With Chelsea comfortably clear at the top of the Premier League, they’re firm favourites to wrestle the title away from current champions Manchester City. But there is still over three months of the season left to play, and we’ve already witnessed City clawing back a similar gap earlier this term back in December, after Chelsea’s squad was stretched to breaking point after the festive period fixture pile up. In short, it isn’t quite all over.
With multiple fronts for the Blues to compete on over the next few months, could they throw away another lead? City have roared back to title wins in recent seasons, we even saw it last term when they overtook Liverpool late in the campaign and clinched the title on the final day. City will fight as long as they can to keep their trophy, but who has the advantage in the run-in? Here we take a look at the final 10 games for both sides, to see what challenges face the champions and the challengers.
The big thing that stands out from each side’s final 10 games, is that Chelsea have the home advantage. The Blues are at home in six of their last ten, while City have five home and five away games in the final stretch of the season. That makes things easier for Chelsea, and it cuts down on their traveling, which is one of the obstacles that often gets overlooked. In fact, the league leaders have seven of their last eight games in London, which is surely going to help them, especially if they’re still in the Champions League by then.
As we mentioned, fixture congestion could play a part in the title race, with both sides currently in the Champions League and looking for a good run in the competition. While that isn’t much of a factor in the early part of the run-in, if they reach the quarter finals of Europe’s elite competition they face the prospect of five games in 14 days. If they’re going to do well in both competitions, a strong squad and regular rotation is clearly essential.
While Manchester United may be some way off the top of the table, they could well have a big say in the title race. That’s because they come head to head with the top two in the space of a week in April. City face a trip to Old Trafford on the 11th April, then the weekend after the Red Devils head down to London to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With Louis van Gaal’s side pushing for the Champions League, they can’t afford any slip ups either.
While the game against neighbours United is big for City, Chelsea’s meeting with the Red Devils kicks off a crucial part of their campaign. They have a possible Champions League quarter final a few days after that, and the following three league games contain tough fixtures, including those against Arsenal and Liverpool. That stretch, between the middle of April and early May, could be when the league leaders put the title beyond doubt… or falter and let City back in.
City have a few tough games of their own, and their run of games in May looks quite difficult. They face Tottenham and Swansea away, plus a home game against Champions League-chasing Southampton on the final day. The later games in the season are hard to call, because we don’t know where teams will be in the table and what form they’re going to be in, but if Spurs and Saints are both pushing for the Champions League in May, City will have a big task to win those games.
The one thing we’ve seen from City in their last two title wins is that they tend to finish the season well. But, just what does it take to clinch the title in the run-in? We looked at the last 10 games from each sides recent title wins, looking at just how well they did on their way to lifting the trophy.
Interestingly, Manchester City’s record in the final 10 games was identical in their two title winning seasons. They won seven of their last 10 in each, drawing two and losing one. As for Chelsea, under Mourinho in 2005 they didn’t lose in their final 10, drawing three and winning the rest. 2006 was a different story, as they lost their two games after sealing the title, meaning they won just six of their last 10, losing three in total. Their most recent title win came in 2010, when they won eight, drew one and lost one in the final stages, lifting the trophy on the final day.
While it’s unlikely to come down to the last day, given the current gap between the sides, this does show us roughly what it takes to lift the title. Both sides have a 70% win ratio from their last 10 games of title winning seasons. If Chelsea could do something similar to that, then it’s likely City would have to win all of their remaining games to retain their title. With three of their last four away games against bottom 10 sides, and six home games in their last 10, you’d have to imagine Chelsea can get close to that win ratio.
There will of course be twists and shocks along the way, as there tends to be in any Premier League season. Teams at the bottom will be fighting for their lives, while some teams will already be in holiday mode. How the fixtures fall can play a key role, but it’s up to each side to go out and win them if they want to be champions.
At the moment, it all looks to be in the Blues’ favour. They have an advantage at the top, more home games, an easier run of fixtures in May and their away games don’t require too big of a trek. While Champions League progress and injuries will play a part, everything’s falling Chelsea’s way as things stand. Having lead the table from day one, it’s only going to be their fault if they’re not there come 24th May.