The race for Champions League qualification has never been more intense in the Premier League, with as many as eight clubs eyeing fourth position behind the top three of Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester. If City fail in their bid to overturn UEFA’s two-year ban from the Champions League when they lodge an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, fifth position could yet secure a place in next season’s competition.
But as it stands, only seven points separate Chelsea in fourth from Arsenal and Burnley, who sit in 10th and 11th position, respectively. Chelsea’s clash with fifth-placed Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday is a crucial fixture for both clubs’ Champions League aspirations, but with 12 games to go, all of the teams involved in the race for fourth have issues to address.
So who will clinch fourth and the potential wild card that could come with finishing fifth? ESPN has assessed the run-in.
Projected finish: 4th
Current position: 7th, 38 points
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are probably the most unpredictable of all of the clubs chasing fourth spot. They’ve beaten four of the current top five and are the only side to have taken points off Liverpool this season, but they have also lost against relegation-threatened Watford, Bournemouth and West Ham. Games next month against Everton, City, Spurs and Sheffield United make March decisive, but if United remain in touch after that run, their next six games are against strugglers, ensuring they should be in the top four ahead of the final game away to Leicester.
Projected finish: 5th
Current position: 8th, 36 points
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team are flying under the radar in eighth position, five points behind Chelsea, but they have a comfortable run of fixtures ahead that could see them climb into the top four. Aside from a trip to Spurs on March 1, five of their next six games are against teams in the lower reaches. Europa League commitments could get in the way of Wolves’ ambitions, but they have perhaps the most appealing run-in of the chasing pack. A trip to Chelsea on the final day is likely to be decisive, especially if fifth spot comes into play.
Projected finish: 6th
Current position: 4th, 41 points
Chelsea have occupied a top-four spot all season, but the wheels are falling off for Frank Lampard and his team, who would be sitting in 11th if the Premier League table was based on the last 10 games. They have taken two points from their past four league games, which have included a defeat against United and draw against Arsenal. Goals have started to dry up, U.S. star Christian Pulisic is sidelined through injury and the lack of signings over the past two transfer windows (due to a FIFA ban) is beginning to show.
With Chelsea still to play five of the top six this season, including a trip to Liverpool, it’s tough to see them finishing in the top four.
Projected finish: 7th
Current position: 10th, 34 points
Bridging a seven-point gap to fourth will be a tough challenge for Mikel Arteta’s team, who have won just twice in the league since the Spaniard replaced the sacked Unai Emery in December. The flip side, though, is that Arsenal have lost just once during the same run, so Arteta has clearly made the Gunners more durable and tough to beat. Sunday’s game against Everton at the Emirates is huge because a defeat for either side would be a hammer blow for their prospects. If Arsenal can win that, they will put themselves firmly in contention for a Champions League spot. But seven points is a big deficit.
Projected finish: 8th
Current position: 5th, 40 points
Jose Mourinho has worked a minor miracle by getting Spurs back into contention for the top four having succeeded Mauricio Pochettino with the club languishing in 14th, 11 points behind fourth place, back in November. But while results over the past 10 games put them fourth in the form guide, injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min have left Spurs without their two main scorers, and with six of their next seven games against rivals for fourth, a big question mark hangs over who will score their goals.
With Kane and Son available, Spurs would probably sail into the top four, but their absence is likely to be a decisive blow.
Projected finish: 9th
Current position: 6th place, 39 points
Chris Wilder’s team have been the surprise package of the season, having been written off as relegation candidates following promotion from the Championship last May. But the Blades have been comfortable in the top half all campaign and they sit in sixth, just two points off the top four.
The next three games are likely to be crucial, however, as they face Brighton, Norwich and Newcastle before back-to-back encounters with Manchester United and Spurs. They must then navigate a run-in that also pits them against Burnley, Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester and Everton, so finishing in the top four looks a tall order.
Projected finish: 10th
Current position: 9th place, 36 points
Carlo Ancelotti has confounded the sceptics since replacing the sacked Marco Silva at Goodison Park in December, lifting Everton from 15th (and four points above the relegation zone) to ninth and within five points of fourth. Only Liverpool and City have amassed more points from their past 10 league games, but now comes the crunch for Everton, with their next four games pitting them against Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Results against the “Big Six” have been Everton’s weakness this season and in the past, so their top-four challenge could be over by the time they emerge from that run. If not, then they could storm into fourth.
Projected finish: 11th
Current position: 11th, 34 points
As impressive as Burnley have been under Sean Dyche in terms of pulling clear of the relegation battle, their priority continues to centre on securing safety rather than focusing on their hope of an unlikely place in the Champions League.
A goal difference of -9 highlights their shortcomings in mounting a charge on fourth or fifth, but as they sit level on points with Arsenal, Burnley cannot be ruled out. They are rank outsiders, though, and trips to Liverpool and City mean their European hopes look even more unlikely.