Masin-Moyer: Champions League races heating up
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Wednesday, March 6, 2019
For the past two seasons, the Premier League has seen relatively unexciting title races, with both Manchester City last season and Chelsea the season before coasting to titles. But this year, with nine matches remaining, there is an actual race down the stretch, as Manchester City currently sits a single point above Liverpool for the top spot. And there are plenty of compelling questions this year outside the title race, as Champions League and relegation spots are still very much in flux. So, for the rest of this column, I’ll be giving my insights on how it’s all going to shake out.
With Spurs now nine points behind Liverpool for second place, it seems as if the title race is down to two teams. This didn’t seem like much of a race a few months ago, as Liverpool sat seven points clear Dec. 30, 20 matches into the season. Since that time though, the Reds have collapsed, being unable to find anything resembling an offense outside of Sadio Mané’s goals, losing to Manchester City and drawing West Ham, Leicester City and Manchester United along the way.
Manchester City, on the other hand, has been nothing short of dominant, epitomized by a 6-0 shellacking of Chelsea on Feb. 10. As much as it pains me to say as a Liverpool fan, it seems pretty clear to me that City are the favorites to win the title, as their well-oiled machine under Pep Guardiola has steamrolled competition while Liverpool has stagnated. If Liverpool is going to win the title, it needs to rely on its sensational defense centered on Virgil van Dijk and hope the offense regains its form.
While Manchester City and Liverpool have, for all intents and purposes, locked down the top two spots, the other two Champions League spots are up for grabs, as only five points separate third-place Spurs and sixth-place Chelsea.
For me, the team that looks most likely to lock down a spot in the top four is Manchester United, who have won 13 of 16 in all matches since replacing former manager Jose Mourinho with Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Paul Pogba especially has looked his magnificent self since Solskjær’s appointment, pulling the strings in midfield and scoring goals for fun.
Despite slipping up in recent weeks, and being plagued with injury problems in the latter-half of the season, I believe Spurs will just hold on for the fourth spot with Arsenal being too inconsistent to mount a meaningful charge and Chelsea’s crisis of leadership in recent weeks, epitomized by manager Mauricio Sarri’s public fight with goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga over a substitution in the league cup final.
Like the Champions League race, two teams seem to have locked down their position in the relegation race, as both Huddersfield Town, who sits bottom of the table with only 14 points, and Fulham, only three points above them in 19th, have essentially booked their tickets out of the Premier League.
Where relegation gets interesting is for the last spot, as only six points separate 18th-place Cardiff City and 14th-place Newcastle United. Coming into the season, Cardiff were considered the favorites for relegation, and for much of the season have looked the part. Since the turn of the year, however, Cardiff have put together a run of impressive results with victories over Southampton and Bournemouth. Despite this recent run of form, I believe Cardiff will still be relegated as they lack the experience in the end-of-the-season survival pushes of the teams directly ahead of them — Southampton, Burnley, Brighton, Hove Albion and Newcastle.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.