Premier League Playback: Who has edge in top four race?

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There is a special scenario playing out in the Premier League this season, hence why this edition of Premier League Playback is focusing solely on the crazy top four race.

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With Chelsea eight points clear at the top, it seems like this season will become all about the race for second place. And third place. And fourth place. Just two points separates Spurs in second place and Manchester United in sixth after the weekend games in Week 25.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

With six giants of English soccer scrambling for the top four with their big-name managers, there is so little to divide these behemoth clubs.

Yet, let’s have a go shall we? Might as well…

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below is a look at how many points each of the five contenders for the three remaining UEFA Champions League spots (let’s be very realistic a little wild and assume Chelsea wins the PL…) will get, thus predicting who will finish in the top four.

My word, it’s going to be tight.


MANCHESTER CITY

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Pep Guardiola‘s side have to play four of the top six in the final 13 games of the season, leaving them with a very tough schedule. A spell at the end of March and start of April will decide their season with a triple header of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, plus potential Champions League and FA Cup games. Given the fact they’ll likely go deep in the UCL and the FA Cup, that will mean plenty of rotation in the squad. With Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Kelechi Iheanacho in reserve right now, that should be fine. You get the sense the penny has dropped for Pep’s players in recent weeks. Expect them to go on a run and finish his opening season as a coach in the PL strongly. Chelsea will beat them to the title, for this season at least, but finishing second (especially after their poor start) would be a good achievement. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Manchester United (TBA), vs. Liverpool (Mar. 19), at Arsenal (Apr. 1), at Chelsea (Apr. 5)
Predicted final points total: 82 points (2nd place finish)


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Following their early UCL exit, Spurs’ players will be determined to put things right in Europe next season. Given their remaining schedule, plus it being their last season at the old White Hart Lane, motivation levels will be high. You’d like to think there won’t be a late season collapse a la 2015-16 and Mauricio Pochettino and his players will have learned from that. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have to turn up in the big games as Spurs only have one win this season against the current top six. Luckily they only have two games against the current top six in their remaining 13 fixtures. That’s the main reason they’ll seal a top four finish. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 78 points (3rd place finish)


LIVERPOOL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: With no European or cup action to worry about, Klopp’s men have 13 cup finals to get themselves into the top four. Like Chelsea, that’s a massive bonus. With Sadio Mane back, plus injuries at a minimum, Liverpool has a great chance to finish in the top four. Like Spurs, they could easily go unbeaten in their final 13 games of the season and delivering a UCL spot was always the target this season. Looks like Liverpool will do it. Just about. It all depends on limiting those sloppy defensive mistakes and the only other issue is the fact that they play a couple of relegation contenders who will be scrapping for their lives in the final weeks of the season. That always throws up some bizarre results. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Mar. 4), at Manchester City (Mar. 19)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (4th place finish)


MANCHESTER UNITED

Why they’ll finish in the top four: All of those draws look like they will cost surging United dear. Jose Mourinho’s men have only lost three games this season and none of their last 16 in the PL in a fine unbeaten run. But with Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to play in the final six weeks of the season, they’ll likely drop plenty more points. With Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to come in their last six games of the season, Mourinho’s men have to rack up the points now and then hope they can power over the line. Having a taxing Europa League campaign, plus FA Cup involvement, will make that tough. You get a horrible sense that they may have left this surge in the second half of the season just a little too late. 
Toughest games remaining
: at Manchester City (TBA), vs. Chelsea (Apr. 15), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)


ARSENAL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Because it’s Arsenal. Duh. Seriously, they have a better defense than last season and despite the “Wenger Out” brigade once again warming up their vocal chords, things aren’t that bad. The only thing which could derail their top four chase is if one, or all three, of Wenger, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil decide to make an announcement about a future move away from the Emirates before the end of the season. That, plus actually getting past the UCL Round of 16, would throw a major spanner in the works. It will be a close call for the Gunners because they arguably have the hardest remaining schedule of any top four contender. Looks like they may just miss out when you consider the fixtures below…
Toughest games remaining: at Liverpool (Mar. 4), vs. Manchester City (Apr. 1), at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish)


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Spurs, Saints play to stalemate

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  • Bertrand forces Spurs own goal
  • Kane levels before halftime
  • Spurs stay fifth
  • Saints one point back of safety

Harry Kane made amends for a Davinson Sanchez own goal as Tottenham Hotspur drew Southampton 1-1 at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Southampton is now winless in 11 Premier League matches, while Spurs are unbeaten in six.

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Spurs entered the game with Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris out through sickness and several more not at 100 percent, and Sanchez was surely feeling ill when his sliding attempt to block a Ryan Bertrand cross beat his own keeper to the inside post.

It was 1-1 within moments, as Kane rose over Manolo Gabbiadini after losing mark Jack Stephens on a corner kick.

James Ward-Prowse was fortunate to avoid a card when he kicked out at Jan Vertonghen following a slide tackle from the Spurs center back.

Stephens just missed making up for his error when he zipped onto Ward-Prowse’s free kick but headed just wide of the far upper 90.

Mario Lemina forced Vorm into a save after a 41st minute set-up by Gabbiadini.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ward-Prowse tried his luck from 25 yards to start the second half, but Vorm saw the ball the whole way into his arms.

Spurs grew into the second half, and Dele Alli lashed wide of the near post in the 65th minute. Vertonghen buzzed the tower with a left-footed shot five minutes later.

Would anything give as the match progressed, with Spurs inserting Erik Lamela and Saints opting for Sofiane Boufal and 17-year-old debutant Michael Obafemi?

Good work from Kane and Sissoko ended with an on-the-doorstep Lamela shooting off a Saints defender and out, poorly adjudged to be a goal kick.

Obafemi misjudged a chance to redirect a cross past Vorm in the 87th minute, and Cedric ventured a laser wide of the goal as Saints looked for a winner. Boufal was then blocked by Sanchez after taking a touch too much in the box.

Kane had late opportunity for Spurs, but dragged his shot or pass through the six without a receiver.

VIDEO: Ronaldo bloodied after diving header goal in Real rout

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This hasn’t been a good league year for Cristiano Ronaldo nor his club Real Madrid, and the reigning league winners let their frustrations out on Deportivo de la Coruna on Sunday.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on Alexis-Mkhi ]

Ronaldo scored twice in the 7-1 rout, and the second saw his face bloodied by a boot when he went low to head home in the second half for Real’s sixth goal.

Fortunately for Ronaldo, he’s the sort of player who doesn’t care about his looks. Hilariously, cameras caught the mega star using a cell phone to assess the damage.

The goals end a three-match league dry spell for the Ballon d’Or collector, who has 17 goals in 25 matches across all competitions this season.

Real is 16 points back of Barcelona in La Liga, on pace to finish fourth in the division.

Judging the Premier League’s in-season managerial changes

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Stoke City, Swansea City, and now Watford have all made managerial changes in the last month, and await the long-term response of their players to new bosses Paul Lambert (so far, so good), Carlos Carvalhal (mixed, but a win), and probably Javi Gracia, respectively.

That means 40 percent of Premier League clubs have ditched their Opening Day bosses this season. Some were overdue, others were debatable, and the latest — Watford’s sacking of Marco Silva after denying Everton’s pursuit of the boss — is a real head scratcher.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

How have the moves worked so far?

Crystal Palace
Frank De Boer — 0W-4L
Roy Hodgson — 6W-7D-7L

Hodgson is actually on pace to outdo Sam Allardyce‘s 8W-2D-11L campaign to save Palace’s 2016-17 season. FDB’s short-lived campaign is difficult to judge, his lone win coming in the League Cup against Championship competition, but there’s little debate as to whether Hodgson’s discipline has worked at Selhurst Park.

Everton
Ronald Koeman — 2W-2D-5L
David Unsworth (caretaker) — 2W-2D-1L
Sam Allardyce — 3W-4D-3L

Everton’s entire season has been the same tale: beat the lower half clubs but fail to meet expectations against almost anyone of merit. That’s taken a dive in recent weeks, as Allardyce has drawn West Brom twice and lost at Bournemouth. Jury’s out, and Allardyce has a lot to prove as another team brings him in and spends dough on his behalf.

Leicester City
Craig Shakespeare — 1W-3D-4L
Michael Appleton (caretaker) — 1W
Claude Puel — 7W-4D-4L

It’s now two-straight seasons of poor starts dooming the Leicester City manager, and Shakespeare understandably did not get patience considering the Foxes fired the architect of their stored PL run in Claudio Ranieri (who has Nantes fifth place in Ligue 1). Puel got a rough ride from expectation-heavy Saints fans, who’d probably love to have him back right now. This is an unqualified success, and Leicester may just make it back to Europe.

Swansea City
Paul Clement — 3W-3D-12L
Leon Britton (player manager) — 1D-1L
Carlos Carvalhal — 1W-1D-1L

It’s hard to gauge whether Carvalhal was the right hire, but Swans’ record has improved in the five matches since he was fired and the lone losses are to Liverpool and Spurs. The firing, it seems, was the right call.

West Brom
Tony Pulis — 2W-4D-6L
Gary Megson (caretaker) — 2D
Alan Pardew — 1W-4D-4L

The wins still need to come, but West Brom do look a more promising side and Alan Pardew’s desire to play two strikers certainly makes for better entertainment than Tony Pulis’ unit. Like Everton, the jury is still out. If we had to judge, we’d say it’s the right move for a fan base which prefers a more fashionable style of play (but also prefers being in the Premier League).

West Ham
Slaven Bilic — 2W-3D-6L
David Moyes — 4W-4D-4L

So far, Moyes is doing wonders for his reputation while performing feats that Everton is still seeking from Allardyce; West Ham has spent some money, and Moyes is getting performances out of Marko Arnautovic and using his width well (Arthur Masuaku has been impressive at full back).

Watch Live: Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen miss out as sickness-hit Tottenham Hotspur visits struggling Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

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That opens up spots in the lineup for Michel Vorm and Moussa Sissoko, as Spurs aim to go level on points with fourth-place Liverpool.

Saints dipped into the drop zone when Stoke City won on Saturday, but will sit 14th if they can spring a home win over Spurs.

Mauricio Pellegrino is giving Mario Lemina and Manolo Gabbiadini, as well as in-form James Ward-Prowse, the starters’ chance to stop the rot. Southampton is winless in 10 league matches, but has drawn three of the last five.

LINEUPS

Southampton: McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Lemina, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Hojbjerg, Gabbiadini. Subs: Forster, Pied, Bednarek, Davis, Boufal, Redmond, Obafemi.

Tottenham Hotspur: Vorm, Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Dembele, Sissoko, Dele, Son, Kane. Subs: Gazzaniga, Foyth, Trippier, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Lamela, Llorente.