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Villa In The Race For The Holy Grail

For a while now, fans following clubs in the top half have been in polite discussion with each other about who might end up where when the curtain falls and the season ends. A quick glance at the table shows that there really isn't a lot in it, and any one of the top 10 still has a legitimate claim to European football next season (At least if Manchester United and Chelsea don't let us all down). In this article I am concerned mainly with the Holy Grail that is the Champions League, so apologies to Blackburn and West Ham fans, though if you want to contribute your sections, feel free.

For those of you who are too lazy to avert your gaze the two inches to the right to see the table, here is a crude representation of it:

Position/Team/Pld/Points

1. Arsenal 27 64
2. Man U 27 61
3. Chelsea 26 55
4. Everton 27 50
5. L'pool 26 47
6. A Villa 27 47
7. Pompey 27 44
8. Man C 27 44

Ok, let's get down to business.

8. Manchester City

Wigan (H)
Reading (A)
Spurs (H)
Bolton (A)
Birmingham (A)
Chelsea (H)
Sunderland (A)
Portsmouth (H)
Fulham (H)
Liverpool (A)
Middlesbrough (A)

Manchester City (and Portsmouth) are certainly underdogs for Champions League qualification, being 6 points off the pace, however, only three behind the teams in 5th and 6th place. The key to City's season so far has really been their home form, having picked up 30 points from a possible 42 at the City of Manchester Stadium this term. However, just two days ago they were rolled over quite convincingly on home turf by 4th placed Everton. City have certainly gone off the boil in recent weeks, and will probably need to produce a few performances to stay in contention. A look at the fixtures shows that on paper, at least, the potential for a long barren run is quite low, with the clubs toughest fixtures separated between opposition in the relegation dogfight. That said, three tough games against Chelsea, Portsmouth and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light will be a crucial spot if City want to maintain the challenge.

7. Portsmouth

Everton (A)
Birmingham (H)
Aston Villa (H)
Spurs (A)
Wigan (H)
West Ham (A)
Newcastle (H)
Manchester City (A)
Blackburn (H)
Middlesbrough (A)
Fulham (H)

Portsmouth, conversely, find themselves in the lofty position of seventh thanks mainly to their phenomenal away record. The 25 points earned on their travels certainly helped compensate for the run of 7 home games without even a goal. Pompey are in the rather privileged position of having already played all four of the supposed 'big 4' twice, and therefore have one of the more comfortable run-ins going into the back end of the season. Games against each of the other teams in contention as well as an away trip to Spurs provide perhaps the most taxing challenge, though due to the nature of the league this season, almost any team not challenging for Europe is fighting relegation, so the last 5 fixtures are perhaps the most significant in the Portsmouth run-in.

6. Aston Villa

Arsenal (A)
Middlesbrough (H)
Portsmouth (A)
Sunderland (H)
Manchester United (A)
Bolton (H)
Derby (A)
Birmingham (H)
Everton (A)
Wigan (H)
West Ham (A)

Villa have had a bit of a yo-yo season this season. 4 wins on the trot followed by 5 games without a win going into 1 defeat in 11. It is difficult to gauge exactly how the team will hold up, though if last year is anything to go by, the Villans will expect a strong finish. Perhaps Villa's biggest problem is the lack of a clean-sheet in the last 13 games, the last coming against Blackburn in the 4-0 win at Ewood park in December. Certainly the run in for Villa is favourable, with all of their remaining home games coming against teams in the bottom half, as well as an away trip to Derby. Villa's problems will most likely stem from the remaining grounds they have to visit, with matches against the top two, as well as trips to the three parks, Goodison, Fratton and Upton. Villa's key fixtures probably encapsulate the final four games of the season, with what may be a key game against Everton, an away trip to West Ham and 2 matches against teams possibly up for the drop, and a local derby.

5. Liverpool

Bolton (A)
West Ham (H)
Newcastle (H)
Reading (H)
Manchester United (A)
Everton (H)
Arsenal (A)
Blackburn (H)
Fulham (A)
Birmingham (A)
Manchester City (H)
Spurs (A)

Liverpool are once again underachieving by their own standards in the league, and though they have a game in hand, they find themselves level on points with the lowly Aston Villa, and behind that 'small club' Everton. Liverpool's big problem this year has definitely been the inability to put teams away. 11 draws this season has left them woefully short of pre-season hopes and expectations. However, there are few who will dispute the talent that Benitez has at his disposal, and that were Liverpool to go on the kind of run that they should be capable of they would blitz the rest of the competition. However, pundits and fans everywhere continue to wait for his run of results to materialise, and it continues to disappoint by not doing so. Liverpool, like Villa, still have to go to the Emirates and Old Trafford, and their record at both grounds under Benitez is poor to say the least. They also still have the distraction of this years Champions League, and that trophy must look rather appealing to Rafa with the current climate at Anfield. Liverpool's key fixtures span the Old Trafford game through to the match against Blackburn at Anfield, though every game after that has the potential to be rather tough.

4. Everton

Portsmouth (H)
Sunderland (A)
Fulham (A)
West Ham (H)
Liverpool (A)
Derby (H)
Birmingham (A)
Chelsea (H)
Aston Villa (H)
Arsenal (A)
Newcastle (H)

Everton really showed their quality against Manchester City on Monday, and hence currently find themselves lording it over the rest of the clubs in that coveted position. With David Moyes at the helm the club has already once cracked the top 4, but failed to consolidate and was unlucky in their short stint in Europe's top club competition. However, the outfit now looks much neater, and more attractive than that of a couple of years ago. The club have also managed in the main to avoid any shock defeats this season with defeats to Reading and Newcastle early in the season the worst results the club has suffered. Perhaps the only black mark is the club has picked up only 8 points in games against the current top 8, and only a single point against the 6 leading clubs in the league up to this point. The final four games could once again make or break the chase for Everton, with 3 tough games against top 6 opposition and a potentially hugely emotional encounter at St. James Park.

At this point, you might expect me to wrap this up, but taking a few thing into account, I feel it's only fair if I include...

3. Chelsea

West Ham (A)
Derby (H)
Sunderland (A)
Spurs (A)
Arsenal (H)
Middlesbrough (H)
Manchester City (A)
Wigan (H)
Everton (A)
Manchester United (H)
Newcastle (A)
Bolton (H)

Yes, yes, Chelsea should be a banker for third place, and are currently still hoping to challenge Arsenal and Manchester United for the title. However, game-in-hand withstanding, the club still only lead Everton by 5 points. If Portsmouth and Manchester City hold hopes of attaining 4th, why shouldn't Everton aim to outdo Chelsea. Key to this is the fixture between the clubs near the end of the campaign, and preceding said fixture come matches against Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester City (at Home) as well as the game against Manchester United immediately following the game against the blue side of Liverpool. Of course, by that time the team may well be long gone, but there is still a chance, given recent events, that there could be more of an upset on the cards.

So there we go, a little background into the scintillating race for fourth (or even third) that could take us right through to the end of the season. This year is a particularly interesting one for the league, as there looks to be intriguing action in all the different areas; Title Race, Battle for Europe, Relegation, with plenty of contenders in each category. Long may it continue, I say, and let's hope more can follow the example set by Tottenham in the Carling Cup and really dispel the grandeur of the 'Big 4'.




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The Journalist

Writer: Carl Atterbury Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday February 27 2008

Time: 11:20AM

Your Comments

Fantastic article and totally agree, would be great to see the 'established' big four to broken up!
The Fear
were really getting down to the business end of things arent we fellas, if we can beat everton at the weekend then this will blow the champions league placings wide open... i think the key to things, altho nothing will be sorted by a long way, we will get a clearer idea of things after we play you in a couple of weeks time... i dont think liverpool will get 4th, this in my thinking will probably be everton but villa and pompey, not forgetting citeh could all still get this - if we lose to everton this weekend i think the champions league dream for us is over...
pompeyrug
ruling my rovers out aye? we will c matey, we will c. Might be difficult, but until its impossible, still a chance
sasman
Woo! My first article. Sorry, I did say at the start I was going to focus on the race for fourth, feel free to supplement, I just couldn't be bothered going any further than eighth. I agree that there is still a chance, especially with the surreal polarity in the league this year.
Carlosio
I was watching Skysportsnews Monday night and they did a short presenation on how qualification for the various competitions will now work (i.e. following on from Spurs entry into the Uefa Cup after their victory over Chelsea). Basically us Villa fans and I suspect Everton, Pompey, Man City, Blackburn and West Ham fans should now be hopefull that Man Utd meet Chelsea in the FACUP FINAL because as it stands only 5th place is guarateed UEFA Cup next season, however, if Man Utd were to play Chelsea in the FACUP final that would guarantee entry into the UEFA Cup for the team finishing 6th. All very tight and getting tense. COME ON YOU LIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
JeffBeck-TheLeftSide
Personally, I would love to see Liverpool fall out of the top 4. As long as my beloved Rovers qualify to compete in european competition next season, i really couldnt care less who grabs the 4th CL spot. If its Everton, Villa or anyone else! If that is possible then i dont see why next season cannot be an even bigger step taken to eradicating this stranglehold the "rich and successful" clubs have on the top of the league! Good luck to everyone not in the top 4!!!!
BomBom
Hehe, it's like animal farm, only with football. "All football clubs are equal, but some are more equal than others." Cue the revolution.....ah, if only.
Carlosio
Do you know what I love most.....The press and lots of pundits have said we have no chance of 4th/5th place and we will be in 6th - 8th spot. This is exactly what I want the press to keep saying, even if we do keep winning. It really is so close, we really could finish 4th or 9th!
KSarge1
I would love us to finish in the euro spots, but wont be that disappointed if we dont. If someone had offered me a 7/8 place finish at the start of the season i would of ripped their arm off.
steako
i do like our run in apart from man utd and arsenal , the rest are very winnable
krisvilla
krisvilla i'd be suprised if you came to us and won, we have 10 clean sheets in 11 games and with yakubu we can always nick a goal
EvertonMike
I have to agree with EvertonMike, we will have to be very, very good to win at Goodison. Portsmouth may owe more to their away form than home but they know they can fight for a spot so I don't fancy the trip to Fratton Park either. Derby probably won't have any pressure on them and we will so expect an upset at their place and we all know that anything goes in local derbies. Of course if you look through a half full beer glass every match is winnable and you could make a good argument for them. It's gonna be interesting and exciting.
supermansfoot
Manur'e is the only nil pointer IMO and I think we have scored more than anyone else on the road. Its going to be down to the games against the teams around us. All 6 pointers. Well written Carl. Maybe this should be a weekly article to monitor the progress??
Villan444
As for the 6th place UEFA cup spot - what happens if Spurs actually win the UEFA cup? Does that mean an extra UEFA place becomes available regardless of whether or not Man U meet Chelsea in the FA cup final? Just a thought - cause Spurs may just go the distance in the UEFA.
The Usual Suspect
Everton mike i do appreciate the good run of form but Villa are the high scorers in the league i'm sure we can easily score at goodsion, two matches this season that Villa have failed to score in the league, and villa's away form is pretty good
krisvilla
In fact there is a lot of for's and against for any of the league fixtures, will be very intriguing. Derby could win i'd be surprised but they might do or Villa might batter them. Depends who wants it more and injuries and cards etc, we been *****ing very lucky on injuries I think we may just get away with it!
krisvilla
Krisvilla as I read that, I heard Martin Laursen's knee crack.....lets touch wood!
KSarge1
It would be cool to see Chelsea and Liverpool miss out on the Champions League places, but I cant see Chelsea dropping lower than 4th.
young_jonah
blame me if their are any injuries! Chelsea are safe but liverpool are inconsistent and you can tell Everton will nick it, not conceeding and winning, strong outfit everton, although I think we will beat them at goodison, we have good record against Everton
krisvilla
Anyone wondered what will happen if liverpool win champs league and villa get fourth? that means the champs league place goes to lpool , now i would be very *****ed if that happened,
krisvilla
krisvilla, if that happens, based on last time it happens you are thankfully quite wrong, Liverpool will enter into the qualifying round of the CL alongside 3rd and 4th place. This was precisely the scenario when L'pool last won the CL and Everton pipped them to 4th place.
Villain Of The North
Villain of the north you are infact woefully wrong, UEFA never took into an account that scenario when liverpool win it. After that the ychanged here are the rules: An additional place in the group stage is reserved for the title-holders, in case they don't qualify via their domestic league. However, an association is limited to sending at most four clubs for a season. This means that if the title-holders come from a league given four positions, but finish out of the top four, it will take the place of the fourth placed team. The fourth placed team will go to the UEFA Cup. ----- So if ligverpool do win it any time looking for fourth will be pointless! Just uefa cup
krisvilla
Great article. I agree, that 3rd place is definitely up for grabs too. Chelsea may not lose many more (if at all) but they sure as hell are known to draw. All of their wins this season have been meager 1 goal games for the most part. Even if Villa don't get 4th, it doesn't matter as long as liverpool don't. I think Everton, City, Villa, and even Pompey are attracting bigger name players after this season and that's whats really important. On another note, is it just me or doesn't anyone else get this feeling that our time has come to beat Manure? And this goes for everyone representing every team...There are absolutely no easy games left. Playing Arsenal isn't going to be much more difficult than playing a relegation fighter. The fighters are the dangerous ones.
los_angeles_villan
hope u guys do it would be great for prem and the national side
HuddersfieldYiddo
Very well thought out article Carlosio. Interesting read, providing plenty of food for thought. Interesting run in to the end of the season, no doubt about that.
glensider
Got to say though that both Liverpool and Everton look good bets to finish above us. Sixth place looks our best bet.
glensider
 

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