Five Teams, Three Places: Assessing The Battle For Champions League Football

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The race for the Premier League title has long been over with many pundits predicting Manchester City will get their hands on the trophy in early April, if not sooner.

Tottenham’s impressive win over Manchester United at Wembley on Wednesday has blown the race for a top four finish wide open following surprising defeats for Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in the past fortnight.

While coming first is the real prize, finishing in the top four is a must for the six teams battling it out for the four spots. All the top six sides have European commitments starting this month, which will prove challenging when it comes to competing on all levels.

With the transfer window now closed and just 13 Premier League games left, we assess which clubs stand the best chance of joining Manchester City in next season’s Champions League.

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Arsenal

Arsenal have had a reasonably good January transfer window all things considered, signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while losing Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud.

They, however, failed to strengthen in the area they needed it most with no defenders or defensive midfielder brought in. Selling Giroud to rivals Chelsea must leave Gunners fans scratching their heads too. 

They have two trips to Wembley this month, firstly facing Tottenham on February 10 and then in the Carabao Cup against Manchester City later in the month. They also host Manchester City in March before heading to Old Trafford in April.

Arsene Wenger’s men are already eight points behind Chelsea in fourth and now the long-serving manager faces a similar dilemma to that encountered by Jose Mourinho this time last year. Manchester United, like Arsenal, were in the Europa League knowing winning the competition outright was perhaps their best route to the Champions League the following season.

Wenger now must follow the decision taken by his old nemesis last season and make the Europa League his priority. The longest serving manager in English football could end the season with two trophies, qualify for the Champions League and have an exciting team of Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil ready to fight on all fronts next season provided he sorts out his defensive problems in the summer.

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Tottenham

Tottenham know they face a real fight to hold onto star man Harry Kane in the summer. Many predict that moving to a new stadium will be enough to keep hold of the England International who is ‘one of their own’.

However, should Kane follow up another impressive season by having a good World Cup with England the big clubs will be queuing up. Real Madrid are not enjoying a good season and they will throw money at their problems this summer. Kane, you’d imagine, will be high on their wish list.   

Should Tottenham miss out on a Champions League place then Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will have a tough decision to make. Valued by the club at more than £200 million, this cash would go a long way in paying for a new stadium, especially with no Champions League money coming in.

Spurs have already passed the first test in three difficult Premier League games in a row by beating Manchester United on Wednesday. They now face Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday before the derby with Arsenal the following weekend at Wembley.

They have yet to travel to Stamford Bridge and have to face Manchester City at home, who by the time Guardiola’s men travel to Wembley they could have already lifted the Premier League.

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Chelsea

Liverpool have entertained all season both for good and bad reasons and Mo Salah is in line for the signing of the season and will most probably be nominated for the Player of the season.  

Jurgen Klopp however has followed the path of previous managers and sold his star man allowing Philippe Coutinho join Barcelona. 

Liverpool have signed Virgil Van Dijk but he alone will not solve the glaring issues Klopp has yet to fully address at Anfield.  His decision to offload Daniel Sturridge to West Brom and not replace the Englishman or Coutinho in the January window has left them very vulnerable should an injury crisis hit the camp.

Chelsea and Antonio Conte have got away with criticism despite as Champions being so far off the pace in the Premier League this season. All focus has been on the battle of the Manchester clubs while Conte grows increasingly frustrated that he cannot match their spending power.

Many predict Conte will not be in charge next season and should he not finish in the top four he most certainly will not. 

They did pull off a coup by snatching Olivier Giroud from rivals Arsenal for a nominal fee in today’s market. However, suspicions are growing that Conte cannot motivate his side for the final push for a top four finish after Wednesday’s embarrassing home defeat to Bournemouth. 

Chelsea have yet to travel to Old Trafford where all eyes will be on the managers following their daft spat during the season.

They must also travel to leaders Manchester City, welcome Tottenham on Easter Sunday and host Liverpool in their final home game of the season in what is probably the toughest run in of the top six.

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Liverpool

Liverpool have entertained all season both for good and bad reasons.

Mohamed Salah is in line for the signing of the season and will most probably be nominated for the Player of the Season award. 

Jurgen Klopp, however, has followed the path of previous managers and sold his star man, allowing Philippe Coutinho join Barcelona.

Liverpool have signed Virgil van Dijk but he alone will not solve the glaring issues Klopp has yet to fully address at Anfield. His decision to offload Daniel Sturridge to West Brom on loan and not replace the Englishman or Coutinho in the January window has left them very vulnerable should an injury crisis hit the camp.

Klopp is nearly three years in the role since replacing Brendan Rodgers and still has not shown he is an upgrade on the Celtic boss. Already knocked out of both domestic cups and a Champions League win unlikely, Klopp knows Champions League football is a must as he heads into his make or break season where his touchline antics won’t be enough to keep the Anfield fans happy should he continue to chase the leading pack.

Liverpool host Tottenham on Sunday before travelling to Old Trafford on March 10. They face Chelsea in their final away game of the season. However, as LIverpool have shown these are the games they do well in, it’s the matches against lesser opposition that could be their downfall.

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Manchester United

Jose Mourinho has signed a new contract, pulled off a major coup by beating rivals Manchester City to Alexis Sanchez and still remains in the FA Cup and the Champions League.

Chasing Manchester City is no longer the goal this season but Manchester United must use the remaining 13 games to get a run going that they can continue into next season where they cannot afford to let City race ahead once more.

In signing Alexis Sanchez, Mourinho has given himself something extra in his efforts to remain in the top four places. Wednesday’s surprising collapse at Wembley would have hurt the Old Trafford boss more than anyone with their defence enjoying a good run of late.

That game also further highlighted his failure to get the best out of Paul Pogba so far, however. 

United have already travelled to Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham while they have yet to play rivals Manchester City away from home. 

They host Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal at Old Trafford in the final few weeks of the season, which given their home form would make them favourites for a second-place finish.

Tottenham, providing Harry Kane stays fit, should join them leaving Chelsea and Liverpool fighting it out for the final Champions League spot with their meeting in the first weekend of May at Stamford Bridge a possible winner takes all contest. 

Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena 



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