A surprise in fourth and a shock relegation: We predict the rest of the Premier League season
The end of the international break sees focus return to club football for the remaining two months of the season. If you're anything like us, you're probably wondering how the laugh-a-minute madness of the 2012/13 Premier League season will pan out.
Well, weÃ¢ÂÂve run through the rest of the Premier League season's results to calculate what will happen. At least one of the current bottom three wonÃ¢ÂÂt be relegated; at least one of the current top four will end the season with very little to show for their efforts.
We havenÃ¢ÂÂt skewed the results or gone for wacky 'what ifs' Ã¢ÂÂ this is what is going to happen. Probably.
First, a reminder of the table as it is now...
WEEK 31 (Saturday, March 30 Ã¢ÂÂ Monday, April 1)
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs immediately change at the foot of the table as Aston Villa fall into the drop-zone by losing to Liverpool, after Wigan climbed out with a 2-1 home win over Norwich (possibly thanks to the ball rebounding in off the victim of a neck-high two-footed challenge).
The top seven all win to keep the European places plus ÃÂ§a change, Arsenal and Manchester United seeing off Reading and Sunderland respectively by four- and three-goal margins. Things look increasingly drastic for the Royals, seven points from safety Ã¢ÂÂ as are Queens Park Rangers after opening April with a controversial defeat to Martin JolÃ¢ÂÂs Fulham. Ã¢ÂÂThe referee was a right April Fool,Ã¢ÂÂ says Harry Redknapp to nobody in particular.
WEEK 32 (Saturday, April 6 Ã¢ÂÂ Monday, April 8)
New Reading boss Nigel Adkins gets a further taste of the job at hand, as his new charges throw away the lead not once but twice to only draw a six-pointer with his former employers, Southampton, at the Madejski. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs also another setback for QPR, with a narrow reverse to relegation rivals Wigan condemning the RÃ¢ÂÂs to the bottom. Redknapp refuses to admit survival is beyond even he, but the eight-point gap between his side and 17th looks all but unassailable, even with Nwankwo Kanu brought in on a free transfer and ÃÂ£120,000 a week.
SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs run of difficult games gets off to a bad start as they lose at Stamford Bridge, leaving them just one place and point above the relegation zone.
At the other end of the table, a vital 1-0 win for Everton at White Hart Lane puts David MoyesaÃ¢ÂÂ men within touching distance of the Champions League places. With Arsenal dropping points at The Hawthorns, Tottenham stay fourth Ã¢ÂÂ for now.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs less spice about the Manchester derby than last year, but a goal apiece within the first 10 minutes livens the atmosphere. Much against the run of play, City prevail 3-2 thanks to two Yaya Toure strikes and close the gap on the leaders to a mere 12 points. Game on!
WEEK 33 (Saturday, April 13 Ã¢ÂÂ Wednesday, April 17)
Meanwhile, itÃ¢ÂÂs a bad weekend for teams in blue and white hoops: QPR and Reading suffer Merseyside misery against Everton and Liverpool respectively. To make matters worse, Aston Villa claim a valuable win over sad travellers Fulham and Sunderland nick a potentially vital point in the Tyne-Wear derby.
Going into midweek, WiganÃ¢ÂÂs artistic little renaissance is revealed to be a false dawn painted by a cut-price impostor. Or, in football terms: they lose 3-0 to Manchester City. Turns out their fabled end-of-season form isnÃ¢ÂÂt miraculous but entirely plausible when youÃ¢ÂÂre facing Newcastle, Norwich and QPR. Manchester United beat West Ham, who have now taken one point from five games; Chelsea, their weekend fixture postponed by three days due to their FA Cup run, take a firm hold on third with a 4-2 victory over Tottenham.
The big midweek match is Arsenal v Everton, and Spurs fans are delighted to see them share the points Ã¢ÂÂ but itÃ¢ÂÂs still enough to relegate Spurs to sixth in the table. Liverpool are only four points off a Champions League spot, which Brendan Rodgers calls Ã¢ÂÂnot an ugly target to be splintered with money-poisoned arrows but a proud meadow in a dying spring, within physical reach but emotionally unattainable, at least until Daniel Sturridge recovers from his latest setbackÃ¢ÂÂ.
WEEK 34 (Saturday, April 20 Ã¢ÂÂ Monday, April 22)
Sunderland start the weekend in the relegation zone for the first time this season Ã¢ÂÂ and end the weekend out of it. A goalless draw at the Stadium of Light ensures that much, frustrating visitors Everton, who reflect on an opportunity lost as top-four nemeses Arsenal and Tottenham both drop points (though Spurs are happy to draw with Manchester City).
On Monday night, Manchester United get their hands on the Premier League trophy by sauntering into an unassailable 17-point lead over City. The Red Devils seal the deal in style, yawning their way to victory over a valiant but vulnerable Villa.
Down at the bottom, drop-dreading QPR attempt to breathe life into a putrefying corpse with a deserved win over Stoke, in spite of Jonathan Walters sewing up Goal of the Season with a bicycle kick (later revealed to be assisted by ropes and pulleys). Wigan are right back among the dirty business thanks to a dreadful performance in a 2-0 defeat to West Ham, who take that and party. Saturday also sees wins for West Brom, Swansea and Norwich, before Chelsea see off Liverpool on Sunday.
WEEK 35 (Saturday, April 27 Ã¢ÂÂ Tuesday, April 30)
Hope! QPR beat Reading to give themselves the slimmest of chances of dodging the drop Ã¢ÂÂ while mathematically relegating the Royals and their manager, Michael Appleton.
Despair! SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa, the scoring opened by a superb volley from Christian Benteke, leaves the stunned Black Cats three points from safety with three games to play. Martin OÃ¢ÂÂNeill spends most of the post-match press conference tearing out his hair.
Glory! Manchester United begin what is essentially a lap of victory now with a 3-1 victory over a tame Arsenal outfit. The highlight of the match is a bizarre own goal as Per Mertesacker literally sighs the ball into his own net.
Disaster! Tottenham, still tired from their Europa League exploits on Thursday, see their top-four ambitions take a pounding as Wigan shock them 1-0 for the second time this season (and the fourth time in five years).
Result! ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs 5-0 shellacking of Swansea, minor revenge against their League Cup woe and ball boys everywhere, means they are mathematically assured of a top-four finish. Rafael Benitez mentions this 16 times to journalists after the match.
Draws! The Baggies nab two points on the road at Southampton and then Man City; Norwich stay above Stoke with a hard-fought draw in the Potteries.
Other games! West Ham lose at the Etihad, Newcastle surprise Liverpool with a competent, effective, Gallic performance, and Everton see off Fulham 1-0 to go fourth Ã¢ÂÂ and three points clear of Arsenal.
WEEK 36 (Saturday, May 4 Ã¢ÂÂ Wednesday, May 8)
Normal service is resumed: home wins for Tottenham (over Southampton), West Brom (over Wigan), West Ham (over Newcastle) and Fulham (over hapless Reading). Manchester United vs Chelsea, a fixture beginning to occur even more frequently than el Clasico, finishes just as predictably: 0-0.
QPR are relegated at Loftus Road with a defeat to Arsenal, who not only turn up but play rather well. SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs goalless draw with Stoke fully earns its last slot on Match of the Day Ã¢ÂÂ in fact, Gary Lineker questions to camera whether anybody wants to watch the gameÃ¢ÂÂs alleged Ã¢ÂÂhighlightsÃ¢ÂÂ at all Ã¢ÂÂ but it does drag Sunderland and Martin OÃ¢ÂÂNeill, by now completely bald, one point closer to safety. Nonetheless, itÃ¢ÂÂs an opportunity missed for the North East club, not least as Stoke are forced by an injury crisis into playing Robert Huth as a lone striker.
Elsewhere, there are victories on the road for Manchester City and Aston Villa, who overcome Norwich 2-0 thanks to goals from Christian Benteke (again) and Gabby Agbonlahor. A thrilling Merseyside derby ends 2-2, helping Arsenal and Tottenham to close the gap on Everton. On Wednesday, Chelsea beat Fulham at Craven Cottage.
It didnÃ¢ÂÂt look that way in March but somehow, both Aston Villa and Wigan Ã¢ÂÂ who scrape a win over Swansea in midweek Ã¢ÂÂ are now almost guaranteed safety. Southampton are in the biggest danger of being overtaken by Sunderland but incredibly, as we go into the final fortnight there are eight teams who could still take the single remaining ticket to the Championship.
WEEK 37 (Sunday, May 12 Ã¢ÂÂ Wednesday, May 15)
Sunderland have done it: theyÃ¢ÂÂve pulled off a massive, titanic, gargantuan 1-0 win over Southampton to leapfrog Mauricio PochettinoÃ¢ÂÂs men and climb out of the relegation zone, if indeed you can leap and climb at the same time. The Saints are staring down the barrel of a gun without a paddle to their name, and try as they might, Newcastle just canÃ¢ÂÂt scrabble clear from the danger zone and its trapdoor (stop now Ã¢ÂÂ Ed). The Magpies lose a five-goal thriller to QPR, who play as if they have nothing left to lose but all their players over the summer.
There are wake-up calls for Wigan and Villa, battered 4-1 and 4-0 by Arsenal and Chelsea, reminding them that although itÃ¢ÂÂd take a miraculous series of events, one of them could still go down on goal difference. ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs victory comes on Wednesday, having beaten Millwall 4-0 in the FA Cup Final at the weekend.
Tottenham have the Europa League final to look forward to but thatÃ¢ÂÂs all: a draw away to Stoke takes them out of the running for qualification to the Champions League (and, indeed, the Europa League unless they win the final). Everton are still favourites having beaten West Ham 2-0 Ã¢ÂÂ but they face a trip to Stamford Bridge.
WEEK 38 (Sunday, May 19)
All to play for. Chelsea could finish second; Everton and Arsenal both want fourth; one of five teams (Southampton, Sunderland, Newcastle, Aston Villa or Wigan) will be relegated. ItÃ¢ÂÂs Super Duper Pooper Sunday!
Both Manchester teams wrap up their seasons with victories, City thrashing Norwich 3-0 and United prevailing 3-1 over West Brom, while Liverpool finish on a high by beating QPR with ease. Reading also win, surprising everybody at Upton Park, not that it matters much as they walk off into the Championship sunset.
Fulham overtake Swansea in the table by beating them at the Liberty and Wigan and Villa draw 0-0 to ensure safety Ã¢ÂÂ albeit a misfiring one Ã¢ÂÂ for them both.
SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs joy at exiting the relegation zone is short-lived. They go down 2-1 to Tottenham, who lost to Benfica in Amsterdam just days before to round off another frustrating season. But Southampton still need to win to stay up Ã¢ÂÂ and they do, scrapping to a 1-0 victory over Stoke. Cue celebrating people in red-and-white shirts and crying people in red-and-white shirts.
But the real drama is for fourth. In the dying minutes Arsenal are trailing 2-1 at St JamesÃ¢ÂÂ Park and know that with Everton losing at Chelsea, they could snatch fourth if they can just equalise. Players are thrown forward in a very un-Wenger-like manner until they win a corner in the 93rd minute. Szczesny goes up... but itÃ¢ÂÂs headed clear and Newcastle run up the other end to score.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs all over. Everton have qualified for the Champions League; Arsenal have missed out for the first time under Arsene Wenger. Sunderland have been relegated, along with QPR and Reading.
Who saw that coming?