The Premier League is considered by many to be the strongest and most difficult league in the world and the 2021-22 season is holding to form, with places hotly contested up and down the table.
Although marred by COVID-19 disruptions, the races are compelling. Man City has pulled ahead with a commanding lead, but Liverpool (and possibly Chelsea) can still make a race of it in the second half of the season. The Reds would seem to be the most likely challenger standing in the way of Pep Guardiola’s fourth title in the last five seasons.
Other spots throughout the table are just as important, with teams fighting for Champions League and European places, while others are battling to avoid relegation. A snapshot of each race follows below.
Manchester City currently holds a 12-point lead atop the Premier League table, and FiveThirtyEight has the Citizens at 84 percent to win the Premier League title (down from 88 percent) after a 1-1 draw at Southampton on Jan. 22.
Liverpool and Chelsea can still make things interesting if City continues to slip up. Liverpool now sits 12 points back and still has two games in hand, while Chelsea has a bit more work to do to catch back up. The Blues are in a tough spot, with just one win in their last six and languishing 13 points behind. It feels that their title chase may be about up.
Outside of these three, no other team has a realistic shot at winning the Premier League title as it would take a cataclysmic collapse by multiple top teams to see the likes of West Ham, Arsenal, Spurs, and Manchester United to enter the mix.
PTS = Points, GP = Games Played, GD = Goal Difference (goals scored less goals conceded)
vs. BRE, Feb. 9
@ CRY, Jan. 23
vs. TOT, Jan. 23
Champions League places: Top 4 chase
The Champions League race — only four spots are available and they go to the top four teams in the table — is probably the most fascinating, as a number of teams are in the mix and only four can make it through.
Man City, Chelsea, and Liverpool all seem to be trending towards comfortably finishing in the top four, as FiveThirtyEight puts each of them at over 90 percent to clinch a berth in next season’s Champions League.
The fourth and final Champions League spot is the one everyone has their eyes on. Manchester United currently sits in fourth place thanks to a dramatic win over the Hammers, but Arsenal and Spurs are in position to overtake the Red Devils. West Ham will definitely remain in the mix, but David Moyes’s team has played at least one more game than the others around them.
FiveThirtyEight‘s predictions have Tottenham now the most likely to snatch that spot, at 43 percent after the stunning win over Leicester City in mid-January, while Arsenal is at 38 percent, and Man United is at 16 percent. West Ham’s chances took a real hit, dropping from 11 percent to six percent after the loss to Man United.
vs. TOT, Jan. 23
@ BUR, Feb. 8
vs. WAT, Feb. 8
@ CHE, Jan. 23
vs. BUR, Jan. 23
vs. ARS, Feb. 10
Premier League race for European places
In addition to the Champions League, there are two Europa League berths up for grabs: one goes to the fifth-place Premier League team and the other goes to the FA Cup winner. There is also a Europa Conference League berth that goes to the League Cup winner.
However, if the FA Cup or League Cup winners have already qualified to the Champions League or Europa League through other means, the berth automatically assigned to the cup winner is transferred to the next highest team in the Premier League standings that has not already qualified for a European competition. In that scenario, finishing sixth or seventh could also lead to a spot in Europe.
So until there’s clarity with the cup scenarios, we will assume that fifth, sixth, and seventh are all in contention for European berths. And with Leicester City and Tottenham having games in hand, they might have a slight edge for now.
* = Fifth place automatically earns a Europa League berth next season. Sixth place only wins a Europa League spot if the FA Cup winner finishes in the Top 4. Seventh place will only gain a Europa Conference berth if the League Cup winner (Chelsea or Liverpool) finish in the top four.
Premier League relegation battle
Premier League revenue streams are astronomical in the football world, so suffering relegation from the English top flight is a costly proposition. Teams fight as hard as possible to avoid the bottom three places and keep from meeting this fate.
With the bottom four teams within five points, the relegation race is wide open.
For long stretches this season it appeared that Norwich City would almost certainly be headed for the drop, but on the heels of a managerial change and big results against Everton and Watford, the Canaries are one point above the relegation zone.
Newcastle, under new ownership, is already spending big money to improve the squad in the January transfer window with plenty of time left yet to score points. The Magpies’ win at Leeds United could loom large at season’s end.
Things are not looking too bright for Burnley, especially with star forward Chris Wood making the switch to Tyneside. But their many games in hand give the Clarets a fighting chance.
Watford is also a serious relegation candidate with reports of manager Claudio Ranieri facing the axe. Leeds and Everton started in a much more advantageous position with some padding, but they have looked lost at times this season and it seems inevitable that they will be sucked into the vortex.
@MCI, Feb. 9
@VIL, Feb. 9
@ NEW, Feb. 8
vs. CRY, Feb. 9
vs. EVE, Feb. 8
@ BUR, Feb. 5
@ ARS, Jan. 23
* = The bottom three teams are relegated to the second tier Championship.