We’re another week closer to knowing who will be crowned Premier League champions and who will succumb to the dreaded drop, and yet the picture does not appear to be all that much clearer.
As a consequence, there is still plenty of betting value to be enjoyed:
The Title Race
Leicester (11/5) West Brom (h), Watford (a), Newcastle (h)
It took them a while, but Leicester eventually saw off Norwich at the weekend courtesy of an 89th minute goal for Leonardo Ulloa. That win took the Foxes five points clear with Arsenal and Spurs both playing on Sunday, and naturally extended their favouritism with the bookies, where they are now as short as 7/4.
Can the impossible become a reality? Even the bookmakers are starting to think so.
As far as their next three fixtures are concerned, you couldn’t really ask for more. Watford away will be a tough encounter, but as a prospective Premier League champion you have to see off West Brom and Newcastle at home – particularly as Leicester have no cup distractions, unlike some of their rivals.
Spurs (9/4) West Ham (a), Arsenal (h), Aston Villa (a)
While Leicester’s ascent to potential league champions has captivated the football world, Spurs have rather more quietly gone about their business. And yet, if Mauricio Pochettino’s side are to life the famous trophy, you could argue that it would be as big a surprise as a possible Foxes triumph.
They did as expected yesterday in beating Swansea 2-1, although they had to battle after going a goal down. But then again, that’s what champions do, right?
Their next two fixtures could make or break their campaign. A trip to Upton Park isn’t easy these days, and then the North London derby the week after will surely eliminate either Spurs or Arsenal from the title party; or perhaps both if it ends in a draw.
Arsenal (14/5) Swansea (h), Spurs (a), West Brom (h)
It was amazing really, but many pundits had written off the title race after Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Leicester a fortnight ago or so. They had shown bottle and character in that victory – two qualities often found lacking in the Gunners – and for many that meant that they were now a shoe-in for top spot.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Arsene Wenger’s side are out of contention – depending on who you listen to – after a galling 2-3 defeat to Manchester United.
With FA Cup and Champions League (probably only one more match in truth) distractions as well, it is a packed schedule for Wenger and his men. But you look at their next three fixtures and think seven points will keep them right in the mix. Getting those points could be the problem, however.
Manchester City (6/1) Liverpool (a), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (a)
It’s amazing that Man City have become almost a side-note in this race for Premier League honours, but in being nine points behind – albeit with a game in hand – they are merely pretenders to the throne than contenders.
They’ve been rather ordinary since Kevin de Bruyne picked up his injury, and with a possible Champions League assault in their midst you would assume that Manuel Pellegrini’s side will fade out of the title picture in the coming weeks.
Only nine points from nine in their next trio of matches will do, and while that is achievable we would assume that the likes of Aguero, Toure and Kompany will be handled with care with the Champions League becoming priority number one.
The Relegation Dogfight
Aston Villa (1/66)
They’re doomed: nothing else need be said.
Sunderland (1/2) Crystal Palace (h), Southampton (a), Newcastle (a)
Big Sam Allardyce has a habit of fashioning miracles that often go overlooked, and he will need all of his cunning to steer Sunderland out of the relegation mire here.
However, the Black Cats are just a solitary point from safety, and assuming they secure something from their next game against hapless Crystal Palace they could elevate themselves out of the bottom three.
Nobody in the North East will want to admit it, but the Mackem-Geordie derby on March 20 will probably determine both of these sides’ fates.
Newcastle (13/8) Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Leicester (a)
Despite Steve McClaren’s extravagant spending, Newcastle United are firmly ensconced in the relegation mire; and have yet to show signs of any green shoots of recovery.
They possess the firepower in attack and the quality in midfield to survive, but defensively they are so bad it would take a brave punter to back them to survive.
Again, for Newcastle fans you would expect the Tynewear derby to take on added significance this year.
Norwich (4/6) Chelsea (h), Swansea (a), Man City (h)
This column has been tipping Norwich for the drop for a while now, and the bookmakers seem to be catching on now that they are an odds-against proposition.
They showed plenty of fight in their 0-1 reverse at Leicester, but unfortunately it is points on the board that secure survival, not character.
And look at those next three fixtures. There’s little reason to oppose Norwich returning from whence they came at the first time of asking.