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What is football? That seems to have been the question on pretty much every football follower’s lips this season. As we’re now into the final weeks of the Premier League season it’s the perfect time to take a look back on what has been, what will be, and what other weird and wonderful things could feasibly still happen.
The first and foremost of those points being; can Leicester actually do it? I’d very much like to hope so. Although their closest rivals Spurs have a game in hand, they’re still 8 points off the Foxes, who have clearly been the stand out team of the campaign. Tipped for almost inevitable relegation at the start of the season, Leicester’s consistency over the past months has been more or less unmatched, which is why their growing distant rivals have faltered. They have simply not had a “bad run”. Manchester City have only recently won consecutive games for the first time since October. Spurs have failed to make the real push in their last handful of games needed to break through. And Arsenal, well, let’s be honest, are just Arsenal.
“This should have been their season!” said pretty much everyone of the Gunners back in August. I can never really understand why. They always bottle it, for some unknown reason. City on the other hand, made a strong start, but a plague of injuries struck, and now people are actually saying that winning the Champions League is their hope of playing in the competition next year. Over the weekend, Leicester secured their spot in Europe’s elite competition, but the host of teams still competing for those spots at this point in the season is frankly bonkers.
So little is still certain here. Spurs still need to win their next two games to guarantee themselves Champions League football, whereas City and Arsenal have only a four-point advantage on Manchester United, and still have each other to play. This said, with United surely pinning hopes on the FA Cup to bring them their first silverware since David Moyes’ Charity Shield win in 2011, and with Leicester and close rivals West Ham still to play, they look to have the toughest run left of the contending teams. Whilst it looks unlikely that Liverpool could make the leap from their current league position, their fierce fight back in the Europa League from their mastermind manager that is Klopp certainly shows that they may be in with a chance of securing Champions League football in the less conventional way. And City may even win the Champions League itself. As this season has shown, stranger things have happened.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, this weekend saw Premier League stalwarts Aston Villa finally succumb to relegation. It’s clear to see that this season has been an absolute season from hell for them. And for the sake of the Villa fans out there, I’ll leave it at that. Although it looks most likely that it will be two of either Newcastle, Sunderland or Norwich joining them, the openness of the mid-table with six teams on 39-41 points means that a game in or against one’s favour could make this season all the more shocking. Crystal Palace seem the most interesting to me here. They currently sit eight points clear of Norwich, though still in 16th place. Who remembers back at the start of the season, where they sat fairly consistently for a couple of months, looking like Europe contenders? It’s a classic Pardew team really, so it shouldn’t be surprising. Yet the teams which seem to occupy those spots early on, tend to be amongst the most consistent, like your Southamptons of the past few years, or this season’s other unexpected shocker, West Ham.
It’s impossible to talk about this Premier League season without mentioning Chelsea. Their viciously poor start to the season, which saw the shock sacking of the Special One, Jose Mourinho, coupled with their strong comeback under Guus Hiddink has been one of the weirdest and wonderful turns of the season. European football for them next season is an almost certain no now, after a poor performance at the weekend saw them squashed at home and keeper Courtois join the ranks of only five other keepers to receive two red cards in a season. If their form from the latter half of the season continues under Antonio Conte next time, they’ll most likely be restored to their former glory.
Another one of the big surprises that has been thrown up in this unpredictable season has been the strength of promoted teams Bournemouth and Watford. Premier League newbies, Bournemouth, were one of the clear favourites for relegation at the start of the season, but have played consistently and solidly throughout. Watford, similarly, have been absent from the top tier of football for a number of years, yet not too long ago, stood solidly in seventh position. Whilst this may have dropped, both teams seem unlikely to now get pulled in to a relegation battle, and undoubtedly deserve a round of applause for that feat.
So, what do we know? About finishing positions, not a lot. It’s rare that with a handful of games left to go in the season, that things can still change so much. What we do know, however, is that the 2015/16 season is one that no-one will be forgetting, for the right reasons. Well, except for Chelsea fans.