Using the Opta Power Rankings we determine how difficult the Premier League schedule is for each team over the final 10 games of the 2023-24 season.

Here we are at the final strait. The business end of the season. The run-in.

We are as close as we are going to get to every team having exactly 10 games left of 2023-24 (damn you, rearranged Chelsea vs Tottenham match), so this is as good a time as any to compare the relative difficulty of each side’s run-in.

This is where our Opta Power Rankings come in handy. They are a ranking system that assigns a score on a scale between zero (the worst team in the world) and 100 (Manchester City) to rate 13,000 club football teams against each other.

We can use the ranking of each team’s opponents to assign a difficulty rating to each team’s remaining fixtures.

In other words, we’ve taken the average ranking of each Premier League team’s 10 remaining opponents to see who has the easiest run-in, and who faces the biggest challenge in the season’s final couple of months. For clarity, a higher average rating means a harder run-in; a lower rating signals an easier schedule.

To make our findings slightly more convenient, uniform, and fair for our comparison, we have disregarded the aforementioned Chelsea vs Tottenham game, which was postponed a few weeks ago due to Chelsea’s involvement in the EFL Cup final, and is yet to be given a new date.

So, for the purposes of this exercise, think of that match as a free hit for both teams; a chance to gain a bonus point or three on top of anything they get from their other 10 games, but very much not a guarantee of anything more. 

And yes, before you shout at us, we’re very aware that the return fixture was not just a ‘free hit’ – the bizarre 4-1 win for Chelsea saw Spurs lose two key players to serious injuries, have two players sent off and sparked one of their worst runs of form in recent history.

But it’s neater this way. 

The Title Race

Arsenal face a challenge if they are to hold on to their ever-so-slender lead at the top of the Premier League table. With 10 rounds of fixtures remaining, they top the pile on goal difference having won eight games in a row by an astonishing aggregate score of 33-4 to overtake Liverpool and Manchester City.

However, they’ll need to keep up their recent form and remain at their very best to stay top, with our model suggesting they have the most difficult run-in of the three title contenders.

premier league fixture difficulty last 10 games of 2023-24

Mikel Arteta’s side still face difficult trips to Man City, Tottenham and Manchester United, as well as potential banana skins at home to Chelsea and Aston Villa and on the road against Brighton and Wolves.

According to the Opta Power Rankings, Arsenal face the fifth-most difficult run-in of the 20 Premier League teams. Given the rate at which the top three have been picking up points of late, it will need 10 strong performances from Arsenal if they are to hold off the challenges of both of their title rivals.

While neither City or Liverpool have a particularly easy run-in, both have more favourable schedules than Arsenal.

City’s is slightly more difficult than Liverpool’s, largely because of their home game against Arsenal at the end of the month as well as a trip to Tottenham.

Liverpool do have to go away to rivals Everton and Manchester United, both of whom will be desperate to stop them winning the title, but otherwise their biggest challenges are a home game against Tottenham and a trip to Villa Park on the penultimate day of the season.

Who will win that particular race is anyone’s guess – the Opta supercomputer is still backing City to do it, by the way – but the relative difficulty of the three teams’ remaining fixtures helps put the title battle into perspective.

The Top-Four Race

While we are still waiting to see whether the Premier League will earn a fifth spot in next season’s Champions League (something you can read more about here), it makes sense to assume that the race to qualify is still a battle for the top four. That would make it almost certain only one of Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester United will make it.

Currently in fourth with a two-point cushion over Spurs, Villa are in the driving seat (though don’t forget about that extra game Spurs have at Chelsea) in the hunt for fourth, but they have the second-most difficult run-in of all 20 Premier League teams, so there are plenty of opportunities for them to slip up.

Still facing trips to City and Arsenal as well as West Ham and Brighton, and home games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Wolves, Villa have a very difficult set of fixtures. They don’t have any games left against a team in the current bottom five, while six of their remaining games are against top-half teams.

Premier League top four finish probability

Their form against teams in the top half of the table is particularly bad, too, having lost their last four in a row since home wins over Arsenal and City in December. Their 4-0 defeat at home to top-four rivals Tottenham last week didn’t bode well for what is to come.

Spurs have a slightly easier run-in, though theirs is still the eighth-most difficult in the league. A brutal run towards the end of the season when they play Newcastle, City, Arsenal and Liverpool could make or break their top-four chances.

Man Utd have by far the simplest task of the Champions League-chasing teams, with Liverpool and Arsenal – both at home – the only teams in the current top seven that they have left. The problem for United is that they have eight points to make up to Villa in fourth, but at least the fixture list is looking kind to them.

The Relegation Battle

Realistically, Sheffield United and Burnley are down. It would take a monumental recovery for them to claw their way out of the position they find themselves in, 10 points adrift of safety with 10 games to go; even a fixture list on the more favourable side won’t save them.

Burnley have the sixth-easiest run-in, and don’t have to play any of the top three, but it’s frankly impossible to see them picking up the 20-odd points they are likely to need. The task for Sheffield United is even greater as they have a tougher fixture list.

Relegation Run-In

So, that leaves one relegation spot remaining, and four – or possibly five – teams fighting for survival.

Luton, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Brentford are all very much in the relegation battle. Crystal Palace, currently eight points clear of the drop zone, are surely safe, even if they have the most difficult run-in of any team in the bottom half of the table.

Luton look like they could be in trouble after Wednesday night’s dramatic 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth. Having led 3-0 at half-time, they might have been confident of pulling off their great escape in the relegation battle, but they became the third team in Premier League history to lose a game after leading by three goals at the break, and are now staring at the very real possibility of heading straight back to the second tier.

With games to come away to Tottenham, Arsenal and City, Rob Edwards’ side face the sixth-most difficult run-in in the entire Premier League. Edwards will likely be focusing his attentions on more winnable crunch fixtures at home to Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, Brentford and Everton to pick up the points he needs to survive.

Things look even bleaker for Luton when comparing their run-in to those of their closest relegation rivals. Brentford, Forest and Everton face the easiest, fourth-easiest and fifth-easiest run-ins, respectively, according to Opta’s Power Rankings model. Each of them has to play all three of the promoted sides, so there will be a huge amount of pressure on those matches against Luton.

Luton’s hopes may ultimately hinge on whether Forest end up, like Everton, being given a points deduction.

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