It's been full of thrills and spills, howlers and great goals, bone crunching tackles and shameful dives, but now the English Premier League Season 2010/11 is almost at it's end. Who will be in the top spots and who will be looking at second tier football come August.
The tale at the top is a simple one, it's technically a three horse race with six points dividing the top three (Man Utd. Chelsea and Arsenal) with three games (and nine points) remaining. For Arsenal to cause an upset they need both Manchester United and Chelsea to drop almost all of their points. Still for the true Gooners out there, who may not have noticed the spectacular way their title dreams have crumbled of late, you can get great soccer odds on Arsenal lifting the trophy.
Anyone who had a bet on Arsenal winning nothing this year could have picked up odds of 2/5 before the season kicked off and will now be laughing all the way to the bank, especially as at one point they were in contention for three trophies, and in one Cup final. Arsenal are at an outlandish 66/1 with Paddy Power to win the league now. The realists out there will know that despite Arsenal sneaking a win against the Red Devils last weekend, all that really did was give Chelsea a chance to nick the trophy at the death. Chelsea are 3/1 (at present) to retain the title, and Manchester United are the sportsbooks' favourites at 2/9.
If Chelsea are to lift the title they have to start by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. The fact of the matter is that if Chelsea beat Manchester they will be equal on points with a better goal difference and "just" have to keep winning (and scoring) at the same rate (or better) as Man Utd. to lift the trophy.
A draw or a Red win and it's pretty much goodbye until next year for Chelsea.
Beyond the top spot there is the all important top four. The traditional quartet of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd, playing musical chairs with the top four spots has taken a knock recently with Manchester City and occasionally Tottenham crashing the party. With the shaky start Liverpool had, it's no surprise that the top four predicted look likely to be the top four come the 22nd of May.
Paddy Power are offering odds on the fourth spot, as the top three are already guaranteed top four status for another year (third place Arsenal being 12 points ahead of both fifth place Liverpool and sixth place Tottenham). The only thing possibly worth a bet is backing either Spurs or the Scousers unseating Manchester City. With both clubs seven points off City, and with a noticeably worse goal difference, it's no wonder the odds on a top four finish are at 1/50 for Man City, 16/1 for Spurs and 33/1 for Liverpool. What might be a more entertaining bet is the 5th spot, as there's just goal difference (Liverpool on +15 and Spurs on +7) separating the sides.
Tough at the bottom
Now let's take a look away from the joys of European football and get down to the dirty work of Premier League survival.
It's still a tough time to be supporting a team beginning with a W (with the exception of West Brom). The bottom three currently reads, 18th Wigan (with 35 points), 19th Wolverhampton (on 34 points) and finally 20th West Ham (with just 32 points). While all of these teams and their supporters have reason to be worried, the good news is that there are six sides just six points above the drop zone, and with nine points to play for, safety might just be a couple of wins away. The most precariously placed team is Blackpool, they have the same number of points as Wigan but are 17th by virtue of goal difference, and a single goal at that (Blackpool have –22, Wigan are on –23).
Going down / staying up
Paddy power have odds on teams avoiding the drop as follows; Birmingham (on 39 points) are at 1/25, Blackburn (38 points) are at 1/7 and Blackpool (35 points) are at 5/2. Being in the bottom three doesn't make you odds on favourite to go down, Wigan are 11/8, Wolves are 5/4 and West Ham are 5/2.
Victor Chandler are offering odds on the same six teams and by their reckoning, safety sits at 41 points as Sunderland (in 14th place), Aston Villa (15th) and Newcastle (16th) are not being offered up as relegation candidates, and they all have 41 points.
Looking at the fixtures, Villa (facing Wigan, Arsenal and Liverpool) might not get any more points and if you can find odds on them dropping into the Championship stick a few quid on them (what else are long shots for). There's plenty of sixpointers out there as Blackburn play West Ham and Wolves (plus in the middle Man Utd). Wigan also face West Ham so their fate may lie in their own hands. West Ham face Blackburn (at home), Wigan (away) and end the season taking on Sunderland (at home) that's possibly the "easiest" final furlong, but even with a theoretical nine points (giving them 41) they might have left their push for survival a little late.
Can Chelsea do Blackpool a favour, or vice versa?
I'm very tempted to back Blackpool to stay up. If nothing else for the symmetry of all three promoted sides surviving a season in the Premiership (West Brom and Newcastle being the other two.) What's more if Man Utd. beat Chelsea (and then take anything from their trip to Blackburn, they'll be at least four points clear with one game left) and the league will be theirs for a record 19th time. Their last game of the season will be against Blackpool, with the trophy won and a Champions League final merely days away we might see a second string United, with the big guns rested ahead of the Barcelona clash.
If that's the case, and if Blackpool can save themselves with a good hard win, they might just do that. However if Chelsea take three points on Sunday (meaning Man Utd. have to keep winning) expect Blackpool to receive a proper spanking. Blackpool's other fixtures are Tottenham away (that's Spurs who have gone off the boil of late but won't give up their dreams of European football lightly) and Bolton at home; no guarantee of points anywhere there. However if you fancy a sizeable bet, go for Birmingham coming unstuck, they face Newcastle at St James Park, Fulham at home and finally (that) Tottenham away, with a trophy in the cupboard (the Carling Cup and a licence to participate in next year's Europa League that that entails) plus the fact that they are the bookies favourites to stay up, they might just get careless and start shipping points, setting up a thrilling finish.
I'm sticking to my original prediction of the three Ws to go down.
The very foot of the table
If relegation isn't depressing enough for you there are odds on the team to finish dead bottom. The fattest odds are on Blackburn at 40/1 and the shortest odds are on West Ham at 9/5. With Man Utd. being able to pretty much tie up their season on Sunday, backing teams to avoid the drop will keep you watching the English Premier League up until the very last kick of the season. What's not to love about that?
Prediction: Man Utd. will be the Champions, West Ham, Wigan And Wolves will be in the Championship.