Looking over the squads of the three relegated teams, we identify a few players that caught the eye with their displays this season.
While the Premier League title has been decided even before the pandemic break, the Golden Boot award is yet to be in the bag. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy seems to have put one hand on the trophy, but contenders with more accessible games ahead can still make up lost ground.
Aubameyang faces Aston Villa and Watford in the two final fixtures
The Gabonese striker was rested by Mikel Arteta in the derby against Liverpool and can now fire up against two weaker sides, both involved in the battle for survival in the top flight. Aston Villa conceded 66 goals so far – second only to Norwich in the chart for the most fragile defensive lines – and Watford failed to keep a clean sheet since the restart.
Aubameyang scored three goals in the reverse fixtures this season (twice against Watford). If he echoes that performance then he could find himself sharing the Golden Boot award for the second time in a row. Last season he ended up tied at the top with Liverpool’s Mane and Salah, all three of them having netted 22 goals.
Vardy’s goal at Bournemouth might be his last for this season
Leicester are in store for two crucial matches, against Tottenham and Manchester United. As both these teams are fighting for the European spots, the stakes are high. The Foxes have to defend their Champions League position and will have less time to focus on the attacking side of the game.
Jamie failed to score in the reverse fixtures against Spurs and United. Also, the 33-year old played all of the eight games since the restart without ever being substituted. This may have an impact on the leading goalscorer’s physical abilities, especially given he will run into defenders like Dier, Alderweireld or Maguire in the following weeks.
Of course, Vardy can always use his pace to outsmart his opponents, it’s just the matter of getting those kinds of opportunities against the strong sides of Tottenham and Man. United.
Danny Ings continues his impressive form
The England striker is the only one in top 4 goalscorers to have found the back of the net this week. He is having the best season of his career and looks single-minded to outrun Jamie Vardy at the top of the scoring charts.
Ralph Hassenhutl gave Ings all the minutes he wanted after the restart, only subbing him off in the 87th minute of the Norwich game. Danny is also looking to ensure his call-up for the England squad and will most probably start the next two Premier League games as well.
A trip to a Bournemouth side that has many injuries at the back-four line and conceded four goals from Newcastle (at home) might add some extra goals to Danny’s tally.
Do Liverpool, City or United assets still make a case for the boot?
Mane, Sterling, Rashford and Martial all sit currently on 17 goals. Naturally, you wouldn’t consider any of them anymore in this race, but their teams’ style of play and the poor sides they are facing next makes you think about it.
I don’t imagine Rashford or Martial scoring double hat-tricks in the final fixtures, but that could be the case for Sterling, for example. After all, he will be playing against Watford in Gameweek 37 and Norwich in Gameweek 38.
Also, who knows what Salah (19 goals so far) might be up to against a Newcastle side that has nothing left to play for in the final fixture? Could he grab the third Golden Boot award in a row and match the record of Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer?
There are still many questions out there but just a few answers. Certainly, the race for the Golden Boot in these closing stages of the season will be an entertaining one. While Vardy still has the best odds to win it, we shouldn’t rule out sharing the award between a couple of players once more.
With only four fixtures to go, can Leeds and West Brom lose the automatic promotion seats? Which team is more likely to win the play-off and gain the third promotion spot? The answers to these questions and many more are here!
Let’s welcome Marcelo Bielsa to the Premier League
Last season’s nightmare-scenario will not be replicated again at Elland Road. Bielsa’s side sits at the top of the table with 81 points, having a 6-point cushion on the play-off positions. Their final run of fixtures include hosting Charlton and Barnsley, two teams that have a lot to play for, but far less things to show.
Leeds recently trashed Stoke at home (5-0), another team involved in the relegation battle. If Charlton and / or Barnsley will share the same faith as ‘the Potters’, Leeds can consider themselves a Premier League club. And they should feel like one anyways.
‘El Loco’ Bielsa created a powerful club out there and I think they can really make an impression in the top division. With minor improvements to the squad (maybe a striker that doesn’t miss as much Patrick Bamford does), Leeds could enjoy a successful spell in the top flight.
West Brom can see Brentford over their shoulder
‘The Baggies’ needed a little bit more game-time to readapt and took a single point from the first two fixtures post-restart. Unfortunately for them, the defeat they suffered came against Brentford, who are now just 5 points behind.
Since then, WBA bounced back and have 3 consecutive wins. They have a Premier League manager on the bench, able to adjust his team’s tactics to fit against any opponent. Slaven Bilic also has top quality players he can work with: Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Grosicki are just some of them.
Clearly, West Brom possesses everything that is necessary to win promotion. But also, they have shown inconsistency at times. I fear a bad night at The Hawthorns in fixture 44 (against Fulham) could add some serious pressure to their play for the final games.
Brentford – a factory of goalscorers
‘The Bees’ are arguably the best team in the league right now, in terms of form. They have 6 wins in a row, with a goals record of 16 – 1 in this interval. In the first two games after the restart they triumphed over Fulham (2-0) and West Brom (1-0).
No other team in the Championship has scored more goals than Brentford’s 75. No other team in the league conceded less goals than they did: 34.
The top goalscorer in the competition this season is Brentford’s Ollie Watkins, who netted 23 times so far (joint-high with Aleksandr Mitrovic). Also in the top ten goalscorers we find two other Brentford players: Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo, both having scored 15 times already.
These three players haven’t even reached their peak age yet and look very appealing for Premier League clubs in search of talented men up front. Same thing happened last year, when Neil Maupay – Brentford’s top goalscorer – was bought by Brighton for £20 million.
However, ‘the Bees’ might want to hold on to their strikers this year. Given that they gained so much momentum and their next fixtures look pretty decent, I would definitely put my money on them to make it to the top-flight after 70+ years of absence. Whether their promotion will come automatically or through the play-off remains to be seen.
Struggling Fulham could end up in frustration
I don’t think the Londoners have what it takes to bounce back up. While having a squad with great individual players, they seem to lack team strength. Their victories (especially the most recent ones) often include a significant amount of luck.
In spite of their 3 consecutive wins, they don’t strike you as the team you would never want to be playing against. Averaging more than one goal conceded per match, Fulham’s defensive play is quite sloppy.
Scott Parker’s tactics up front rely mostly on Mitrovic, so when the Serbian is not in his best shape there aren’t too many defensive lines that fear Fulham’s attack. The play-off route will be a tough one for ‘the Cottagers’.
As for the rest of the teams involved in the battle for promotion, we are in store for some thrilling encounters between the sides of Nottingham, Cardiff, Swansea and even Preston and Derby.
I think neither of them could snatch the promotion from Brentford (or West Brom?) in the play-off, but I also discredited Aston Villa last season and they’ve proven me wrong. We shall see if my foresight has improved since then…
With nine fixtures to go and only three points separating five teams, the relegation battle will be one to savour for every Premier League fan.