The run-in: Who can stop Leicester?

6 Mar

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Leicester were still bottom of the Premier League at this stage of the season last year

Leicester’s charge towards the Premier League title is still rolling along nicely, with the downturn of form anticipated by many yet to materialise.

The Foxes are five points clear at the summit after picking up seven from their past three games.

But not only are Claudio Ranieri’s men still winning points – their nearest rivals are continuing to drop them.

Tottenham and Arsenal took points off each other after Saturday’s 2-2 draw in the north London derby.

Fourth-placed Manchester City did, however, revive their title hopes after three straight league defeats with a 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa.

Fifth-placed West Ham and Manchester United, two points behind the Hammers, also still have an outside chance.

Here’s the lowdown on each of the top six’s run-in

Leicester

Played 29, 60 points, goal difference +21

Last won the league title: Never

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Results in reverse fixtures: Leicester have five home games in their final nine-game run-in, and were unbeaten in the reverse fixtures, picking up 23 points from the nine games. A repeat haul would see the Foxes end the campaign with 83 points – enough to win the league on seven occasions in the Premier League era, but not since Manchester United won with 80 points in 2011.

Scores in reverse games: beat Newcastle 3-0, beat Crystal Palace 1-0, drew with Southampton 2-2, beat Sunderland 4-2, beat West Ham 2-1, beat Swansea 3-0, drew with Manchester United 1-1, beat Everton 3-2, beat Chelsea 2-1.

Recent form: In a word, excellent. The Foxes have lost just once in their last 10 games, a narrow defeat at fellow challengers Arsenal, and taken 21 points from a possible 30.

Key games: May. It’s the month for crowning champions but the Foxes may hope that they can have it done before a very tough final three games. Ranieri’s side go to Old Trafford on 1 May, a ground where they have won just once in the Premier League, before hosting Everton and ending the season at defending champions Chelsea. A guard of honour from one champion to another?

Tottenham

Played 29, 55 points, goal difference +27

Last won the league title: 1961

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Results in reverse fixtures: Spurs picked up just 13 points from the nine games against the remaining sides they have to face – and a repeat performance would see them finish the season with just 68 points – only four more than they managed last season when finishing fifth. Too many draws may hurt Spurs. They could only take a point from Liverpool, Stoke, West Brom and Chelsea and lost to Manchester United and Newcastle. They do have a superior goal difference to Leicester though.

Scores in reverse games: Beat Aston Villa 3-1, beat Bournemouth 5-1, drew with Liverpool 0-0, lost 1-0 to Manchester United, drew 2-2 with Stoke, drew 1-1 with West Brom, drew 0-0 with Chelsea, beat Southampton 2-0, lost 2-1 to Newcastle.

Recent form: Clinical. Spurs drew eight of their opening 15 league games but have cut that habit out of late, winning six of their last 10 games and losing just twice. Dropping points to rivals may hurt them though. A 1-0 defeat to Leicester and a 2-2 draw against Arsenal have stemmed their flow of points at crucial times.

Key games: Trips to Anfield (2 April) and Stamford Bridge (2 May) look massive. Spurs have only won twice at Anfield in the Premier League, losing the last three, and have never won at Stamford Bridge since 1992.

In fact their last league win at the home of Chelsea came in February 1990, when Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker scored the winner. Newcastle away on the last day may not be the easiest place to travel to, either…

Arsenal

Played 29, 52 points, goal difference +16

Last won the league title: 2004

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Results in reverse fixtures: The Gunners picked up a respectable 19 points from these nine fixtures, though defeats to West Brom and West Ham could prove decisive come May. A further 19 points in the run-in would see Arsene Wenger’s side finish on 71 points, four points fewer than their total last season. When they last won the league, going unbeaten 12 years ago, the Gunners collected 90 points.

Scores in reverse games: Lost 2-1 to West Brom, beat Everton 2-1, beat Watford 3-0, lost 2-0 to West Ham, beat Crystal Palace 2-1, beat Sunderland 3-1, drew 1-1 with Norwich, beat Manchester City 2-1, beat Aston Villa 2-0.

Recent form: Not good enough. Arsenal have won only three of their last 10 games, a run that has seen them slump from leaders in the New Year to third place. Defeats to Chelsea, Swansea and Manchester United have been damaging, though at least the Gunners managed to claim a point with 10 men at rivals Spurs.

Key games: Trips to Manchester City, West Ham and Everton all look difficult but perhaps the inconvenient truth for Arsenal is that their key games have been and gone. It is not irretrievable to win the league from here but Wenger will have to rely on favours and slip-ups from other sides.

Manchester City

Played 28, 50 points, goal difference +21

Last won the league title: 2014

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Results in reverse fixtures: Manchester City have a game in hand on their title rivals, with a trip to Newcastle yet to be slotted into a congested diary. In the 10 games against sides they still have to play again, Manuel Pellegrini’s side collected 22 points, losing to Stoke and Arsenal. A further 22 points would see Pellegrini end his reign as City boss on 72 points. Would that be enough for a top-four finish, never mind a title?

Scores in reverse games: Beat Norwich 2-1, drew 0-0 with Manchester United, beat Bournemouth 5-1, beat West Brom 3-0, beat Chelsea 3-0, lost 2-0 to Stoke, beat Southampton 3-1, lost 2-1 to Arsenal, beat Swansea 2-1, beat Newcastle 6-1.

Recent form: Disappointing. A 4-0 win over Aston Villa stopped a run of three successive league defeats but City have won just four of their last 10 games. They were last on the top of the table after beating Swansea in mid-December but have collected just 18 points from a possible 36 since.

Key games: The Manchester derby on 20 March stands out, but it is looking like both sides involved are playing for a place in the top four now, at best. Six of the final 10 games are on the road, with a trip to resurgent Chelsea on 16 April and an as-yet scheduled journey to face struggling Newcastle also looking tough.

West Ham

Played 29, points 49, goal difference +12

Last won the league title: Never

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Results in reverse fixtures: West Ham fans and the producers of Match of the Day will hope not to see three goalless draws in the run-in – a sequence of results the Hammers picked up back-to-back against Swansea, Stoke and Manchester United in December. But that was when Slaven Bilic was without Dimitri Payet, who is back firing now.

The Hammers collected 13 points from nine games in their remaining fixtures – a repeat would see them end on 62 points. A repeat of that and Leicester would only need one more win to finish above the Hammers…

Scores in reverse games: Beat Chelsea 2-1, beat Crystal Palace 3-1, beat Arsenal 2-0, lost 2-1 to Leicester, drew 1-1 with West Brom, drew 0-0 with Swansea, drew 0-0 with Stoke, lost 2-0 to Watford, drew 0-0 with Manchester United.

Recent form: Dimitri Payet made his first start after an ankle injury at Bournemouth on 12 January. The Hammers have won five of nine league games since, losing just twice. Bilic’s side have won their last three games to propel them into Champions League contention. But a title challenge? They would surely need to win all of their games from here…

Key games: Back-to-back games with title challengers Arsenal and Leicester in April could shape the Hammers’ top-four push, while an FA Cup run means they still have games with Watford and Manchester United to reschedule.

Manchester United

Played 29, 47 points, goal difference +10

Last won the league title: 2013

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Results in reverse fixtures: Does anyone believe that Manchester United are genuine title challengers? Even if Louis van Gaal’s side were to win all remaining nine games they would only end up with 74 points – which would represent their third-worst haul in the Premier League era. Their worst totals, of 64 points and 70 points, have both come in the last two seasons. David Moyes’ record-low haul of 64 points may come under threat yet. United would need 18 points from their final nine games to overhaul that mark. In the corresponding nine games United took 13 points, and drew four times, three of which were goalless.

Scores in reverse games: Drew 0-0 with Manchester City, beat Everton 3-0, beat Tottenham 1-0, beat Aston Villa 1-0, drew 1-1 with Leicester, lost 2-1 to Norwich, lost 2-1 to Bournemouth, drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace, drew 0-0 with West Ham.

Key games: United face Liverpool home and away in the Europa League and West Ham in the FA Cup quarter final before their next Premier League game against rivals Manchester City on 20 March. United are only currently three points outside the top four but with winning the Europa League now carrying automatic Champions League qualification, that competition is arguably of great importance for Van Gaal.

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