On The Spot: It’s squeaky bum time

We’re eight games from the end of the Premier League season, and as Manchester City is just about crowned champion already by everyone, it’s less certain for the positions that matter.

The top six has almost certainly become five — Arsenal are eight points behind fifth-place Chelsea and 12 behind the last coveted spot of the Champions League with just 24 up for grabs. It looks like, barring them winning the Europa League, another season of mediocrity for a club that used to be one of the top challengers for the title. Manchester United, on the other hand, gave themselves a big boost to confirm qualification for Europe’s premier club competition with a 2–1 victory over Liverpool that puts them in a commanding position to banish the memories of Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Sevilla.

And while we’d never say it’s a foregone conclusion, it’s almost as if West Brom’s relegation fate has been sealed. Granted, they’ve pulled off a great escape before, and teams like Leicester have done it in recent years, but the form book — the Baggies have not won a league game since January — suggests otherwise. The real question is who is likely to join them in the Championship next year.

All the teams in the bottom six, with the exception of newly promoted Huddersfield Town, have now replaced their managers, as Mauricio Pellegrino of Southampton lost his job on Monday night. All of the new managers, except for Alan Pardew (which could probably explain why the Baggies are where they are in the table), have led their teams to more points per game than their predecessors.

The fun part for the neutral observer is how many times the current bottom six will play each other. Stoke, Crystal Palace and West Ham each play another bottom-six side at least twice, setting up the stage for multiple six-point swings in a nail-biting race to the finish line. Making things even more interesting, the bottom six have the added challenge of facing many of the top-four chasers. It’s a case of both sides needing the three points, but for very different reasons.

And given how tight everything is down there, it’s difficult to make a prediction on who will stay up. Huddersfield and Swansea are two of the most goal-shy teams in the league. In the battle to stay up, sometimes it’s not just clean sheets you need, but the ability to turn one point into three. In the end, experience might pay off here. Palace, for all their struggles without a full first XI, have one of the most experienced coaches in the league. In contrast, I just don’t think that Paul Lambert is the right coach to keep Stoke up, and Southampton might have taken too long to bring change and looks likely to go down in my books.

But hey, Pellegrino’s sacking might just be what the Saints needed. Lambert may turn out to prove me wrong. Anything’s still possible with all to play for. Newcastle, Bournemouth and Brighton, who sit above the bottom six right now, will be looking over their shoulders anxiously.