Breaking down the Premier League race

Breaking down the Premier League race

European Soccer

Breaking down the Premier League race

RichardsEvra (Getty Images)

The 2011-2012 season in England began with Manchester United spotting Manchester City a lead in the Community Shield, only to storm back, assert themselves down the stretch and walk away victorious.

The Premier League campaign is unfolding in a similar manner. 

Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Blackburn Monday capped what could prove to be a decisive week in the race for the Premier League title. With Manchester City battling back just to salvage a 3-3 draw with Sunderland, the Red Devils carry a five-point edge with seven games remaining.

While the focus is on the two Manchester Clubs, races behind them and at the bottom of the table are just as furious with teams jockeying for position either for places in Europe or just to remain in the top flight.

Here's a look at the pressing races as the Premier League season winds down:

THE CHAMPIONSHIP

It's a two-horse race between the Manchesters, with the Red Devils holding a five-point, 76-71 edge atop the standings.

What was supposed to be a rebuilding year has turned into another championship-caliber campaign for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, even though that domestic success did not translate into European competitions. Even so, the club is finding its form at the right time as winners of seven straight league matches. With David de Gea finding his footing in goal, United has conceded just three times in those matches and none in the last four games.

City, meanwhile, has dropped points in three of their last four league matches, opening the door for United to gain some breathing room. The April 30 match between the two rivals at Etihad Stadium figures to be the decider, but City has to make sure it can stay within striking distance before then to give that match true meaning. The club's three games prior to that match are against West Brom, Norwich City and Wolves, so Roberto Mancini's side should be in the clear as long as it can avoid a loss at Arsenal this weekend.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Manchester United

EUROPEAN SPOTS

The Premier League crown is essentially out of reach for everybody else, but the race for the remaining two Premier League spots in the Champions League and the one Europa League spot is a tight battle between four clubs.

Tottenham's recent slide allowed Arsenal to creep up into third place, as the Gunners hold the slimmest of goal-differential edges over Spurs with both sitting on 58 points. Chelsea and Newcastle are five points behind both of the other London clubs, duking it out for the league's final place in Europe.

Chelsea has league matches against Arsenal and Newcastle remaining, and if the Blues — still alive in the Champions League — can take care of business in those battles, then they can certainly salvage what has been an otherwise disappointing domestic year. Tottenham and Arsenal have vastly easier roads over the final seven matches, though, meaning a climb to the Top 4 may be a bit too steep at this juncture.

Don't sleep on Newcastle, either, with the club on a three-match winning streak. Consecutive matches against Chelsea and Manchester City at the beginning of May will be make-or-break for the Magpies, who to their credit have stayed in the mix for the duration of the season.

Everton, 10 points behind Chelsea and Newcastle, is mathematically still alive but would need a minor miracle to make up that deficit while having their competitors sputter along the way.

PREDICTED UCL SPOTS: Tottenham, Arsenal

PREDICTED UEL SPOT: Chelsea

RELEGATION

As it stands, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic and Wolves are in position to bid farewell to the Premier League and head to the League Championship, but Queens Park Rangers, Bolton and Aston Villa aren't out of the woods just yet.

Wolves seems destined for last place, with a 1-10-3 record since the turn of the new year and a six-point climb over three teams to reach safety. 

Spots 18 and 19 are currently occupied by Blackburn and Wigan, who are level on points with 17th-place Queens Park Rangers but trail on goal differential. QPR's schedule to end the season, though, is brutal, with matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea among the final seven games.

Villa, which is five points clear of the drop zone, and Bolton, which is one point clear, are still in danger and must be on their toes, but they each have the luxury of having a game in hand, so their respective margins for error are a bit larger than those of QPR, Blackburn and Wigan.

PREDICTED TO DROP: Wolves, Wigan, QPR

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Who do you see winning the league? Which four do you see making it to next season's Champions League? Who will get relegated?

Share your thoughts below.

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