Champions League Qualification Race Headed Towards Exciting Finish

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The Premier League title may be decided, but the battle for a top four spot is as intense as ever, and as this unusual season draws to a conclusion, there is plenty of hard-fought football to play out. 

Given that Liverpool and Manchester City have long ago sewn up their positions in the top four, this means that six teams are fighting for two qualification spots. The tussle over the final three rounds of Premier League action promises to be intense, and not surprisingly, the betting on a top four finish at these high ranked football bookies can yield some very close odds.   

A number of factors have conspired to make this season’s conclusion so compelling. The lockdown has given all the teams involved the chance to fine tune their plans, and much of the speculation during the three months without top flight football centred around the fact that we were in for a very interesting end to the league with as many as nine teams involved in the fight for Champions League qualification, besides the runaway leaders Liverpool.  

That field of contenders has narrowed a little over the last month or so, as teams such as Burnley, Everton and Crystal Palace have seen their slim chances disappear. Arsenal too, for whom a top four finish was long regarded as a minimum requirement, are now out of contention. And the final blow for those hoping to sneak into the reckoning came on Monday. Manchester City’s successful appeal against their European ban means that fifth place will not be good enough. 

 

Within that bunch of contenders, there are two clear mini-leagues. Chelsea, Leicester and Manchester United occupy positions three to five in the table, and are separated by only a point. Four points back comes the group of Wolves, Sheffield United and Tottenham, who must aim to take maximum points from their remaining games and hope that the teams above them all slip up.  

Currently seven points off the fourth spot, with only three games remaining, Tottenham are the big outsiders in this race, though their final three fixtures have thrown up winnable games against Newcastle and Crystal Palace, along with a chance to take points off Leicester City.

Realistically, though, they will need to win all three and hope that several of their rivals see their form collapse over the last three rounds, a combination that seems unlikely.  

On 54 points, Sheffield United are just five points off the top four and have a little more room for manoeuvre, but the odds are still stacked against them, and their chances will be over if they fail to beat Leicester at the King Power Stadium on Thursday. Wolves are a point closer than Sheffield United, and have a convenient run-in, with winnable games against Burnley, and Crystal Palace, while they finish off their season at Stamford Bridge, in what could turn out to be a crunch game.  

Chelsea are in the ideal position. Lying third in the table, a point ahead of Manchester United and Leicester, they are probably the only one of the six contenders who can afford to drop a point or two, but they have a busy run-in, including games at Anfield and the aforementioned clash with Wolves, as well as the distraction of an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United.

Their trump card is the fact that they play already-relegated Norwich on Tuesday, and three points there would effectively eliminate both Sheffield United and Tottenham from contention.  

Manchester United will also be optimistic about their top four chances, having returned from lockdown in blistering form, and although they dropped two points against Southampton on Monday, the fixture list has been kind, with games against Crystal Palace and West Ham ahead of a final day showdown with rivals Leicester. 

The Foxes, meanwhile, have a horrendous run-in that sees them play top four rivals in all three of their remaining games.

Given their patchy form, it would be no surprise to see Leicester slip out of the top four before the season ends, although, as previous Premier League editions have taught us, there is bound to be a twist or two before the conclusion 

 

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