The Race for Champions League Qualification: Who Gets in the Top Four?
- The article is about the PL teams we reckon will qualify for Champions League next season
2019/20 will no doubt go down as one of the most unforeseen and remarkable premier league seasons ever. A team that has not won the league in three decades is 22 points clear at the top with 10 matches to go; Mourinho is the gaffer at Tottenham; Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been handed a two-season Champions League ban; Arsenal are tenth on the table; and new boys Sheffield United are in the top half of the table with a game in hand.
While the title is all but mathematically sealed now, the race for Champions League qualification looks far from over. Only eight points separate Chelsea in fourth and Arsenal in tenth (as at the time of writing), and the abstraction of City in the second place means virtually anyone from third through eleventh has a legit chance.
If the league was to end right now, it would be Leicester, Chelsea, and Manchester United joining Liverpool in the elite competition next season. But that might not be how the table looks come May with each of the teams facing a different run-in fixture schedule.
Leicester is currently five points ahead of Chelsea and seven ahead of Manchester United and Wolves, and this coming match week is an excellent opportunity for them to widen the gap. The 2015/16 champions host 19th-placed Aston Villa while Chelsea and United face significantly tougher opponents Everton (away) and Manchester City (home), respectively. Three points for Leicester coupled with a Wolves win (against Brighton) and losses to Frank Lampard’s boys and the Red Devils would not only bring forth a new number four but also give Leicester a commanding lead in the overall race. In that scenario, The Blues would be nudged into fifth while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could find himself in eighth if both Spurs and Sheffield win their games against Burnley and Norwich City respectively.
As it stands, Chelsea and Leicester are the only two teams, besides Liverpool, with their fate in their own hands. Both their run-in fixtures, however, suggest that they must be in their best shapes to keep Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield, and Tottenham at bay. The foxes are supposed to face Everton, Arsenal, Spurs, Sheffield, and Manchester United over the next two and a half months while Lampard’s boys still have Everton, Manchester City, Liverpool and Wolves to worry about.
The Red Devils have an almost equally strict schedule, with City, Spurs, and Leicester looming large. At the same time, Mourinho’s men need to go through Manchester United, Leicester, Sheffield, Everton, and London rivals Arsenal. Outsiders Wolves and Sheffield won’t be having it easy either. Chris Wilder’s men have to face Manchester United, Tottenham, Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, and Everton, in what is arguably the most exacting run-in fixture schedule. Nuno Santos’ in-form pack, on the other hand, still have Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton in their hunting checklist. That’s a near-level playing field right there, and qualification may now be entirely down to current form, involvement in other competitions, injury situations, luck, and of course… er… VAR. Here are my favorite teams to fill the three remaining UCL spots.
1. Leicester City
First on our list is Leicester. The Foxes may be experiencing a dip in form at the moment, but they have a five-point cushion and have only the Premier League and the FA Cup to worry about. What’s more, they have no injury problem for any member of the starting XI. My bet is they will finish third.
2. Manchester United
Albeit still in the throes of an injury crisis, Manchester United seem dead set against settling for Europa League again. The 20-time league champions have remained stuck in a cycle of inconsistent performances since the season began, but the turn of the decade and the arrival of January signing Bruno Fernandes seems to have sparked a much-needed revival. The next two fixtures for the Old Trafford outfit will be against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Odds for both games should be in favor of the Red Devils, given the poor form of Mourinho’s men and the high likelihood that Guardiola, who has nothing league-related to lose, will rest key players in preparation for the Champions League return leg against Real Madrid. If Ole gets his tactics right in both games, then a UCL spot will surely be within his grasp.
Chelsea wouldn’t be in the top-four conversation if early-season pundit and fan predictions were anything to go by. The five-time PL champions have had to deal with a transfer ban, frequent manager changes, and the departure of talisman Eden Hazard, and haven’t really had a shot at the title since winning it in 2017. Surprisingly, Lampard and his boys are now fourth on the table, their five-star performances against Spurs (league) and Liverpool (FA Cup) sending a clear message that they are not giving up a Champions League spot without a fight. With first team members N’golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Abraham, and Christian Pulisic all expected back in the lineup in the coming weeks, my money is on Chelsea to finish fourth.Published 06 Mar 2020, 07:50 IST