Rat Race (noun) (informal)
1. A way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power.
2. A rat race is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. It conjures up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat trying to escape while running around a maze or in a wheel.
The premier league rat race surely is a competitive struggle for wealth or power, but definitely not pointless and self-defeating. It ends with a champion, European football, survival, money that would make your head swirl, and most importantly, bragging rights. Well, if you come out on the top anyway. With eight game weeks till the end of the season and the battle for top four too close for comfort, here’s how I think the teams will end up. (No, I like to think of it as brave. Not daft.)
Only two points separate second and fourth place as the battle for Champions League football heats up.
Tipped as favorites to win the league right from the offset after a brilliant summer transfer window, Chelsea put on a show of one consistent performance after the other. New signings Fabregas and Costa linked up with such great fluidity and understanding, one could only assume they were Siamese twins once upon a time. Fabregas had 13 assists and 2 goals in 18 games to his name this season till the turn of the year, while Costa had 13 goals and an assist in 16 games in the same period. Fabregas has had only 3 assists and no goals in 8 matches since. Hazard and Oscar took turns to light the field up while Matic did all the dirty work behind this formidable attack force. Willian, Ramires and Drogba proved to be efficient deputies when relied upon. The defence, as expected from a Jose Mourinho team, was solid as ever; having conceded the least number of goals of all 20 teams in the league. But all of a sudden, the shine seems to be wearing off of this well-oiled unit. Fabregas’ pin point passes are going wayward and Costa, Oscar and Willian don’t seem to have their spark anymore. Matic is still getting back to terms after a red card followed by an injury celebrating the Capitol One Cup win – a game he didn’t even play in. Hazard seems to be the only one who has any sort of form right now but without support from his teammates he won’t be able to do too much for too long.
Prediction – With the impending visit of Manchester United and Liverpool, and with Chelsea yet to travel to the Emirates, this is no time for Chelsea to be faltering. But they have created enough of a cushion at the top and the experience of Jose Mourinho should be enough to see them through till the end to replace Manchester City as champions of England.
Although he’ll be fuming with his team’s recent performances, “the special one” should be able to lead his team to the premier league title
The champions have been in top two for 13 game-weeks straight since beating Southampton at St. Mary’s on 30th November. While they looked set to lock horns with Chelsea, fighting tooth and nail to retain the Premier League trophy, the departure of a single man seemed to have turned their season around completely. With Yaya Toure away at the Africa Cup Of Nations, Fernando and Fernandinho failed to fill his boots effectively, and City won only one of six games in Toure’s absence. Hardly a good run for someone looking to secure Champions League football, let alone win the league. “Super” Frank Lampard can’t seem to find those important, point-securing rescue goals anymore, while Nasri and Navas can’t seem to find their feet. The City boat is suddenly showing signs of leaks and even the combined craft and talent of Aguero and David Silva can’t seem to prevent the water from getting in. A largely changed City played out an easy 3- 0 win against 10 man West Brom but they need to get things back on track, and fast.
Prediction – This City team suddenly seem to have a confidence lapse, replicating that of a team battling relegation. They still have travels to Old Trafford and White Hart Lane while Southampton play at the Etihad on the final day of the season. The injury to Yaya Toure further adds to their headache. With a lack of inspiration and motivation haunting City, I see them dropping out of their second place guarantee and finish third.
Manchester City are hitting a bad patch of form at the worst possible time
The FA Cup and fourth place win seems to have worked well for Wenger last year, but it’s been more than 10 years since the Invincibles lifted the trophy; and fans clearly want to see their team back at the top, challenging for the title. While the title seems an unrealistic target at this point of the season, second place is definitely within reach and achieving that would ceartainly be seen as a brilliant season for Arsenal. The recent run of form has been brilliant by Wenger’s men with Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud all contributing alongside the phenomenal Alexis Sanchez. Ramsey and Coquelin have also been solid in midfield. The Gunners have hit great form at the right time of the season and with the FA Cup within reach, there’s no lack of inspiration for the team to finish the season on a high. Gloomily, though, Wenger doesn’t seem to have capitalized on good runs in the past few seasons. They were lucky to walk away from Newcastle with all 3 points and Wenger’s men need to show the grit that they seem to have lacked in the recent past.
Giroud has scored 9 goals in his last 9 games for club in all competitions
Prediction – Arsenal are still to play Liverpool and Chelsea at home and United and the Theatre Of Dreams. Despite their good form, Arsenal haven’t had the best results against top 6 opposition in the past few years and the FA Cup could prove to be a distraction. Against the odds, based purely on their inability to get the results in the big games, the prediction here sees Arsenal finish fourth. Again.
For a team that seems to have had some terrible performances, Manchester United have somehow managed to get the results in the Premier League. Since September, United are second only to Chelsea in terms of points (57 to 58, although Chelsea have a game in hand; City have managed 56 in that period). Van Gaal’s “philosophy” finally seems to be working with a couple of great performances and suddenly there seems to be a lift of confidence among the Old Trafford faithful. Although the big summer signings, Di Maria and Falcao haven’t proven their salt yet, Rooney is loving being reinstated up front with Herrera, Carrick, Blind putting in some stellar performances. Van Gaal also seems to have reignited Fellaini and Young who are giving their best performances in a United jersey on a weekly basis. Mata’s brilliant couple of performances at Di Maria’s expense will provide Louis Van Gaal with a welcome selection headache.
Prediction – United have the toughest run in of all teams eyeing Champions League football, but having already brushed aside Tottenham and Liverpool with comprehensive performances, they suddenly seem to have hit their stride. They are still to face Chelsea away and City and Arsenal at home, but with good performances against the top teams so far, United look favorites to win the two big ties at home and finish second. It’s the away games against tricky opponents like Everton that they might have to worry about though.
Manchester United have the best results when the top five have gone head to head
A highly contrasting season to last year, Brendan Rodger’s team were long chasing European football from the back of the pack. But come 2015, they have suddenly strung along performances that show shades of the team that came close to their first Premier League trophy. The return of Sturridge had certainly eased the pressure up front, but he seems to suffering from yet another injury and is set to face another three to four weeks on the sidelines. Coutinho and Sterling have showed shades of magic when most needed and Jordan Henderson is slowly showing why he could fill Steven Gerrard’s boots in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. Gerrard himself had a blink-and-you-miss-it performance against United that will see him miss some crucial games. Skrtel being handed a retrospective three-match ban for a stamp on De Gea in that game as well has only further added to Liverpool’s woes.
Till the game against United, Liverpool hadn’t lost in the league since “Jesus” appeared at Anfield
Prediction – Although Liverpool were the best team on form in the league since “Jesus” appeared at Anfield, it could prove to be too little too late. The loss against United keeps them 5 points off fourth place and they are yet to travel to the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and a tricky trip to Stoke on the last day of the season. Couple that with FA Cup duties, and Liverpool look set to miss out Champions League football for next season. They might also need to be wary of Southampton and Tottenham clipping at their heels for Europa League football!
With all the current top five yet to play multiple games against other Champions League contenders in the last 8 games (9 for Chelsea), these might as well be face-offs for one another’s spot with each victory over a direct rival effectively being a six point result – three won and three lost by the opposition! A lot of permutation combinations have already come into play and the eighth grade math suddenly seems to be kicking in at the end of every game-week. Supporters are now calculating what results from other fixtures helps their cause the most, and don’t be surprised to see a Gunner rooting for a Spurs win. With the rat race now effectively between City, Arsenal, United and Liverpool, my sympathy lies with all their supporters for this nervous run in. There will be moments where your nails be so far bitten into you’ll look for your neighbour’s. But it will all be worth it in the end for the victors. The losers best be prepared for a summer full of painful banter.
A wise man once truly said, “Football, bloody hell!”