The Premier League is as exciting as ever this season. With a dozen games remaining, there are 3 teams still in the title race, 7 teams within 3 points of relegation zone or safety and a race for the illusive final Champions League spot that could come also down to the final day of the season. With that in mind, I'm going to have a look at those teams competing for 4th spot.
Remaining fixtures: Manchester City(a), Blackburn Rovers(H), Wigan Athletic(a), Portsmouth(H), Manchester United(a), Sunderland(H), Birmingham City(a), Fulham(H), West Ham United(H), Burnley(a), Chelsea(H), Hull City(a)
Currently holding 4th spot, 1 goal ahead of Manchester City who are at Stoke City tonight, Liverpool will have their say in the title race as the face the top two before the season is over. The title for fourth spot isn't in their control at the moment, having played two more games than Manchester City, but they travel to Eastlands on Sunday for what will be a big match and one they cannot afford to lose. After that they should be looking for 9 points before they travel to Manchester United, the team they have beat in three straight league meetings. Since Christmas, Rafael Benitez has fixed their defence which has brought them much success. Defeat to Arsenal last week still came as little surprise, but they need to beat the lower placed clubs now if they want to qualify for next season's Champions League. Fernando Torres will be back this month and can take the pressure off Dirk Kuyt's shoulders, with few other players in the team producing goals in the Spaniard's absence.
Manchester CityOdds: 5/4
Remaining fixtures: Stoke City(a), Liverpool(H), Chelsea(a), Tottenham Hotspur(H), Sunderland(a), Fulham(a), Wigan Athletic(H), Burnley(a), Birmingham City(H), Manchester United(H), Arsenal(a), Aston Villa(H), West Ham United(a)
The toughest remaining schedule of these four teams doesn't bare well for Manchester City who have a cup replay at Stoke City to come later this month also. Their run of 7 straight league draws towards the end of 2009 under Mark Hughes included a lot of sides they should have beat. Looking at these fixtures, it's hard to see where they will string a few consecutive victories in a row together. One thing they do well is increase their performances against the big sides. They have home victories over Arsenal and Chelsea in the league this season, and Manchester United in the Carling Cup. They need to beat Liverpool this coming weekend as well as home games with Manchester United and Aston Villa as the season draws to a close. The 3 league games after tonight will have a big say in where Manchester City finish, and whether they come out of those on top or bottom, they need to string victories together in the games after that. There are a few good set piece sides in there which could cause problems for Manchester City, as well as a few tough away fixtures. But home games with the 3 teams they're competing with for fourth spot will be key.
Tottenham HotspurOdds: 6/1
Remaining fixtures: Wigan Athletic(a), Everton(H), Manchester City(a), Blackburn Rovers(H), Stoke City(a), Portsmouth(H), Sunderland(a), Arsenal(H), Chelsea(H), Manchester United(a), Bolton Wanderers(H), Burnley(a)
Arguably the toughest of the remaining schedules, Tottenham face all 3 title contenders, 1 fellow competing Champions League side and 5 teams in and around the relegation zone, fighting for their survival. As with Liverpool, a trip to Manchester City in the coming weeks will have a big say in the race for fourth spot. Ideally, Tottenham need to be in fourth place before they play Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in consecutive games. Should they fail to be, they can be ruled out of Champions League football next season. Their recent run of form, or lack of in the Premier League has cost them already in my view. They still have the FA Cup to compete in, but a Champions League spot looks very unlikely for Harry Redknapp's side.
Aston VillaOdds: 9/2
Remaining fixtures: Burnley(H), Sunderland(H), Stoke City(a), Wigan Athletic(a), Wolverhampton Wanderers(H), Chelsea(a), Bolton Wanderers(a), Everton(H), Portsmouth(a), Birmingham City(H), Manchester City(a), Blackburn Rovers(H)
Currently 2 points behind Liverpool, Aston Villa have a decent remaining schedule to put them in a strong position to compete for a top 4 finish this season. Hopefully for them an FA Cup replay and Carling Cup final won't have a negative impact on their league form. They need 6 points from their next two home games against teams in the bottom half struggling for form. Then come two away fixtures they ought to be taking 4 points from. That will likely see them in 4th spot should they do the business. They have two rivalries, fortunately at home, and trips to Chelsea and Manchester City to come. With Tottenham likely to drop off, Manchester City with a tough fixture list and Liverpool capable of shooting themselves in the foot, Aston Villa are a good shout to snatch that final Champions League spot they have been looking at for the past two seasons.Who do you think will take the final Champions League position this season?