Prediction: Premier League top four at Christmas - Spurs third, Liverpool fourth?
With Chelsea's momentum building with the 3-0 dismissal of Arsenal and Manchester United recovering well from the disappointment at Stamford Bridge with a 3-0 win against Everton and a 4-1 win at Portsmouth, the top two at Christmas seems assured. Chelsea are 10 points clear of third placed Tottenham and United are five points ahead - these two seem likely to contest the title now.
Below these two are five teams separated by four points - Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City; with Sunderland, Stoke and Fulham a little further off the pace. It seems that third and fourth in the division as the year draws to an end will be between that select pool.
Tottenham Hotspur 26 points
Spurs have four games left before Christmas and currently lie third a point ahead of Arsenal (having played a game more) and three ahead of Liverpool in fifth. Spurs are in good form and the late equalizer against Villa said as much about the spirit in the team as the 9-1 humilation of Wigan the week before. Most Spurs teams of the last 20 years would have lost at Villa Park and that the team didn't suggests that any team that wants to beat Spurs in the next month will have to play exceptionally well. Looking at the four fixtures to Christmas I would expect Spurs to pick up another 8-10 points before Christmas and stand by my earlier prediction that Spurs will go into 2010 in third place.
6 December - away at Everton
12 December - home to Wolves
16 December - home to Man City
19 December - away to Blackburn
Arsenal 25 points
Arsenal have failed to score in the last two games without Robin van Persie to lead the line; the earlier injury to Nic Bendtner has proved doubly costly. With that in mind although Arsenal have two straightforward home games - the two northern away trips suddenly look very dangerous. Arsenal's morale is dangerously balanced and there could be a few weeks of realignment before Arsenal re-adjust and start to bang in goals for fun again. I'm expecting Arsenal to pick up another 7-9 points before Christmas.
5 December - home to Stoke
13 December - away at Liverpool
16 December - away at Burnley
19 December - home to Hull
Liverpool 23 points
Liverpool may have been somewhat fortunate to see off Everton 2-0 in the derby game, but winning without playing the opposition off the park is a mark of success. With Fernando Torres, Alberto Aquilani, Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera all about ready to start games Liverpool will surely now start to pick up wins and the only difficult game before Christmas should be the Arsenal one. I'm expecting Liverpool to pick up another 10-12 points before Christmas.
5 December - away at Blackburn
13 December - home to Arsenal
16 December - home to Wigan
19 December - away at Portsmouth
Aston Villa 23 points
Aston Villa could well be described as a dark horse candidate for a top four finish, without the resources of many of the other sides an early exit from Europe will free up resources for a strong finish to the season. If Villa are there or thereabouts in March then it will be interesting. Over the next four games there are two extremely tough away games and two more winnable home games suggesting another 7-9 points before Christmas.
5 December - home to Hull
12 December - away to Man Utd
15 December - away to Sunderland
19 December - home to Stoke
Manchester City 22 points
This is a cruel season for Mark Hughes; Man City are the only team in the top flight to have lost less than twice but seven consecutive draws has pushed them fully 14 points behind Chelsea. If City had hung on for a win in just three of those seven games they would be away and clear in third place. The club must now deal with speculation about the manager (especially with Hiddink and Mourinho suggesting they want to return to England) - but regardless of the speculation surely a return to winning ways is imminent. City have the toughest fixtures of the top seven clubs before Christmas but must still expect another 6-8 points.
5 December - home to Chelsea
12 December - away at Bolton
16 December - away at Tottenham
19 December - home to Sunderland
My prediction; top seven at Christmas:
1. Chelsea 46-48 points
2. Man United 41-43 points
3. Tottenham 34-36 points
4. Liverpool 33-35 points
5. Arsenal 32-34 points
6. Aston Villa 30-32 points
7. Man City 28-30 points
Do I have it right - which teams do you think will pick or more or less points before Christmas, and how will the league look as a result? Is there a surprise run from Sunderland, Stoke or Fulham in the offing?