Form suggests time running out for rivals to close down Premier League pacesetters Leicester City
Foxes appear strong enough to hold the pace as Tottenham battle to stay in touching distance
Eight games to go in the Premier League title race and time is running out for Leicester City’s rivals as they await the sudden implosion of form that was meant to afflict the surprise leaders weeks or even months ago.
A measure of where the race stands now is that no team has made any ground on Leicester over the past eight games. Tottenham have played near their maximum in that period and accumulated 19 points from a possible 24 but Leicester have matched them both on points and goal difference and still hold a five-point lead.
The teams who have imploded are Arsenal and Manchester City, who have taken just nine and 11 points respectively from their last eight matches. That has effectively put them out of the contest, as they are relying not just on Leicester coming to a dramatic halt but Tottenham losing form too.
The previous eight matches were no more encouraging for the chasers, even though that run included Leicester’s blip just after Christmas when they did not score for three games and dropped seven points from them.
Crucially, Leicester emerged from that mini-crisis with a 1-0 win at Tottenham and over the eight matches they dropped only one point to Tottenham, while losing none to Manchester City and gaining one on Arsenal.
In that eight-game period, Leicester’s total was 15 points and if they did the same from now to the end of the season they would end up with 78 points. That would mean Tottenham would have to take 20 from a possible 24 points, meaning they could afford to lose no more than one game and have to win at least six out of eight.
The difficulty of doing that is clear from the fact that Tottenham have to play five of the other top eight teams on recent form, which leaves them with a triple whammy of having to pick up their own form while at the same time hoping their upcoming rivals as well as Leicester stop playing so well.
Arsenal and City, theoretically still in the hunt and both with a game in hand on the top two, already need maximum points if they are to reach 78 points and a flawless end to the season for either of them looks highly unlikely on recent form.
Everton v Arsenal is first up tonight, but the crucial match is set to be Crystal Palace v Leicester, which gives the leaders the opportunity to turn the screw a little tighter.
Palace are not among the best teams on recent form, quite the opposite. Since early December only rock-bottom Aston Villa have performed worse than Palace in the Premier League and the saving grace has been their run to the FA Cup semi-finals.
Three of the Cup games have been wins over Premier League opponents, which shows Palace have not lost form entirely, but they will find it difficult to stop Leicester.
While Palace have struggled since early December, Leicester’s record in that period shows seven wins and three draws from 10 games against teams outside the top eight. They rate strongly on the handicap and have good win prospects.
A Leicester win would pile the pressure on Tottenham, who would then be starting tomorrow night’s home game against Bournemouth with a deficit of eight points.
Bournemouth are one of those recent strong form teams, ranking sixth over the last eight games, although the bulk of their points have come against bottom-half teams and they were thrashed 5-1 in the reverse.
Tottenham should win, but the odds are short for a potentially tricky match.
It is a critical weekend at the bottom of the table with tomorrow’s Tyne-Wear derby between Newcastle and Sunderland. An interesting form pointer here is that Sunderland have the best record in head-to-heads involving the bottom six, with four wins and only one defeat from eight games, while Newcastle are bottom of that mini-league.
The new factor is Rafa Benitez being in charge of Newcastle and, perhaps surprisingly, there is some home form to build on, as they have lost only three out of 12 at St James’ Park against teams outside the top three.
Any improvement will give Newcastle a decent chance as Sunderland have not kept a clean sheet in 15 league games. Benitez’s side are the tentative handicap pick.
Most of the other Premier League matches look quite even, or the odds too short, but two bets to consider are Southampton at home to Liverpool and Watford at home to Stoke.