Premier League: Key questions to keep an eye on ahead of the final stage of the season

As Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “it’s squeaky bum time.”

After the meandering wilderness of another international break, the Premier League returns and one other classic cliche springs to mind – albeit with a slight tweak.

It is now a sprint, not a marathon. We are into the final stretch.

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Clubs scrapping to avoid the drop must steel themselves for a survival battle, while the title race is alive and well as Liverpool and Manchester City go head-to-head for English football’s ultimate prize.

There is plenty to intrigue and entertain in this final act of the domestic season. Here’s what you should keep an eye on.

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Who wins the Premier League?

Liverpool and Manchester City. Who wins? Who loses? And will the losers be labelled bottlers?

Jurgen Klopp’s electric Reds held a 10-point lead at the end of 2018 which was overcome in double-quick time once City generated momentum.

Liverpool lead City by two points, although Guardiola’s men have a game in hand on their rivals.

And should the Merseysiders fail to secure a first title in 29 years, their character and courage will be called into question – perhaps a harsh assessment of a campaign which has conceded just one Premier League defeat from 31 games.

It’s a shoot-out between two brilliant teams making their respective marks with City keen to back up last season’s 100-point success with another crowning glory.

Perhaps we should applaud the victors and, heck, do likewise to the runners-up as the title race threatens to go to the wire for the first time since, well, the time these two did battle in 2013-14.

Liverpool’s run-in: Spurs (H), Southampton (A), Chelsea (H), Cardiff (A), Huddersfield (H), Newcastle (A), Wolves (H)

Man City’s run-in: Fulham (A), Cardiff (H), Crystal Palace (H), Spurs (H), Man United (A), Burnley (A), Leicester (H), Brighton (A)

Will anyone top or match Derby’s record?

Ah, Derby. The Premier League era’s nadir, the absolute low-bar for what can be achieved – or not – in the top division.

Relegation is a certainty for any team who threatens Derby’s record-low points total of 11, set during the Rams’ calamitous 2007-08 campaign.

At least all clubs in this season’s Premier League can rest assured of having avoided the obvious record – gaining fewer than the 11 points Paul Jewell and Billy Davies’ men got.

But there are still two teams who could join Derby in infamy. Bottom side Huddersfield are on course to match Derby’s ‘achievement’ of being relegated in March.

This will happen if the Terriers lose to Crystal Palace while Burnley and Southampton both win, against Wolves and Brighton.

Derby’s record-low away points haul from that season is also under threat. They picked up a (not-quite) mammoth three points and it may not surprise you to learn Fulham are only on two.

There’s, uh, still time?

Champions League spots – Who gets them?

At the other end of the table, the question generally met with disdain; Who finishes in the Champions League spots?

Often seen as a second-rate title race, its importance is ramped up in years when one team is home and dry and the top of the table.

Take last season, when Man City cantered to the title and left Sky advertising the race for the top four from Christmas onwards.

But here we have four teams competing for two spots. Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United will all be expecting Champions League football but two will miss out.

With four points between them, it truly is enough to whet the appetite.

Keep an eye on all the Premier League’s best bits as we enter the final part of the season
Keep an eye on all the Premier League’s best bits as we enter the final part of the season

Which team will join Fulham and Huddersfield in the Championship?

Cardiff. Burnley. Southampton. Brighton and Hove Albion. Crystal Palace.

The latter four clubs will be nervously looking over their shoulders, while Cardiff seek inspiration to mount an escape and survive relegation.

Hailed as the favourites to be relegated, the Bluebirds have a true chance of survival – which is some feat given Fulham and Huddersfield are all but gone.

Just five points separates them from Roy Hodgson’s Palace in 14th, and as we edge towards the final few matches of the season anything could happen.

Could Neil Warnock’s men do it? And if they do, which one of their rivals will be in the Championship next season?

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What the hell happens to Wolves now?

Wolves. The team many tipped to cause a stir in the Premier League have done just that.

Unlike Fulham, who spent heavily over the summer, Wolves lived up to the reputation they established over 18 months in the Championship.

After some clever purchases, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have casually strolled into seventh place. Firmly establishing themselves as ‘best of the rest’.

The Midlands charmers have caused several upsets along the way, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold that position.

Will they manage to finish a remarkable season in seventh or will their form drop off? Only time will tell, but – with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to – it’s certainly a time to savour for fans at Molineux.

How many times will we hear ‘VAR’ before the end of the season?

Start the timer, make a list and get your pens (keyboards?) ready.

The Premier League will officially have video assistant referees from next season and you can bet your mortgage this will be mentioned at every possible opportunity between now and the end of the season.

A club missed out on a penalty? You’ll hear about VAR.

Your team conceded an offside goal? You’ll hear about VAR.

An extremely casual handball appeal? You’ll hear about VAR and almost certainly a reference to Paris.

In short, it will be as grating as hearing about a footballer’s age on repeat (did you know Callum Hudson-Odoi is only 18?) But stick with it, next season it will be worth it.

We are almost sure of it.

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