TOP FOUR IS A STEP TOO FAR FOR JOSE
As the race to reach the Champions League hots up, fixture chaos could cost United dear. Here’s why . . .
WITH Chelsea 10 points clear at the top of the Premier league, it would appear the identity of the 2017 champions is already known.
But what about the fight for the Champions league places that is raging beneath Antonio Conte’s imperious team?
As we head into the international break, Tottenham are in possession of second spot after yet another home win while Manchester United’s unbeaten run has finally seen them move up from sixth place.
And with everton just six points behind liverpool — with a Merseyside derby to come a week on saturday — we can’t rule out ronald Koeman’s improving team either.
With a quarter of the season to go, anything could happen. here, Sportsmail tries to make sense of it all:
TOTTENHAM 2nd, 59pts. Form: WLWWW THE GOOD NEWS
MAURICIO POCHETTINO’S team are in form, they are not in europe, and have the motivation to win every remaining home game before White hart lane is pulled down at the end of the season.
With a seven-point lead over Manchester United in fifth, it would be some fall from grace if they were not to make the top four.
The fixture list is in their favour, too. Over a two-week period at the start of May, spurs face Arsenal, West ham and United but before then they have a run of winnable games that could see them with one foot over the line before Arsene Wenger’s team travel down the seven sisters road on April 30.
THE BAD NEWS
Tottenham are not the same team without harry Kane. Their prolific centre forward is hoping he can return early from injury after the international break but would be advised not to rush. With no natural replacement, Tottenham could arguably cope without him at Burnley a week on saturday but beyond that his return to health will be crucial. spurs also have the memory of last season’s late collapse to deal with. Will it haunt them or make them stronger this time round? We will see.
SPURS are yet to lose at home in the league — the only previous top- flight season they have remained unbeaten at home was 1964-65 (21 games, 0 defeats).
PREDICTION: Third MANCHESTER CITY 3rd, 57pts. Form: WWWDD THE GOOD NEWS
CITY have not lost in the Premier league for more than two months and have improved since their wobbles of mid-winter.
They have key players fit and firing — David silva (below) and leroy sane in particular — and in Willy Caballero a goalkeeper who has taken an opportunity presented by Claudio Bravo’s problems by raising the levels of his own displays.
City’s squad also has a depth that is not really matched by anybody else’s and, once consecutive games against Arsenal and Chelsea are out of the way, they face a run to the finish line that cannot help but encourage them.
THE BAD NEWS
COACH Pep Guardiola says his team’s problems lie in attack but they don’t. It’s City’s tendency to leak goals that holds them back and that is a problem that does not look like being solved until the summer transfer window. In nine league matches against the current top seven, City have shipped 16 goals so far. next up are Arsenal and Chelsea away.
CITY are unbeaten in seven league matches — their longest streak under Pep Guardiola.
PREDICTION: Second LIVERPOOL
4th, 56pts. Form: WLWWD
THE GOOD NEWS
When it clicks for liverpool, there is nobody more capable of taking teams apart and recent performances against Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City (two wins and a draw) should give Jurgen Klopp’s team confidence to push on. Klopp is not the kind of manager to transmit pressure to his players, either.
THE BAD NEWS
The form of their best player Philippe Coutinho should worry them. When the little Brazilian doesn’t fire then liverpool can struggle for inspiration. Coutinho was taken off against Burnley and again at City on sunday. liverpool’s run-in features a stack of games against middle-ranking teams who will sit deep and smother their opponents. They will need Coutinho then.
LIVERPOOL have taken 20 points in 10 games against the top six this season, but just 19 points in 10 games against the bottom six.
PREDICTION: Fourth MANCHESTER UNITEDD 5th, 52pts. Form: DWWDW THE GOOD NEWS
NO manager in the Premier league has performed better than Jose Mourinho over the winter and he is the best weapon United have as they try to reel in their rivals. yyou can see the anxiety written over the faces of Guardiola and Arsene Wenger but you don’t see that in Mourinho. United are also unbeaten in the league since midOctober and after liverpool and Arsenal dropped points at the weekend, their great rivals now have their top-four destiny in their own hands for the first time.
THE BAD NEWS
GIVEN their fixture schedule and participation in the europa league, something has to give and I think it will. United still have to travel to Tottenham, Arsenal and City and I think that will get them in the end.
MANCHESTER United ended the weekend inside the top five for the first time in 184 days (since september 16, 2016).
6th, 50pts. Form: LLWLL THE GOOD NEWS
ARSENAL always finish the season well, usually when it’s too late in terms of trophies. It is very possible that this will happen again.
THE BAD NEWS
There is too much confusion and uncertainty around Arsenal at the moment. It seems that Wenger will stay but what about players such as Alexis sanchez and Mesut Ozil? Arsenal don’t look like a team who have any kind of collective will and understanding any more and it is likely they will now pour all their emotional energy into their FA Cup semi-final against City.
ARSENAL have lost four out of five league games for the first time since April 1995 (under caretaker manager stewart houston).
PREDICTION: Fifth EVERTON 7th, 50pts. Form: DWLWW THE GOOD NEWS
KOEMAN and his playerss have enjoyed a season of real progress and anything they achieve from here is a bonus. That means there should be an absence of pressure and with ross Barkley and romelu lukaku (below) on form, they have the capacity to hurt teams. everton know that a win in the derby on April 1 would scare the life out of their neighbours.
THE BAD NEWS
EVERTON have played more games than anyone but liverpool and that will probably prove crucial. They are on a great run and started the season brightly. But 10 games that yielded seven points between september and December will come back to haunt them.
EVERTON have had more different scorers than any other side in the top flight this season (15).
On the up: Lingard (left) celebrates with Young on Sunday after firing United to fifth