Where is the silverware headed?

The Barclays Premier League title race is entering the final straight and here MATT SOMERFORD uses Press Association’s MatchStory data to analyse the title challengers’ chances of being crowned champions over the next two months.

The Barclays Premier League title race is entering the final straight and with four clubs retaining genuine hope of lifting the trophy, an enthralling end to the season awaits.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has played down his side’s chances — despite a four-point lead at the time of writing that has been ballooned to some degree by playing more games than their rivals.

Here is an analysis of the title challengers’ chances of being crowned champions over the next two months.

CHELSEA PROS

Chelsea have the easiest run-in of any team in the Premier League. The average points return of their last nine opponents is just 1.24 per game (the lowest for any run-in).

If defence wins titles then Chelsea are in pole position too. They’ve conceded just three goals in the first 10 league games since the turn of the year. Their defensive resilience is based around the fact they reduce the quality of shots taken against them. It takes 13.4 shots on average to score against Chelsea — the best record of any of the top six — and even then they only allow 10.1 shots per game. Mourinho’s men are more ‘work horse’ than ‘little horse.’

The Blues’ other key advantage is their ability to hold on to a lead. They are the best at it — holding on for 90 per cent of points when ahead — while they are also the best in the league at recovering from behind. Throw in the fact Chelsea take the second most shots (17.2) and they appear to be firing on all cylinders.

CONS

As Mourinho has been at pains to point out, Chelsea could win every game and still not win the league. If Manchester City win their three games in hand they will surpass the Blues and, with their European and FA Cup adventures ending this week, they will focus fully on the Premier League.

Chelsea will have the added pressures of Europe — they are on the brink of knocking Galatasaray out of the Champions League — so must juggle two major ambitions.

LIVERPOOL PROS

Liverpool score goals, lots of them. The front pairing of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge is now undoubtedly the best in the league — they are after all the top two scorers in the division with 42 goals between them — but their lethal edge is down to a mix of opportunities created by the midfield and the ruthless efficiency to which the strikers turn them into goals.

Liverpool create 16.8 shots per match — only Manchester City and Chelsea take more — but the Reds convert those opportunities better than anyone else. It takes Liverpool 6.4 shots on average to net which goes some way to revealing why they have scored three or more goals in 15 matches — the most of any team.

Liverpool have also been able to put a number of games to bed early this season with quick goals — just ask Arsenal — which has allowed boss Brendan Rodgers to rest his key men at times. The Reds have scored 64 per cent of their goals in the first half, more than any team, and with no European football to worry them Rodgers’ men are arguably the freshest of any heading into the run-in.

CONS

Liverpool’s defence is their Achilles heel. They are 11th in the league for preventing shots and ninth for keeping them out.

Bottom-half clubs Swansea, Stoke, Aston Villa and Fulham have all scored two or more goals against them recently and with a difficult run-in to come, tightening up is crucial to their hopes.

ARSENAL PROS

Arsenal’s title push was expected to fade away long before now yet still they remain firmly in the mix. A lack of depth behind Olivier Giroud up front had been pinpointed as a reason to disbelieve the Gunners’ credentials, but their ability to spread the scoring load is unmatched.

Arsenal have 16 different goalscorers in the league this season — three more than the next best title rival Chelsea.

Arsenal are ranked only seventh for shots taken per match (14.0), but in terms of shots per goal they need only 7.6. That indicates their midfield, filled with playmaking talent, is programmed to finding the best shots possible for a team-mate rather than taking on long-range prayers.

The end of their European tilt will narrow the focus and with the possibility of a first title since 2005 now very likely — as the last big name standing in the FA Cup — the north Londoners can attack the end of the campaign with belief silverware awaits.

CONS

Injuries are hitting at the wrong time in midfield with Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil facing time on the sidelines, although Aaron Ramsey is closing on a return.

Arsene Wenger can hardly afford many more key players out with one of the hardest run-ins to come. The average points return of their final 10 opponents is 1.47 — the third highest in the league.

MANCHESTER CITY PROS

A horror week may have sent City out of the Champions League and the FA Cup, but it will at least allow them to focus solely on the Premier League.

The first task is closing the gap on leaders Chelsea and proving Mourinho is right to suggest they are the title favourites.

City have already strung together long winning runs this term — they won eight league games on the bounce during the Champions League’s winter hiatus. Their reduced schedule may have a silver lining.

Over the course of the season City have shown the best balance between attack and defence, taking the most shots per match (18.2) and allowing the least (10.1). City are also the second most efficient team in front of goal — behind Liverpool — and have scored three or more goals on 13 occasions.

CONS

City must quickly recover from a bad month that culminated in their cup exits. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have found goals hard to come by. Sergio Aguero is injured while Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko have lost form.

The pressure is also set to be ramped up on first-year boss Pellegrini, who will likely need to add to the Capital One Cup trophy if he is to avoid a summer of speculation over his job.

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