The 5 Matches To Decide 4th Place

Posted on April 10, 2011

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This is a good time to reflect on the high points of this season. The 4-4 comeback to end all comebacks between Arsenal and Newcastle, Chelsea’s 12 goals in the opening 2 matches of the season, Ian Holloway in….general.

I say this because this is the time of year where nervy low scoring and goalless games become commonplace. There will likely be a shift towards defensiveness from teams who would rather take a point from the big matches and try to hold their own/make up ground against teams that they aren’t in direct league table competition with.

Tomorrow is the first of these massive matches. Liverpool take on Man City. In the last City match, Mancini decided to actually put out an attacking side, rather than one with 3 natural defensive midfielders in it (De Jong, Barry, Toure). Being able to leave players like Dzeko and Milner on the bench is a testament to the talent available at Eastlands, and with a strike force of Adam Johnson, David Silva, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, they took apart Sunderland in a 5-0 pasting.

This match though…don’t count on it. City are the ones currently in the driving seat, so I can see them switching back to 4-5-1 and trying to take advantage of Liverpool’s full-back crisis.

The book I’m reading right now, Ender’s Game, has a pretty lengthy introduction. At one point, the author talks American military history and muses that “history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville…to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee  to dust in Grant’s long campaign”. Seeing as how I’m a football obsessive, I couldn’t help but relate it to the Liverpool situation. For the longest time, I defended Roy Hodgson. He inherited the noble fools of Benitez; a team lacking any naturally wide attackers, over-reliant on their star striker with a raft of mediocre players. But Liverpool were looking like they could seriously end up in a relegation battle, and a change of manager wasn’t unreasonable. And Kenny has just done absolute wonders for the club. Admittedly the transfer of Suarez, who has had a great first 2 months, would have been on the table before he took the reins (to mix metaphors horribly). However, the team has been getting wins where they previously had draws, or even losses and a manager that I put down to a hankering for nostalgia has turned the club around to such an extent that they can genuinely be considered a possibility for 4th if they pick up the points in these matches.

A poster on Twitter suggested, after the 4-0 smashing by Madrid, that if Redknapp wanted to show his commitment to the club, he’d put out a reserves side for the 2nd leg and focus on the league, to the detriment of his own fame. I’m not convinced that it’s entirely a write-off (hell, Bale got 3 against Inter and that was in 45 minutes. Imagine what he could do if he hit that kind of form for a full match). But a return to Europe does need to be priority 1 now and Tottenham are dropping points like a drunk knife-juggler as of late.

Spurs cat just wants Defoe to start scoring again.

So there are three teams targeting fourth place (anyone wondering why I’m not considering Chelsea should look at their fixtures list. They should get to third without breaking a sweat). The runner up gets a place in the Europa league. Since Birmingham have taken a European slot by winning the League cup and either Stoke or Bolton will get another by either winning or coming second in the FA cup, the other team will leave (as the shrew faced woman from the Weakest Link says) with nothing.

So, with 7 games each to play for, surely every point counts. Of course it does, but these 5 will hold the key to the final pecking order. Any team that wins all their games is a strong contender for 4th place, although Liverpool could still be held off if the other teams win the rest of their matches. The matches to watch (for points purposes I mean, as I said above, I’m expecting the entertainment quality to be shit) are:

11th April – Liverpool v Man City
20th April – Tottenham v Arsenal
7th May – Everton v Man City
10th May – Man City v Tottenham
15th May – Liverpool v Tottenham

Liverpool arguably have it easier, given that they are at home for both of their matches, but they also have a lot of ground to make up, and will have Everton and Bolton chasing them as other potential Europa league challengers. Man City have 2 tough matches in a four day period against the comeback kids at Everton before taking on Spurs at Eastlands. Tottenham still have a Champions League match to finish off, as well as having the huge north London derby that will kill of at least one, if not both teams’ respective aspirations.

Personally, gut instinct says City; they have the depth to avoid the kind of collapse that happened last year, although I dread to think of the players that they can attract with Champions League football to offer. I’d much prefer Spurs, watchable football and in Bale, VDV, Lennon & Modric they have one of the most potent midfields of any team, and that’s including the one at the Bernabeu.

Banner image via http://shirtoid.com/Spurs cat via Flickr.
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