Chelsea finish fifth, Man Utd worse than Moyes, Man City don’t win – five daft possibilities

Dave Tickner
Pep Guardiola, Cole Palmer and Bruno Fernandes
Pep Guardiola, Cole Palmer and Bruno Fernandes

That was a fun Premier League weekend, wasn’t it? Set some cats among some pigeons, didn’t it? Shifted the sands beneath our feet, yeah? Made us all feel a bit silly for thinking there was a title race, hasn’t it?

But it’s opened up some tantalising possibilities. Here are five things that seem a bit daft but could definitely now happen. Let’s go.


Manchester City don’t win the league

Sunday was as unexpected and brutal as the penultimate episode of a good Game of Thrones season, back before they ran out of books and had to make it up as they went along. Either Liverpool or Arsenal slipping up in a winnable home game would’ve been shock enough, but for both to lose in the manner they did – meekly, in a state of confusion, with not so much as a goal between them – really suggested the end times.

While the dust-settled outcome of it all is Manchester City being two points ahead with six games each still to play, any outcome other than a sixth title in seven seasons for Pep Guardiola’s machine now feels vanishingly unlikely. We’ve already started the post-mortem and only half-jokingly.

And yet, technically, it is still just about possible with the stretchiest and most vivid of imaginations to conjure a scenario in which City don’t in fact win the league. We know, it sounds completely mad, but stick with it.

Now the first problem is that either Liverpool or Arsenal are going to need to be largely blemish-free for six games now, and Sunday suggests neither are in such a place.

And both have awkward-looking run-ins. Both have to play Spurs. Liverpool have trips to Goodison and Villa Park. Arsenal have a Chelsea test that looks far more vexing than it did a couple of weeks ago. Arsenal have to play three difficult games, any one of which could have season-defining consequences between now and the NLD, by which time Spurs will have had two weeks’ rest.

But let’s not get bogged down here. Arsenal and Liverpool don’t have great run-ins, but what they both have is six games against teams not as good as they are. There is not one single game among them that appears singularly unwinnable if focus can be regained and peak form re-established. It is definitely possible for either of these teams to produce a six-game winning run against this kind of opposition. We’ve seen them do it. So let’s say that happens.

Now all we need is for Man City to slip up. This is where things get trickier. It’s a beaut of a run-in, it really is. They only have to face one team from the current top seven, and that’s a Spurs side in the grip of an existential crisis about whether or not it actually was wise to just throw out all the old ideas about how the Barclays should be done because while it does get some thrilling wins it also results in some mortifying paddlings.

City’s Premier League record at Spurs’ new ground is infamously bad, but they did lay some ghosts to rest with a bloodless FA Cup win there in January. It is not a fixture that holds the same fear for City now as it would have in the autumn when Spurs were flying. They should win it.

But they might not. Equally they might run in to Fulham or Brighton on one of their unstoppable red-hot days. Unlikely, but possible. City still have to play Wolves, who beat them impressively earlier in the season. Unlikely as it sounds and is, City might not win the league. Whoa.

READ: The 10 costly moments Arsenal and Liverpool will rue now their title bids are officially OVER


A rogue Champions League qualifier

The tantalising possibility of a fifth Champions League place has been around all season, its prospects ebbing and flowing with those of English clubs during a turbulent rollercoaster of a season. The loss of Newcastle and Man United from European combat altogether before Christmas was costly, but others kept the boat afloat.

It’s still tremendously uncertain whether that fifth Champions League place will head England’s way or not – with a very good chance we won’t know for sure until the European finals play out after the domestic season is finished.

But what we also don’t now know with anything like the certainty of most of the campaign is who might benefit. For a long time now it’s been a three-way title fight, with Aston Villa and Spurs fighting for fourth and Manchester United somehow lurking as outside contenders despite being absolute sh*t.

Suddenly, horrifyingly, hilariously, it actually could be Chelsea or Newcastle timing their runs to perfection. It’s still unlikely that either of them catches Spurs (and pretty much impossible that either catch Villa, who surely have fifth sewn up at worst after Sunday). But it’s now very possible for two teams who haven’t been even on the fringes of the Champions League picture at all until this very moment.

Spurs have 60 points from 32 games. Newcastle are 10 back, with Chelsea three further adrift but with a game in hand. Importantly, that game in hand is against Spurs. They absolutely must win that in a couple of weeks’ time, but if they do they bring all manner of possibilities back into play.

Spurs have a horrible run-in. As well as that trip to Chelsea they host Arsenal and Manchester City and go to Anfield. Sure, their other two games are against Burnley and Sheffield United; but those both come in the final week of the season when some mightily unexpected scoreboard pressure might be in place and the scent of doing something really Spursy overpowering the senses.

Even if they win those two games and lose the other four, Spurs have 66 points. A draw against one of the title contenders would make 67 points. Neither total would be enough if Chelsea or Newcastle win out from here, something that looks far more feasible than it did a week or two ago.

Newcastle in particular have a lovely-looking run-in; Spurs will almost certainly, at the very least, have to get those six points from Burnley and Sheffield United and do so under pressure nobody really expected to be in place. And if there’s one team you’d want to be relying on messing up a home game against Burnley under some unexpected pressure…


Manchester United actually have their worst Premier League season

This has been a whole season spent watching Manchester United be conspicuously bad an alarming amount of the time yet constantly find themselves banging against a glass floor and somehow, logic-defyingly, remaining in the top six.

Their defeats have often been wretched, but surrounded by just enough (often unconvincing) victories to keep them from anything truly mortifying. But in truth, United’s gravity-defying season has owed at least as much to Newcastle and Chelsea struggling to find their arseholes with both hands as to anything they’ve been doing themselves.

Now that Newcastle and Chelsea are being less silly, United are in trouble. Real trouble. Their own silliness – six points from their last seven games and lucky to have that many – has opened a door that Chelsea may now march through.

If the teams currently above United remain above them and Chelsea – three points behind, game in hand, better form, better goal difference – also go past them then it leaves United eighth. It would be their worst ever Premier League finish. Worse than the Moyes season. Very, very bad.

And it could yet be even worse than that. You couldn’t yet discount the idea of West Ham, under Mogadon Moyes himself, also sneaking past United and leaving them ninth. Just imagine it. Ninth!

We even considered the delicious possibility of them ending up as low as 10th, but that would need Brighton to go past them and Brighton a) very much have their own silliness going on and b) are six points behind United with a run-in that reads City, Bournemouth, Villa, Newcastle, Chelsea, United. So yeah, maybe not. And probably not West Ham either.

But everyone else staying ahead of United and Chelsea joining them seems not just possible but now perhaps even probable. Eighth place and thus eclipsing Moyes surely has to be the benchmark for United catastrophe and they are now very much on track.

It’s a question that prompted Erik ten Hah to walk out of his press conference on Saturday so buckle up.


Burnley survive

It is to the unending shame of everyone else in the league, and the league’s own slapdash approach to points penalties, that Burnley retain survival hopes that extend beyond the mathematically theoretically possible.

It’s still very, very, very unlikely that they stay up, but it’s more likely than a team with four wins after 33 games has any right to ask or expect. The crucial team from Burnley’s perspective is Nottingham Forest.

Burnley are six points behind them with five games to go. It’s a big deficit, and goal difference isn’t doing them any favours either, but it’s not an insurmountable one.

The scenario is this: Burnley need to outscore Forest by four points over the next four games to set up a final-day elimination match at Turf Moor. If – and the word is being asked to do an awful lot here, admittedly – Burnley can somehow get a win or two in the next four games, then they could yet be in a position where victory over Forest on the final day gets them above the dotted line.

Failing that, there’s a still-fun scenario where they have to win that game 10-0 or something to escape on goal difference and we all have to pretend like that can’t be entirely ruled out before we rubber-stamp everything.

Burnley’s fixtures don’t offer huge hope, admittedly: they’ve got trips to Man United and Spurs and a home game against Newcastle but if they win at Sheffield United and can pinch one more win or even a couple of draws elsewhere it could be enough. Forest, for their part, still have City and Chelsea to play so might not be hoovering up a whole bunch of points.


Crystal Palace reaching 40 points. Again.

Thus completing an 11th straight 40-something season since returning to the Premier League. Heroic in itself that Palace have even created a situation in which their doing what they always do is itself noteworthy (to us at least).

They really did look to have left themselves too much to do to maintain this proud decade-long run of always getting to 40 points but never reaching 50. When they needed 10 points from seven games against Liverpool, West Ham, Newcastle, Fulham, Man United, Wolves and Villa we feared for them, we really did. Now it’s a far less daunting seven from six. Oliver Glasner Ultras assemble.