top ten finish (much to my pre-season betting chagrin), let alone a European vacation next year, by losing to Fulham last weekend. Regardless of the outcomes down the stretch, the Cherries will be in the Premier League again next season, hopefully not losing 75% of their road matches.

Joining the Cherries in this group is Newcastle United, who managed to leapfrog Bournemouth with a win against the Saints. They’ve also secured their spot in the Premier League next season, though they may end up ultimately lagging behind last season’s 10th place finish when all is said and done.

And then there were four…

I don’t want to totally discount the chances of West Ham United or Crystal Palace. Like the others mentioned, they have a mathematical chance of reaching seventh place. Crystal Palace is even coming off a win to a “Big Six” club, and the Hammers kept Leicester City from the full three points and sole possession of seventh. But they both have negative goal differentials and are well behind the top four clubs here, which includes two clubs that have an extra match to play.

Everton is the new #7 this week after a shocking 4-0 victory over Manchester United on Easter, though their hold on that position is a bit tenuous. They are one of three clubs in the group with a non-negative goal differential, and lead that category because of that big win. Furthermore, their remaining three matches seem to favor them, with two matches against lower clubs in this group – Crystal Palace and Burnley – before a season-ending clash with the Spurs.

Both Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers have an extra match compared to everyone else – including a match in Watford this weekend – and Watford does have that FA Cup final in their back pocket. The other club in the mix – the Foxes of Leicester City – have the toughest schedule down the stretch, facing off against three of the “Big Six.” It really is a mess in this part of the table.

And the favorite is…

With that killer schedule remaining for Leicester City, I don’t think I can anoint them the favorite any more, especially after they only drew against West Ham. By my estimation, I think the club with the upper hand is the one that can claim seventh place tonight against Southampton, the Hornets of Watford. Throw in that they hold the ultimate trump card regardless of who finishes in that position – a date at Wembley three weeks after the season ends – and they have to have the edge. They can add a big exclamation point to those chances with a dominant win against the Saints tonight, and all but seal it with a win against the Wolves on Saturday.

It’s Why You Play the Games!

My ultimate hope is that some club besides Watford locks up seventh place at the end of the season and begins to look forward to a Europa League vacation, only to have Watford win the FA Cup in an upset over Manchester City. Regardless, the Hornets will be improving on last season’s 14th place finish, much to the delight of the followers that fill Vicarage Road every other week.

Until next time…




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