28 March 2013

2012/2013: The final stretch

Even Nostradamus could have predicted a 20th title for Manchester United.

It only seems like last week that the 2012/2013 Premier League season got underway.

We're now well into the campaign, with just eight or nine games left to play. While the title seems to be going the way of a Manchester United team currently in a Tiger Woods-style renaissance, the drama seems to be at the bottom of the table. Who will survive, and which sets of fans will be setting their sat navs for Turf Moor and the John Smith's Stadium next season?

There's also plenty to fight for with regards to the UEFA Champions League places. Will it be the end of an era for an Arsenal side who since 1998 have always made it into Europe's elite competition?

This seems as good a time as any to predict how the rest of the Premier League season will pan out. You can see on the left of this table how the table stands as of today. Now, with the help of the BBC Sport website's ever-useful prediction page, I'm going to have a go at predicting the last few rounds of the campaign, starting with this weekend's fixtures:

Results: Arsenal 3-1 Reading, Everton 0-0 Stoke City, Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United, Southampton 2-1 Chelsea, Sunderland 0-3 Manchester United, Swansea City 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic 1-0 Norwich City, Aston Villa 1-4 Liverpool, Fulham 2-1 Queens Park Rangers.
Nigel Adkins' reign at Reading starts promisingly as they go 1-0 up at Arsenal, only for their defence to suddenly fold and concede three goals in the second half. Adkins says, "It was a good performance. The lads played tremendously."
However, he is secretly wishing that he got more of a chance with Southampton, whose mini-revival under Mauricio Pochettino continued with a shock win over Chelsea. Aston Villa's boys are torn apart by Liverpool, and they fall into the relegation zone.

Results: Norwich City 0-2 Swansea City, Reading 1-1 Southampton, Stoke City 1-0 Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Arsenal, Chelsea 2-0 Sunderland, Liverpool 2-1 West Ham United, Newcastle United 1-1 Fulham, Queens Park Rangers 3-2 Wigan Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Everton, Manchester United 3-0 Manchester City.
Would you Adam and Eve it - Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers are off the bottom! A thrilling 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic, sealed with a 97th-minute winner from Loic Remy, takes the Hoops above Reading, who stumble at home to Nigel Adkins' old club Southampton.
Tottenham Hotspur regain their four-point lead on Arsenal when Gareth Bale scores for the 45th time this year against Everton and the Gunners falter at West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool get another win to close the gap on 5th-placed Arsenal to just a couple of points.
Manchester United trounce City 3-0 to effectively end the title race. While Ed Chamberlin and Gary Neville try their best to contain their delight, Sky Sports producers start making plans to promote what they call "The Mother Of All Battles - The Race For 3rd".

Results: Arsenal 2-2 Norwich City, Aston Villa 2-1 Fulham, Everton 1-1 Queens Park Rangers, Reading 0-2 Liverpool, Southampton 4-3 West Ham United, Chelsea 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United 1-2 Sunderland, Stoke City 0-0 Manchester United, Fulham 1-5 Chelsea, Manchester City 2-0 Wigan Athletic, West Ham United 3-1 Manchester United.
Southampton are again successful in their attempts to get top billing on Match of the Day when they win by the odd goal in seven against West Ham United, who withdraw their offer of a new contract to Sam Allardyce. The Saints are eight points clear of the drop and have shot up to 12th. Newcastle United are dragged into trouble by arch-rivals Sunderland after Stephane Sessegnon decides for once that he actually wants to play.
Liverpool record another win and overtake Arsenal in 5th. A Reds fan can be seen holding a banner saying: "LIVERPOOL FC: CHAMPIONS 2014".
It's not long before Arsenal move back up to 4th, though, as they put four goals past Everton to leafrog the Reds and Tottenham. Later in midweek, West Ham delay Manchester United's title celebrations by taking three points off the Red Devils. The Hammers immediately offer Sam Allardyce a new contract.

Results: Fulham 0-2 Arsenal, Norwich City 2-1 Reading, Queens Park Rangers 3-0 Stoke City, Sunderland 1-2 Everton, Swansea City 1-0 Southampton, West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Newcastle United, West Ham United 0-1 Wigan Athletic, Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur 0-4 Manchester City, Manchester United 7-0 Aston Villa.
The great escape is on! Queens Park Rangers are three points from 17th place after Harry Redknapp's boys saunter past Stoke City. The London press laud the QPR boss as 'Harry Houdini' and accuse Stoke of trying to decapitate Harry's players, although to be fair, they have a point.
Manchester City overwhelm an out-of-form Tottenham Hotspur to leave the previously fresh-faced Andre Villas-Boas looking like Vincent van Gogh, albeit with one extra ear. City's joy is short-lived, though, because Aston Villa later give Manchester United free rein of their penalty area before handing them the Premier League title on a silver platter.

Results: Chelsea 0-1 Swansea City, Everton 1-2 Fulham, Manchester City 3-1 West Ham United, Newcastle United 2-0 Liverpool, Southampton 2-2 West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City 1-0 Norwich City, Wigan Athletic 0-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United, Reading 1-2 Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa 1-0 Sunderland.
Relegation is finally confirmed for Reading when they lose to Queens Park Rangers, who briefly move out of the bottom three. A disappointed Nigel Adkins says, "It was a good performance. The lads played tremendously."
Everton's Champions League push is pushed back when they are shocked 2-1 by Fulham. Several Toffees fans with a combined IQ lower than Jade Goody's corpse bombard BBC 606 with calls demanding that their manager David Moyes be sacked.
QPR's spell in the safety zone only last two days. In the Monday night kick-off, Christian Benteke scores a decisive goal for Aston Villa which puts Sunderland well and truly in relegation trouble. Martin O'Neill tears out what's left of his hair afterwards.
With just three rounds to go, just six points separate the teams in 12th and 19th.

4 MAY - 7 MAY
Results: Fulham 2-0 Reading, Liverpool 2-3 Everton, Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea, Norwich City 0-0 Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers 0-2 Arsenal, Sunderland 0-0 Stoke City, Swansea City 1-0 Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Southampton, West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Wigan Athletic, West Ham United 2-1 Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic 1-0 Swansea City.
Manchester United and Chelsea draw 1-1 in goals and 2-2 in red cards in a bitter battle at Old Trafford. After Chelsea are hit with a dozen separate FA charges and United get off scot free, the Blues' interim manager Rafael Benitez says, "Alex Ferguson runs the FA. Fact."
Despite winning a Merseyside thriller, Everton are out of Champions League contention. Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will squabble over the last three spots in Michel Platini's cash cow.
As for the real drama, Queens Park Rangers fall closer to relegation when they implode at home to Arsenal. Sunderland are sent into the relegation zone by Wigan Athletic's victory over Swansea City on Monday, and the Mackems' 0-0 draw with Stoke City is deemed so exciting that Match of the Day's producers decide to replace that particular match with highlights of a 1983 World Indoor Bowls Championship Quarter Final.

12 MAY - 15 MAY
Results: Arsenal 3-1 Wigan Athletic, Everton 1-0 West Ham United, Fulham 0-0 Liverpool, Manchester United 5-1 Swansea City, Norwich City 0-0 West Bromwich Albion, Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Newcastle United, Reading 0-3 Manchester City, Stoke City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland 2-0 Southampton, Aston Villa 0-2 Chelsea, Manchester City 1-2 West Bromwich Albion.
As Manchester United lift aloft the Premier League trophy having swept aside Swansea City, the mood in the northern part of the rainy city is, well, rather rainy. Joe Hart somehow manages to spill a weak Romelu Lukaku shot into his own net to give West Bromwich Albion a midweek victory, and FA Cup winners Chelsea the chance to steal 2nd place from Manchester City on the final day. West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie celebrates his team-mates' win by tweeting, "Still wish u let me join QPR #w*nkers".
4th place will go down to the wire as well - Arsenal lead Tottenham by a solitary point, but their goal difference is so superior that Spurs effectively need to beat Sunderland and hope that the Gunners don't overcome Newcastle United.
Just three points separate the teams in 14th and 19th place, meaning that any two of six teams will be relegated on what Sky Sports call Super Mega Ultra Relegation Grand Slam Sunday - in 3D. Even Stephen Hawking admits that he needs an abacus to work out all of the permutations.

19 MAY
Results: Chelsea 1-0 Everton, Liverpool 2-0 Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City 2-1 Norwich City, Newcastle United 1-1 Arsenal, Southampton 3-3 Stoke City, Swansea City 0-0 Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Manchester United, West Ham United 0-2 Reading, Wigan Athletic 2-2 Aston Villa.
The battle for 2nd turns out to be a damp squib. Chelsea get the win they need against Everton, but Manchester City are too strong for Norwich City as Roberto Mancini manages to just about keep himself in the job. Rafael Benitez is sacked five minutes after full-time and replaced by Gianfranco Zola, who has somehow managed to get Udinese B into next season's Premier League under the guise of Watford.
Tottenham Hotspur defeat Sunderland 2-0, but their efforts to get 4th place look to be futile as Arsenal lead Newcastle United 1-0 going into injury time. However, when Thomas Vermaelen bundles over Papiss Cisse in the box and Yohan Cabaye converts the resulting penalty, Tottenham's despair turns into joy and Andre Villas-Boas does a David Brent dance on the White Hart Lane pitch.
However, the most dramatic moment of the season is saved until the very last minute. Queens Park Rangers are dead and gone following a 2-0 reverse at Liverpool, while Newcastle, Southampton and Sunderland are safe. That means that Aston Villa vs Wigan Athletic decides the final relegation place.
It's 4:59pm, and we're into the last of five added second-half minutes at Villa Park. The hosts are 2-1 to the good when Callum McManaman unleashes an audacious shot from 40 yards out. To the despair of thousands of Brummies, McManaman's thunderbolt flies past Brad Guzan and into the net to get the most dramatic of equalisers for Wigan. The Latics celebrate like they've won the Premier League, and a grown man who looks suspiciously like the Prime Minister is seen crying in the Holte End.
While Jeff Stelling and the Soccer Special boys are at a loss as to how Wigan can survive in the Premier League for yet another season, QPR and Aston Villa come to terms with the fact that they'll be in the Championship next season. Taking their place in the top flight will be Cardiff City, Watford and play-off winners Crystal Palace.

So, there you have it. United are champions, Spurs are in the top four, and Villa, QPR and Reading are relegated. Remember - you heard it here first!

"There, there, dad. At least Birmingham got relegated as well."

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