The fight for Champions League football

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With just 12 games left to play in the English Premier League there is still plenty up for grabs. Although the title race appears to have already finished, with United 12 points clear of their Manchester rivals, there is still the small matter of who will be joining these two teams in next years’ Champions League.

For so much of the season Chelsea were in the running for the title, but after a poor run following yet another change in management, they are by no means guaranteed a place in next years’ competition.

Arsenal and Liverpool both had poor starts to the season before starting to show good form over the past few months and they have found themselves in the running late on. Spurs and Everton have been consistent throughout the season and have been in and around the top 4 for the majority of the season, but of course only two of these five teams will qualify, but who?

Liverpool

After Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to West Brom on Monday you have to concede that their hopes of re-joining Europe’s elite are on hold for another year. They have massively improved over the past few months and with the arrival of Daniel Sturridge they have been able to adopt a formation that works. Goals have been flowing and the Reds have steadily risen up the league. Despite picking up 2 points away from home against strong opponents in Man City and Arsenal they could have had more and after their freak defeat on Monday they are now 12 points adrift of 4th placed Spurs. They have a great run of fixtures coming up but for me it is too late, had they picked up the six points they should have done against City and Arsenal and got all 3 points against West Brom they would have been in a very strong position indeed, only 5 points adrift with some winnable fixtures coming up. Although I think they are out of the running this year, this side are certainly one to watch for next year.

 

Chelsea

Chelsea started the season so brightly, not losing their first 9 games. Had you told fans then that Di Matteo would be sacked within weeks and they would be fighting to secure a top 4 finish at this stage of the season they would have had laughed at you. Di Matteo’s results dipped, only slightly, prior to his departure and during the handover to Rafa Benitez the team continued to struggle. Inconsistency has followed and now with 12 games to go they sit in 3rd position in the table, but with a 5 point advantage over 5th placed Arsenal. By Chelsea’s standards that should mean a top 4 finish is assured but they have built up a reputation of being unpredictable in recent games and have thrown leads away against; Reading, Newcastle and Southampton which has seen their advantage over the chasing pack slip.

A big part of this is the bizarre situation in attack where Fernando Torres is constantly preferred to inform Demba Ba. When Ba has been called upon he has been reliable and scored three goals in the few minutes he has seen, whilst Torres continues to lack the confidence which saw him become one of Europe’s most prolific strikers. Another reason could well be because of the frosty reception fans are giving at home games in response to Benitez’s appointment, and Benitez’s admission that Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard’s futures at the club are in doubt.

As I said earlier Chelsea are an unpredictable side at present and what makes things worse is they have a difficult run in with; Liverpool, Man City and Man United away still to come, plus Everton and Spurs visiting Stamford Bridge in ‘6 pointer’ style clashes. Although they have a five point advantage in their favour I think Chelsea may find Champions League qualification difficult unless they find the consistency that defined the start of their season.

 

Everton

In previous campaigns Everton have been slow starters in the league and haven’t really started winning games consistently until the turn of the New Year. However, this year has been different, Everton have been there or there about for the entire campaign and up until their defeat to United at the weekend they had only lost one of their previous 13 games.

For the past few weeks everyone have expected Everton to drop off the pace because of their comparatively thin squad. Fellaini isn’t bossing games like he was at the start of the season but everyone if chipping in to keep their Champions League dream alive. They are 6 points adrift of Spurs in 4th position with an inferior goal difference but with a decent run in they could push for a place. But they face a nightmare set of fixtures in March and May, with trip to; Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea as well as hosting Man City. These are all crucial games which could see the balance swing into Everton’s favour but realistically I think this may be a bridge too far.

 

Spurs

After a shaky start under AVB, fans seem to have been won over and are enjoying the style of football Spurs are playing. Gareth Bale has been instrumental in their success and has won them points on his own, take Saturday’s victory over Newcastle as an example where two strokes of genius rescued all three points. Spurs sit in 4th position and have a 4 point lead over their bitter rivals Arsenal, they were robbed of Champions League football last season after finishing 4th only to see 6th placed Chelsea win the Champions League and steal their place and they will be desperate to be back the next season. However, let’s remember that the same sad fate could happen to them again this season with Arsenal still in the competition.

Spurs have some tough games coming up before the end of the season, with ;Swansea, Stoke, Chelsea and Liverpool away as well as; Arsenal, Everton and Man City at home. You feel they need to remain strong at home and avoid defeat away in a hugely important North London derby to guarantee their place in next years’ competition. If they can come out of April in the top 4 they should be fine, but they have a tough 10 weeks ahead.

 

Arsenal

A very poor start to the season saw fans turn on Arsene Wenger, but this seems to be a yearly tradition for the Gunners due to an 8 year trophy drought. Their fortunes have changed in recent months, and they now find themselves in 5th place, just 4 points behind Spurs. Of all the teams fighting for a top 4 finish Arsenal arguably have the best run of fixtures coming up and their biggest challenges come in March; away to Spurs, home to Everton and away to their bogey team – Swansea. If they can get through these fixtures they should be in pole position to return to Champions League.

You have to remember that Arsenal do have a tendency of crashing out of all competitions in the space of a week and having recently seen them against Liverpool their defence is susceptible to errors and they have a strong dependence on the attacking prowess of Theo Walcott.

Despite being in 5th place and 4 points off the pace I make Arsenal favourite to take a place in next years’ competition. That is of course if they can avoid losing key players to injury.

 

Summary

The fight for the top 4 will come down to a handful of big games between the four teams involved, the biggest of which will be the North London derby on March 3rd. Arsenal have the smoothest run in of all the contenders and will likely be front runners if they can avoid defeat at Spurs. Everton face a tough task facing some tough games over the next couple of months and I think this may be one push too much for them. Chelsea have the points advantage over the others and quality across all areas of the pitch to hold onto their position in 3rd but they must find consistency. As for Spurs they have been superb all season and I think they will come out on top of many of their big clashes in the remaining fixtures. One thing is for sure it will be an exciting few months in the Premier League, but for me the run in is just too hard for Spurs and I can see Arsenal and Chelsea once again securing the 3rd and 4th respectively.

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