Manchester City are working away with the Premier League title race and seemingly on track to be topped champions for the third time in 4 seasons, however whereas the greatest prize seems destined for the Etihad once more, the battle for Champions League qualification is intensifying with each spherical of fixtures.
West Ham are the shock occupants of the fourth and last Champions League spot proper now, with 9 factors separating David Moyes’s group and Tottenham down in ninth place. While Manchester United and Leicester — each 4 factors away from fourth in second and third respectively — may nonetheless be dragged into the fight, the race is starting to appear like six golf equipment slugging it out for one place, with Arsenal now certainly too far off the tempo in tenth, eleven factors behind West Ham.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa and Spurs will all imagine, or hope, they will overtake West Ham in fourth, however for some groups, the process is more difficult than others due to the floor they’ve to make up between now and the finish of the season on May 23.
So how will it play out, and who’s almost certainly to declare fourth spot this season?
WEST HAM: Fourth place, 45 factors (25 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: The shock group of the season thus far. Two factors away from fifth-placed Chelsea and exceeding all expectations underneath David Moyes.
THE ROAD TO FOURTH: West Ham’s subsequent two away video games, at Manchester City and Manchester United, will take a look at Moyes and his gamers to the restrict, but when they continue to be in rivalry after these fixtures, the schedule to the finish of the season will increase their confidence, with video games in opposition to seven groups presently in the backside half nonetheless to come.
Key clashes in opposition to rivals for fourth are all at residence, with Leicester, Chelsea and Everton all but to go to the London Stadium.
KEY MAN: Thomas Soucek is one in all 4 West Ham gamers who’ve performed in all 25 Premier League video games thus far and his eight targets from midfield have been essential, however Michail Antonio is the participant who offers Moyes’s group the X-factor — maintaining the ahead match will likely be massively necessary. Declan Rice, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and on-loan Jesse Lingard are additionally necessary characters down the stretch.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? West Ham are a membership with huge ambitions to develop into London’s high group, and their transfer to the London Stadium in 2016 was designed to propel them into the identical bracket as Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal. Inconsistency on the pitch and poor selections by the homeowners have held them again thus far, however Moyes has introduced stability and Champions League qualification would give them the alternative to make a large leap. Yet nothing is definite when it comes to West Ham, and including Champions League soccer to subsequent yr’s schedule might be an issue in the event that they over-stretch after getting there.
Thomas Tuchel explains his choice to substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi off after bringing him on at halftime.
CHELSEA: Fifth place, 43 factors (25 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: Frank Lampard was sacked as supervisor in January with Chelsea in ninth place, 5 factors adrift of fourth. New boss Thomas Tuchel has revived the group’s prospects, nonetheless, with 4 wins and two attracts in his six video games in cost to transfer them up to fifth, two factors behind West Ham.
ROAD TO FOURTH: Chelsea have a tricky street forward, beginning with Manchester United’s go to to Stamford Bridge on Sunday earlier than going through Liverpool at Anfield and Everton at residence. Chelsea additionally journey to West Ham, City and Aston Villa, with residence video games to come in opposition to Arsenal and Leicester. The subsequent three video games — in opposition to United, Liverpool and Everton — will inform us whether or not the Tuchel bounce is short-term or sustainable.
KEY MAN: Timo Werner has been a serious disappointment this season after arriving in a £48m deal from RB Leipzig final summer time, scoring simply 5 Premier League targets. The 24-year-old was signed to rating at the very least 20 league targets every season, but when he can rediscover his kind underneath fellow German Tuchel, Werner can nonetheless be the man to shoot Chelsea into the Champions League.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? Chelsea have develop into accustomed to feast and famine in the Champions League, lacking out on qualification twice in the final 4 seasons, however the monetary hit from failing to be amongst Europe’s elite is in the area of £80m-a-year, so it could imply a considerable gap in the membership’s finances for subsequent season.
Chelsea can cope with out Champions League soccer thanks to the backing of proprietor Roman Abramovich, however make no mistake: being on the exterior hurts the membership’s funds and status.
LIVERPOOL: Sixth place, 40 factors (25 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: The defending Premier League champions have seen their title slip away due to essential, long-term accidents and a disastrous run of kind. Jurgen Klopp’s group are sixth, 5 factors behind West Ham, having misplaced 4 straight Premier League video games. They have taken two factors from a potential 18 at Anfield and suffered 4 successive residence league defeats for the first time in 98 years.
ROAD TO FOURTH: The subsequent three fixtures — Sheff United (a), Chelsea (h), Fulham (h) — at the moment are must-win video games, each for factors and confidence. Any failure to acquire most factors in opposition to Sheff United and Fulham, who’re each in the backside three, will likely be massively damaging, however the Anfield conflict in opposition to Chelsea has develop into the greatest recreation of Liverpool’s season due to their respective battle for fourth. If they beat Chelsea, Liverpool will imagine they’re again on observe.
KEY MAN: Most of Liverpool’s key men are injured, with Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson the greatest losses proper now. But regardless of a seemingly disappointing season, Mohamed Salah continues to be the Premier League’s main scorer with 17 targets, so it’s critical for Liverpool that the Egyptian stays match and accessible. If Salah joins the damage record, they will neglect about the high 4.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? Despite profitable the Champions League, Premier League and FIFA Club World Cup throughout the previous two years, Liverpool have been unable to capitalise on the monetary upside of their success due to the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prize cash has been swallowed up by working prices which were hit laborious by the absence of followers in stadiums, so a yr out of the Champions League can be a large blow for Liverpool as it is going to go away Klopp will little cash to spend on new gamers.
EVERTON: Seventh place, 40 factors (24 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: Carlo Ancelotti’s group have been inconsistent this season, with wins in opposition to Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham diminished by defeats in opposition to struggling Newcastle (twice), Fulham and Southampton. But Sunday’s win at Liverpool has put them firmly in the hunt for fourth. If they win their recreation in hand, Everton will likely be simply two factors behind West Ham.
ROAD TO FOURTH: Everton’s destiny rests on their away kind, particularly in essential video games in opposition to Chelsea and West Ham. Their journey to Stamford Bridge on March 8 already has the really feel of an eliminator, with either side needing to keep away from defeat in that one, however the conflict with West Ham at the London Stadium on May 8 additionally has the potential to be a decider if each groups stay in the chase that lengthy. Everton even have necessary residence video games in opposition to Spurs and Villa to come, however with Man City away in the last recreation, Ancelotti will need high 4 to be sealed by then.
KEY MAN: Jordan Pickford was excellent in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Liverpool, however the England goalkeeper has additionally been culpable with expensive errors this season. If Everton are going to qualify for the Champions League, they want their primary to eradicate the errors for the the rest of the season.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? Everton are a membership with a proud historical past — solely United, Liverpool and Arsenal have received extra league titles — and they’re determined to recreate their glory days. Qualifying for the Champions League would give them an enormous monetary increase, however it could additionally assist the membership emerge from Liverpool’s shadow, particularly in the event that they beat their neighbours to fourth.
With plans afoot to transfer to a brand new stadium, Champions League qualification would assist Everton speed up their bid to develop into a serious power once more.
ASTON VILLA: Eighth place, 36 factors (23 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: Villa have received simply three of their final 10 Premier League video games, however having performed two video games fewer than most of their rivals, they will climb to sixth by profitable these excellent fixtures. Dean Smith’s group seem to working out of steam, however early season wins in opposition to Liverpool, Leicester and Arsenal spotlight their potential to carry out in opposition to the huge golf equipment.
ROAD TO FOURTH: Villa’s subsequent 4 video games are in opposition to groups in the backside half, so that they have the alternative to re-ignite their season earlier than a run that sees them tackle Spurs, Liverpool and Man City of their subsequent 4 fixtures. Villa additionally face Man United and Chelsea in the run-in, so a high 4 end appears to be a tall order for a group that narrowly averted relegation final season.
KEY MAN: Aston Villa are all about Jack Grealish and it didn’t go unnoticed that the group misplaced in opposition to Leicester on Sunday with the midfielder sidelined due to damage. Opponents have labored out that stopping Grealish largely stops Villa, however the England worldwide can nonetheless trigger issues in opposition to any opposition. He simply wants others to share the burden.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? Aston Villa had been European champions in 1982 and the membership will at all times harbour ambitions to return to the elite, however qualification for the Champions League can be an sudden bonus this season. Avoiding relegation was the primary precedence. But in the event that they do clinch fourth, Villa would have the funds to construct themselves into a longtime Premier League membership as soon as once more.
Janusz Michallik questions if Jose Mourinho has sufficient magic left to get Spurs to the place they need to be.
TOTTENHAM: Ninth place, 36 factors (24 video games)
STATE OF PLAY: Tottenham had been Premier League leaders in mid-December, with supervisor Jose Mourinho eyeing a title problem. But since reaching high spot, it is all gone unsuitable for Spurs, and a run of 5 defeats of their final six league video games have pushed them down to ninth and Mourinho is underneath rising stress. They are 9 factors off fourth, albeit with a recreation in hand.
ROAD TO FOURTH: On paper, Spurs have a very good run of fixtures in the weeks forward, with 5 of their subsequent six video games in opposition to groups beneath them in the desk. Win these and Mourinho’s aspect will likely be again in combine for a top-four end. With video games in opposition to Everton, Villa and Leicester of their last six fixtures, they will nonetheless mount a late surge up the desk, however they merely have to begin profitable once more, and shortly.
KEY MAN: While Harry Kane is match, Spurs have an opportunity of getting the factors they want to get again into the race. The England ahead has scored 13 league targets and tops the assists desk with 11, so his affect is clear. Kane additionally brings out of the greatest in Heung-Min Son, who additionally has 13 targets thus far. Kane will at all times ship, however he wants others to assist him out. Gareth Bale was signed to do this, however we’re nonetheless ready for the on-loan Real Madrid winger to ship.
HOW MUCH DOES FOURTH MATTER? With the last invoice for their new stadium passing £1 billion, Spurs desperately want to be in the Champions League yearly, merely to carry on high of their funds. Missing out for a second successive season can be massively damaging, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, and may lead to key gamers being offered. The stakes are excessive.
West Ham are in possession of fourth spot proper now, however with the stress on, can they maintain their nerve and in addition keep away from accidents to key gamers? With such a formidable pack of golf equipment behind them, it’s tough to see the Hammers holding on to fourth. Equally, with Villa and Spurs struggling for kind, it’s wanting like a three-way fight between Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton.
There appears to no finish in sight to Liverpool’s damage issues and Everton’s inconsistency threatens to hang-out them in the weeks forward, so at this stage of the race, Chelsea are the group almost certainly to end fourth. They are in kind, have a supervisor who has made an instantaneous influence and sufficient attacking expertise to win when it issues.