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10 key games in the Premier League's race for the top four

With Chelsea and Tottenham looking assured of a Champions League spot, four other sides are set to battle for the remaining spots.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

AS THE PREMIER League season approaches its final stretch, it appears there are now six teams in contention for the four coveted Champions League places.

Moreover, at best, the Premier League trophy is now down to a two-horse race. Man City trail Chelsea by 14 points after the latter beat the former last night.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are 12 points adrift of the leaders, and have played one game more than their rivals.

Tottenham, it seems, are the only team with a chance of halting the Blues’ title tilt, and even their chances seem quite slim, given that the gap is currently seven points with eight games to play.

However, for such a deficit to be overturned would not be unheard of. In the 2011-12 campaign, Man United led neighbours City by eight points with nine games to play only for a collapse from the Red Devils allowing Roberto Mancini’s side to claim their first-ever Premier League title.

table

Consequently, there is faint hope for Spurs this year. Here’s a look at the two sides’ run-ins…

Chelsea:

Bournemouth (away)
Man United (away)
Tottenham (neutral) – FA Cup
Watford (home)
Southampton (home)
Everton (away)
Middlesbrough (home)
West Brom (away)
Sunderland (home)

Tottenham

Watford (home)
Bournemouth (home)
Chelsea (neutral) – FA Cup
Leicester (away)
Crystal Palace (away)
Arsenal (home)
West Ham (away)
Man United (home)
Hull (away)

5 key games that could determine the Premier League title race

Bournemouth v Chelsea

Chelsea will face better teams than Bournemouth in their run-in, but Saturday’s trip to Dean Court is important under the circumstances. They are coming off the back of a morale-boosting win over Man City, but playing again just three days later, they cannot afford a let-up in intensity. Eddie Howe’s side have already taken points off Liverpool, Man United, Tottenham and Arsenal this season, so they will likely provide a stern test for Antonio Conte’s men. Moreover, a slip-up now is more likely to be damaging to confidence than one with, say, five games to go — the more momentum they can acquire in the coming games, the more Tottenham will become deflated in their unlikely title bid.

Man United v Chelsea

Chelsea’s toughest remaining league game on paper, Man United haven’t lost in the Premier League since their defeat at Stamford Bridge back in October. Particularly if they beat Bournemouth, Conte may be happy with a draw in this fixture, given that not many other teams would be expected to take points off the Blues as the season approaches its climax. Indeed, they can afford to lose two of their last eight games and still prevail as champions.

Tottenham v Chelsea – FA Cup semi-final

Not a league game, so it won’t have any direct impact on the table obviously, but from a psychological viewpoint, this match, which is set to be played at Wembley, looks vital for both sides. If Tottenham lose, it is hard to imagine them recovering and winning the Premier League. Conversely, a Spurs win may create a few nerves within Chelsea’s ranks.

Tottenham v Arsenal

It feels as if almost every game is must-win now for Tottenham, as a gap greater than seven points would be virtually impossible to recover. Their fourth-last game of the campaign, Tottenham have not picked up many wins over the Gunners in recent years. What’s in their favour, however, is the match being at home. Away, Tottenham have struggled against the bigger sides — none of their matches on the road against Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Man City ended in victory, and just two points were picked up by Spurs in those games. At home, however, they have beaten both City and Chelsea. Overall, their record at White Hart Lane is hugely impressive — in 15 games, they have won 13 and drawn two.

Tottenham v Man United

Spurs’ penultimate game of the campaign, this could well be a dead rubber if the title and top-four places are decided at this point. If not though, it should be a highly charged match, with United likely to have plenty to play for if they are still in contention for the top four.

And what about the race for the top four?

Chelsea are now effectively guaranteed a Champions League spot, while barring a major slip-up, Tottenham will join them in next year’s competition.

That leaves four teams — Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and Man United — competing for the two remaining spots.

Liverpool are in pole position currently, as they sit third on 60 points. However, Man City (58 points) have played a game less, while Man United and Arsenal (54 points each) have played two games less than the Reds. If the teams in question win their games in hand, then just one point will separate the quartet, so it remains incredibly tight.

Here’s a look at their remaining fixtures…

Liverpool

Stoke (away)
West Brom (away)
Crystal Palace (home)
Watford (away)
Southampton (home)
West Ham (away)
Middlesbrough (home)

Man City

Hull (home)
Southampton (away)
Arsenal (neutral) – FA Cup
West Brom (home)
Man United (home)
Middlesbrough (away)
Crystal Palace (home)
Leicester (home)
Watford (away)

Arsenal

Crystal Palace (away)
Middlesbrough (away)
Man City (neutral) – FA Cup
Sunderland (home)
Southampton (away)
Leicester (home)
Tottenham (away)
Man United (home)
Stoke (away)
Everton (home)

Man United

Sunderland (away)
Anderlecht (away) – Europa League
Chelsea (home)
Anderlecht (home) – Europa League
Southampton (away)
Burnley (away)
Man City (away)
Swansea (home)
Arsenal (away)
Tottenham (away)
Crystal Palace (home)

5 key games that could determine the Premier League top four

Liverpool v West Ham

Liverpool, on paper, have the easiest run-in of all the top-four sides. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them favourites. Without Sadio Mane — who now looks set to miss the rest of the season through injury — they have taken just two points from four games. Moreover, they have consistently struggled against the lower-half teams. Despite securing five wins and being unbeaten in 10 games against the top six this season, the Reds’ last six losses have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. With West Ham potentially fighting for survival in their penultimate game of the season, this encounter in particular looks to be a possible banana skin.

Man City v Man United

A potentially definitive match for both sides, when Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho came in during the summer and many millions were spent, a top-four spot at the very least was expected to be secured. A loss for either side in this match, though, could jeopardise their hopes of meeting expectations.

Arsenal v Man United

Arsene Wenger’s ability to help Arsenal secure Champions League football has been well documented. Ever since he took charge over 20 years ago, they have finished in the top four, in the process, qualifying for the Champions League on 19 occasions. This year, however, the Gunners’ hopes of reaching Europe’s elite club competition look more tenuous than ever. However, Arsenal have tended to finish strongly when a Champions League place is up for grabs, and they will need to do so again this year, with their clash against Man United next month looking especially vital.

Man United v Anderlecht

With Man United currently in sixth place and having drawn almost as many games as they’ve won this season (12 compared with 14), their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via the usual route looks less than promising. However, they find themselves in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and are the bookies’ favourites to win the competition. These upcoming ties with Anderlecht could work one of two ways. Winning may either affect their focus for the league or give them a much-needed confidence boost. Either way, the Europa League is increasingly looking like their best chance of Champions League qualification. A loss, on the other hand, would really amplify the already intense pressure on the domestic front.

Arsenal v Everton

It would be typical of Arsenal after all the doubt and controversy surrounding Arsene Wenger’s future in recent months to secure Champions League qualification on the final day of the campaign. The way the league has been going, it would not be a surprise if the race for the top four goes down to the final day. And a match at home to Everton is far from a guaranteed win. The Toffees beat the Gunners in the reverse fixture and have also taken points off Tottenham, Man City and Man United this season.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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