Every footballing pundit – be they ex-players or experts – worth their salt are still hedging their bets on who the champions of England will be, who will finish in the Champions League spots, and which teams will be relegated. They always fall back on the safety of mathematics. But this is sport, not an exam! And after last weekend’s round of fixture, let me stick my head above the parapet, ready to be shot at; ready to face the brickbats, should things turn on its head.
Chelsea will win the league at the first time of Antonio Conte’s asking. Spurs will finish second, followed by the Citizens in third. Much of the debate revolves around the three teams chasing fourth – Liverpool, who are currently in pole position, Manchester United, and Arsenal.
As a lifelong Gunner, it pains me to say that I don’t believe that Arsenal will finish in the top four. Neither will Manchester United, leaving the way clear for the Anfield faithful to see Jurgen Klopp’s ‘heavy metal’ football in the Champions League next season.
The Special One ain’t so special anymore. In fact, he looks and acts more like the Sour One nowadays, always complaining about something or the other. And after a deserved loss to the Gunners last Sunday – where the Errol Flynn of football, Aaron Ramsey, was just outstanding – the Mourinho bitch fest was in full flow. If any other club was on the brink of reaching a European cup final, they’d be celebrating. Trust him to be grumpy about ‘fixture congestion’. You want to be successful? Then deal with it! Otherwise be happy with fighting for 6th place.
But back to the matter at hand.
Tottenham Hotspur’s loss to the Hammers ensured that the title will go to West, rather than the lesser half of North London. On Monday night, Chelsea strolled through a 3–0 demolition of Middlesbrough, thereby continuing their imperious march to the title. And Conte isn’t the sort of manager to sit back and enjoy a glass of wine things are done and dusted. And even when the season’s over, you’ll probably find him yelling and screaming on some beach in the Caribbean. So there’s no stopping the Blues, making some of my worst nightmares come true – two London teams finishing above the Arsenal.
As for Manchester City, I felt before the season began that Pep Guardiola would find the English league a difficult cup of tea, and success rather harder to find. And so it’s proven to be. He’s had his first real taste of failure as a manager. Some might call it a blot on an otherwise impeccable copybook, but I call it a reality check. His ageing squad will also ensure him having his work cut out next season too, but let’s concentrate on swansong of the 2016/17 season.
Liverpool should win both their remaining fixtures, thereby depriving United and Arsenal of Champions League football next season. And in the ‘battle’ for 5th place, I see the Gunners edging out United. You might call it bias, but I’m the one sticking my head above the parapet.
As for the relegation fight, it’s more like handbags at twenty paces. Both North East clubs will be playing in the Championship next season, and they will be joined by Hull City, who have the harder of the final fixtures when compared with Swansea, the only other team in the race to the bottom. I believe Crystal Palace, on 38 points, are safe for this season.
The beauty in this is that if, by some stroke of benevolence by the footballing Gods, if Arsenal do finish fourth (they won’t finish any higher than that), I’ll be a happy man to have been proven wrong! But, by the same token, if Mourinho’s men somehow pull a footballing rabbit out of the hat and snatch fourth place, I’ll begin to believe that there is a footballing devil too.
So there we have it! Another season comes to an end. Nine months of hard slog for those who didn’t make the cut or who flattered to deceive – chief amongst them being the overrated David Moyes. Nine months of glory for others – teams like Burnley, Watford and Bournemouth. I can’t wait for next season to begin!