Sunday 19th March, 2:00pm
As we round the top bend in advance of the home straight, the race for the Premier League title remains intriguingly poised.
The gap between the two breakaway sides is very much surmountable. And, while Manchester City illustrated in midweek that they can reach levels that other teams can’t – and boast a lithesome striker with a rare, Mr Creosote-esque appetite for goals – Arsenal still look strong, and suddenly find themselves free from extraneous commitments.
The contest to fill-out the top four is also building to a volatile finish. Despite maintaining attacks on several fronts, Manchester United should be able to field enough motivated troops to successfully hold onto their current position.
But how is anyone supposed to know what Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, and Liverpool are going to do each week? Especially now that Mystic Meg is no longer here to tell us? It’s impossible to know! Being terrible at prognostications, and hugely suspicious of astrology in general – like all devout Sagittarians – I’m a far from suitable replacement.
‘Wednesday night wins for both Brighton and Brentford mean that big rewards, tall dark strangers, and potential top four glory could still feature on their horizons too-oooo…’
Perhaps we have been looking at the wrong end of the Premier League table for the spiciest source of action and entertainment, though? Because the battle to circumvent relegation isn’t just shaping-up to be a scrap, or even a fatal four-way clash – it has the potential to be a chaotic, full-scale, crowd-popping, pyro-punctuated Royal Rumble.
Basically, as it stands, almost half the division is in the fight to avoid being eliminated from the top flight. Whether they choose to admit it, everyone below Aston Villa should be afraid. Just five measly points – the same gap that exists between Arsenal and Manchester City – currently separates Crystal Palace in 12th, and bottom club Southampton.
Nine teams, then, are caught in this downward spiral. Nine teams find themselves scrabbling for purchase on the sandy slopes of The Great Pit of Carkoon. Even a phalanx of striking TV pundits won’t be able to save this particular ennead from a fraught and destructive few weeks ahead.
It is a fractious, manifold situation being further exacerbated by the fact that the team at the top this neuftet is in the midst of a terrible run, while all the teams in the bottom three – following pro-active managerial sackings – have started picking-up the odd but very valuable win.
The whole lower section of the league table, therefore, is being squeezed even more tightly together – like an enormous, sadistic concertina.
Although they have earned a reputation for being stubborn at home, Crystal Palace are still victoryless in 2023. Creditable draws against Brighton, Brentford, Newcastle and Liverpool temporarily plugged a few leaks, but they have now lost three on the spin; and haven’t scored a goal in four. Truly ominous portents at this stage of the season.
Does an easier game await this weekend? No. It does not: Arsenal away on Sunday. This is life in the fast-lane for The Eagles; who are now plummeting with such force and precipitancy, they could actually drag surrounding teams down with them. Will the sacking of Patrick Vieira have a positive effect on this momentum?
A more benevolent run of fixtures is lined-up for the South London side when they return from the international break. But can they just slip seamlessly back into winning ways following such an impactful, confidence-denting slump?
After starting the year well, Nottingham Forrest are also now five games without a win. Can they reverse this slide this Friday night? Wolves v Leeds on Saturday afternoon is suddenly a crucial, highly-charged a six-pointer.
But all these clubs now find themselves gazing into the abyss. Which of them is best prepared to deal with the possibility of the abyss gazing back at them?
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