With the news of Manchester City being provisionally banned from European competition for two years by UEFA, the Premier League has gifted a number of clubs with an opportunity to finish in fifth place and qualify for the Champions League.
Not only could that be a godsend for some of the clubs vying for Europe’s elite competition, but potentially teams all the way down in eighth could be entered into the Europa League next season, if those who win the EFL Cup and FA Cup are Manchester City or another side who have already qualified for Europe through the Premier League.
Between 12th and eighth, as it stands, is a matter of five points. From eighth to fifth there is just a two-point difference. And so, with that being said, this year’s Premier League race is no longer for the title but now for European qualification spots.
Chelsea are leading the way in fourth, but their form is a reason to be concerned for any Blues fan. Frank Lampard needs to do some soul searching and pick his players up, especially after a disappointing and crushing 3-0 loss at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Their performances have been inconsistent and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United are now closing the gap considerably.
United have themselves in a run of good form, having progressed comfortably in the end against Club Brugge in the Europa Lague Round of 32. An alternative way to qualify for the Champions League would be to win this competition, as they had done in 2017, but there is a long way to go and they will need a large portion of luck on their side.
The Red Devils look a much sharper side with Bruno Fernandes arriving and making the impact that he has, but defensive issues are still present and a worry for the Norwegian boss with the business end of the season to come.
While José Mourinho helped settle Tottenham Hotspur after the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, the injuries to Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have been devastating, with no out-and-out centre forward at the club who can fill in and create the same sort of impact. Having to potentially go to the end of the season with Lucas Moura covering means it is increasingly unlikely that the Lilywhites finish in the top five.
Sheffield United and Wolves are current outsiders for a top-five position, but should still qualify for a Europa League spot. Sitting on 40 and 39 points respectively, they are most certainly in the running, but a limited squad in Chris Wilder’s case and Europa League fixture congestion for Wolves is likely to deter their campaigns somewhat.
The Blades, in particular, are in contention for Team of the Season, with no one predicting quite how emphatic they would be in their debut campaign. Wilder has done a remarkable job with more or less the same Championship players and has given them the platform to rise up the table. Stability has been a key factor through lack of injuries.
Arsenal, Burnley, Everton and Southampton occupy positions nine to 12 and have had mixed seasons. The Gunners changed managers halfway through to Mikel Arteta but as shown last night in their devastating loss to Olympiakos, it has not been plain sailing. Ultimately, that was their best chance to qualify for the Champions League and they exited via away goals.
Burnley have been in a rich vein of form in recent weeks, winning four of their last five matches and rising up the table. Sean Dyche is a consistent manager that has steered the ship excellently once again this season and would make an almighty statement if they qualify for the Europa League.
Most would have expected Everton to have been challenging the top six by now, but managerial changes had to be made and they now look far better and secure with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm. With Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester and Tottenham in the next six Premier League matches, they have an uphill battle to overturn the deficit and climb their way up.
While it is mightily unlikely that Southampton finish in eighth – which also means the Cups have to go to clubs in the top seven – they are only three points behind the Gunners. Ralph Hassenhuttl has overcome his doubters and got the Saints out of trouble for now. Their game at St Mary’s against Arteta’s side will prove pivotal to see how far they can really go.
There is a lot to play for in the next month and it will be exceptionally tight from fourth to 12th in this year’s Premier League!
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