Premier League fans and punters are bracing themselves for a springtime to remember with a title fight to savour, a proper scrap to avoid relegation and, maybe best of all, a race for top six honours which few would have predicted.
That mega-rich Newcastle are in the frame for a top-six finish has probably surprised no one whereas Chelsea's fall from grace is definitely more of a shock.
But it's the emergence of Fulham, Brighton and Brentford as genuine contenders which has added unlikely drama to a compelling race which could well go the distance.
|What:||Premier League To Finish In Top 6|
|When:||August 2022 - May 28th 2023|
|Odds:||Man United 1/100, Liverpool 1/8, Tottenham 1/4, Newcastle 1/3, Brighton 10/11, Chelsea 8/1, Brentford 16/1, Fulham 16/1|
"It's very important that we are allowed to dream," beamed Brentford boss Thomas Frank after watching his side beat neighbours and top-six rivals Fulham 3-2 on Monday night.
The hard-nosed truth, of course, is that all three could miss out on a top-six finish given the calibre of club ahead of them.
The presumption from the layers is that with Liverpool having suddenly clicked into gear the top four places are sewn up.
And with Tottenham at 1/4 and Newcastle 1/3 there isn't much scope according to the odds-setters for a surprise to be sprung.
But the very fact that none of Fulham, Brighton and Brentford are showing any signs of disappearing and with Chelsea lurking, there is still set to be a race here for a top-six finish that few saw coming.
Newcastle, of the current top six, look the weak link and the market reflects that.
Eddie Howe's side have 41 points, two clear of Fulham and three ahead of Brighton and Brentford. Then it's Chelsea and Aston Villa, in 10th and 11th respectively, on 34 points.
In terms of form, the Magpies are floundering with one win in their last eight during which they have failed to score in five matches. They also failed to find the net in the League Cup final loss to Manchester United which was another blow.
They need to get back on the bike and will be looking for six points from their next two games – at home to Wolves and away at Nottingham Forest – to stay ahead of a dogged chasing pack.
Chelsea, despite having seven points to find on Newcastle and having played a game more, are 8/1 shots for a top-six finish, shorter than both West London rivals Fulham and Brentford.
Yet Chelsea still have to visit Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City so right now, with Graham Potter still working out his best team and goals scarce, they are very hard to fancy.
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Brighton, who have never played in Europe, are 10/11 to finish in the top six and boast a consistency certainly missing in Newcastle and Chelsea right now.
The irony that Roberto De Zerbi should take the Seagulls into Europe while former boss Potter misses out at 'bigger' club Chelsea, will be causing a smirk or two around the Amex.
They have lost just one of their last seven in the league and will be looking at their next two fixtures – away at Leeds and the grudge match with Crystal Palace – and think they shouldn't be losing any ground on those around them.
Albion – who have games in hand on everyone around them – still have to go to Arsenal though. It's a straight run of three matches in April which could well decide Brighton's fate, a schedule which reads Spurs away followed by Chelsea away followed by Manchester City at home.
And so to Fulham and Brentford, unquestionably the unlikeliest of the contenders but showing no sign of buckling. The promoted Cottagers were 5/4 to be relegated before a ball had been kicked with the Bees at 12/5. The not-so-clever money was on their battle for 2022/23 being about survival, not Europe.
Fulham need a response this weekend after their Brentford defeat – however, next up it's Arsenal where anything gained will represent a bonus.
One thing against Fulham – and also Brentford – is a goal difference far inferior to both Newcastle and Brighton.
Brentford are unbeaten in the Premier League since October and would hope to extend that run through the next couple of weeks with trips to Everton and Southampton before a home date with Leicester.
The tough bit for Brentford is yet to come. Their final three away games are at Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, while their final match of the season is at home to Manchester City.