Premier League top four race: Who will join Manchester City and Manchester United in Champions League spots?

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The title race is done and dusted even if Manchester City’s status as English champions has not yet been officially confirmed. The relegation battle would require a no less dramatic turnaround if either of Fulham and West Bromwich Albion were to escape the drop zone down to the Championship with Sheffield United.

But there is still drama to be had in the Premier League with a host of clubs still in contention for a top four finish and with it Champions League qualification. There are consolation prizes for those in fifth and sixth, both of whom will be guaranteed Europa League spots if the winner of the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester City has already qualified for the Champions League. That would also mean a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League for whichever team finishes seventh.

However, it is the riches of the Champions League that these clubs all want and for the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham it is by no means guaranteed. Manchester United, who still have five games left to play, look likely to qualify but who will join them and their crosstown rivals City? Let’s take a look at the standings and the run-ins of the top eight.

3. Chelsea – 64pts

Remaining fixtures — Arsenal (h), Leicester (h), Aston Villa (a)

Mathematically their top four candidacy is far from done and dusted, but it is hard to see how a team that has beaten Manchester City twice in the space of three weeks could fall apart so spectacularly as to allow a top four finish to slip out of their grip. Since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment Chelsea have been the second best team in England, and their run to the Champions League final might suggest the same is true in Europe.

Having said that, their schedule is not at all easy and had they not come from a goal down to win 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium there might have been some anxiety over whether Chelsea could hold on to a top four berth. Nobody, not even Arsenal, can know what Arsenal will turn up at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, and games against Leicester and Aston Villa are not easy ways to round out the campaign. Thanks to Saturday’s win another six points would be all that’s required if one of those wins came against the Foxes. Even without them, Tuchel’s men have likely done enough.

4. Leicester – 63pts

Remaining fixtures — Manchester United (a), Chelsea (a), Tottenham (h)

The nerves must surely be jangling at the King Power Stadium after their 4-2 home loss against Newcastle United. Leicester knew the hellacious run-in they had ahead of them, but three points against a Magpies side without the threat of relegation looming over them might have given them sufficient breathing room. Instead, they collapsed in disastrous fashion, four goals down after 73 minutes to a team who had not scored that many in a Premier League game since July.

Now it seems eminently possible that they have collected their final points of the season, having won just two of their last six Premier League matches. Nothing is certain — they have already proven in December that they have the quality to beat Tottenham — but were they to lose on the road to Manchester United and Chelsea then it would only be natural for heads to drop. 

Leicester have been outstanding this season and have the quality across their squad to perform well in the Champions League if they can get there. Still, it is fair to question whether last season’s failure may hover over Brendan Rodgers and his squad. Last year they returned from lockdown second in the league but fell out of the top four with defeat to Manchester United on the final day. “We have made it a lot harder for ourselves but it is still in our hands. We have to fight and we are a group that is together,” said Brendan Rodgers after the Newcastle defeat. Certainly it has become more of a challenge than it ought to have been.

5. West Ham – 58pts

Remaining fixtures — Everton (h), Brighton (a), West Brom (a), Southampton (h)

The surprise story of this season might just be about to end with one last twist as the pathway to a top four finish opens up for West Ham. Win at home to Everton on Sunday and suddenly David Moyes’s side would look extremely well-placed and have an ideal run-in of fixtures against teams whose fate this season has largely been decided. Perhaps the only downside for the Hammers is that these may be the games where they have to set the tone when they have proven to be far more effective as a reactive team.

Crucially for Moyes, key players are returning in time for the run-in. Michail Antonio returned to score both goals in a 2-1 win over Burnley that had West Ham dreaming of a top four finish again. Declan Rice could be in contention for the visit of Everton, and if not then the fixtures that follow. When those two start the Hammers are consistently competitive and since the opening weekend of the season have only lost to the big six in Premier League games. With the likes of Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals finding form in the run-in, there might just be the quality at the London Stadium for improbable Champions League qualification.

6. Liverpool – 57pts

Remaining fixtures — Manchester United (a), West Brom (a), Burnley (a), Crystal Palace (h)

For a moment it felt like the Achilles’ heel of Liverpool’s season would cost them again. Yet more injuries to center backs forced Jurgen Klopp into naming a center back pairing of Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips as Ozan Kabak joined Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip on the sidelines. Their game against Southampton was threatening to become a familiar Anfield farce of 2021 where Liverpool make a host of unfinished chances but are punished at the other end, but instead moments after Alisson had cleared up after a sloppy Trent Alexander-Arnold error Sadio Mane rose to head Mohamed Salah’s cross home at the back post.

They are now emphatically in the mix, but much will depend on their hastily rearranged game on Thursday against Manchester United, a match which takes place only 50 hours after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face Leicester City. Win that and they have three games against teams who mentally may well be on the beach anyway. Of course, it should be noted that Jurgen Klopp’s side have had more than their fair share of difficulties against low block defenses and they continued to do so against Southampton. But there are plenty of teams above them who would happily swap fixture lists with the 2019-20 champions.

7. Tottenham – 56pts

Remaining fixtures — Wolves (h), Aston Villa (h), Leicester (a)

A 3-1 defeat away to Leeds United may have been enough to kill off their faltering hopes of Champions League qualification, all the more frustrating for interim manager Ryan Mason and his players when Friday’s result seemed to open the door to a possible top four play-off at Leicester on the final day of the season.

This was a game defined by Spurs’ familiar flaws this season. Overly reliant on Harry Kane and Heung-min Son for goals, their other attackers flickered into life infrequently — Dele Alli excelling in the first half but Gareth Bale nowhere to be seen after his recent hat-trick — while their defense struggled with Eric Dier looking off the pace.

Another season in the Europa League looks to be the most realistic prospect for Spurs though their next two games ought to be within their power to win, particularly as Kane tends to hit his best form in the final weeks of league seasons.  

8. Everton – 52pts

Remaining fixtures — West Ham (a), Aston Villa (a), Sheffield United (h), Wolves (h)

The Champions League has probably passed Everton by but with seventh being good enough for a place in the Europa Conference League Carlo Ancelotti’s side remain firmly in the European mix despite their recent stutters. In their last seven league games they have just one win away to Arsenal and have dropped points to the likes of Crystal Palace, Burnley, Brighton and Aston Villa. It is not the form of a top four contender.

With the league’s fourth best away record, however, Everton could find themselves somewhat more in the mix with two games outside of Goodison Park left to go.





More to track…

Bulletin Observer Sports News

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