Monday, April 30, 2012

Manchester City Wins Darby, Sets Up May to Remember in EPL

Manchester United and Manchester City faced off this evening in what almost amounted to a Premier League Championship match. United came into the darby up three points, but knowing City's goal differential advantage meant they needed at least a draw to remain atop the table. Vincent Kompany's header in stoppage time of the first half was the only goal, leading City to one of the most important victories in its storied, 132-year history.

The domino effect of City's triumph was felt at both the top and bottom of the EPL. At the top of the table, the roller coaster season continued. Manchester City handed United a 6-1 embarrassment in October that set the tone for the 2011 portion of the campaign; however, controversy surrounding superstar striker Carlos Tevez and uneven play at the back cost the Citizens their early advantage, and United pounced with an impressive 2012 run. Today's result evened everything out at the top and put City back in the lead based on the goal differential tiebreaker (City is +61, United +53).

City now controls its own destiny but has matches left against Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers. Newcastle is fighting to get a spot in Europe, while QPR is in danger of relegation. United faces Swansea and Sunderland, two teams in the middle of the pack with much less to play for than City's opponents. City will surely be tested in these next two matches, while United likely will have no trouble with their opponents.

The race for the third and fourth spots in the EPL is always filled with drama as those squads qualify for the Champions League, while fifth must settle for the Europa League. Arsenal (66 points) is in good shape to earn one of the CL berths, though they have played one more match than the remaining contenders in this group. Fourth place is up for grabs, as Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United both have 62 points, though Tottenham has a superior goal differential (+20 to Newcastle's +7). Chelsea is right behind at 61 points and possesses the best goal differential of the bunch (+23). Chelsea also can punch their ticket into the Europa League if they can knock off Liverpool in the FA Cup Final this Saturday. The remaining schedules of these four squads is important to note: Arsenal has Norwich and West Bromwich Albion, two decent squads both stuck in the middle of the table. Tottenham has Bolton and Aston Villa, both whom are trying to stay away from relegation, and a Fulham team that is currently 9th. Newcastle has the toughest draw of the group, with Chelsea, City, and Everton left. Chelsea has Newcastle, Liverpool and Blackburn left. As you can see, the Newcastle/Chelsea match on Wednesday will be a high stakes affair.

In terms of relegation, Wolverhampton has already been assured of a bottom three spot. Blackburn Rovers (31 points) is in deep trouble and has tough matches with Chelsea and Wigan remaining. Bolton (34 points) has matches with Tottenham, West Brom and Stoke left on its schedule, while QPR (34 points) has Stoke and Man City. Two teams at 37 points, Aston Villa and Wigan, can secure their places in the top division with a positive result this weekend.

May 13 sets up to be one of the biggest days in EPL history. All 20 teams will be in action simultaneously, as the final 10 matches will all kickoff at the same time. At stake will likely be the league championship, Champions League and Europa League berths, and a relegation spot.

My predictions for how this will all play out over the next two weeks is as follows:

Premier League Champion: Manchester City
City and United both will win their final two matches, giving City the title based on its superior goal differential.

Champions League Berths: City, United, Arsenal, Tottenham
Newcastle and Chelsea battle to a draw, allowing Arsenal and Tottenham to secure their spots in the dance.

Europa League Berths: Chelsea, Liverpool
Chelsea wins the FA Cup over Liverpool and Chelsea finishes in fifth place in the EPL, allowing FA Cup runner-up Liverpool to beat out EPL sixth-place finisher Newcastle.

Relegation: Wolves, Blackburn, QPR
Blackburn gets knocked down by Chelsea, while Decision Sunday sees Bolton and Stoke battle to a draw and QPR getting run over by soon-to-be champion City.

Get your favorite snacks and adult beverages ready for a great two weeks of soccer!

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