We are on the home straight in the race for the top four, which is the tightest it has been as five clubs battle for the three Champions League places behind runaway leaders Manchester City, but who has the advantage during the run-in?
With Manchester City seemingly marching towards the Premier League title and certain to be in Europe’s premier club competition next season, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal have been left to fight it out for the remaining spots.
However, Manchester United’s surprise 1-0 defeat to Newcastle on Super Sunday means just 11 points separate Jose Mourinho’s side in second and fifth-placed Arsenal with 11 matches of the campaign remaining.
Average no of points for finishing fourth in the Premier League (since 1995-96, the first 38-game season): 69
Third-placed Liverpool are hot on Manchester United’s heels after their 2-0 win at Southampton on Sunday afternoon, while Tottenham enter the crucial part of the season in the best form of all having not lost in the league since December 16.
Meanwhile, Chelsea got back to winning ways with a much-needed 3-0 home victory over West Bromwich Albion on Monday Night Football after two recent surprise defeats, a result that lifted the champions to within only a point of Liverpool.
The big thing is when your rivals play each other, you must make sure you win because you know someone is going to drop points
Arsenal, though, are the ones with the most to do after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Spurs in the north London derby, a result that leaves Arsene Wenger’s side with no room for mistakes between now and the end of the season.
So, who statistically has the easier remaining set of fixtures and who is facing a daunting run-in? Why could the next round of games prove pivotal? And will struggling Crystal Palace – who play Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs between now and the end of the campaign – hold the key to Champions League qualification? We reveal all…
Sky Bet odds: 1/8
Feb 25: Chelsea* (h), March 5: Crystal Palace* (a), March 10: Liverpool* (h), March 18: West Ham United** (a), March 31: Swansea City (h), April 7: Man City (a), April 14: West Bromwich Albion (h), April 21: Bournemouth (a), April 28: Arsenal (h), May 5: Brighton & Hove Albion (a), April 13: Watford (h)
Ave position of sides left to face: 10th
Jose Mourinho’s side face defining games against rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal between now and the end of the campaign, all at Old Trafford. However, it could be tricky-looking clashes at Palace, West Ham and champions-elect Manchester City that actually end up deciding United’s fate.
Sky Bet odds: 1/7
Feb 24: West Ham (h), March 3: Newcastle United (h), March 10: Man Utd (a), March 17: Watford (h), March 31: Crystal Palace**** (a), April 7: Everton (a), April 14: Bournemouth (h), April 21: West Brom (a), April 28: Stoke City (h), May 5: Chelsea (a), May 13: Brighton (h)
Ave position of sides left to face: 11th
On paper, it is awkward trips to Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea that look Liverpool’s hardest remaining tests. But given the Reds’ unpredictability so far this season, it is more likely that encounters against mid-table sides West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth will determine where they finish.
Sky Bet odds: 4/5
Feb 25: Man Utd (a), March 4: Man City* (a), March 10: Crystal Palace (h), March 17: Burnley** (a), April 1: Tottenham**** (h), April 7: West Ham (h), April 14: Southampton (a), April 21: Huddersfield (h), April 28: Swansea (a), May 5: Liverpool (h), May 13: Newcastle (a)
Ave position of sides left to face: 9th
Chelsea face the two Manchester clubs in their next two contests, with the first of those games at Old Trafford in particular one that may go a long way in deciding the champions’ top-four hopes. However, the Blues also take on Spurs and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge before the season’s climax knowing victories in those titanic fixtures could be decisive.
Sky Bet odds: 1/3
Feb 26: Crystal Palace* (a), March 3: Huddersfield Town (h), March 11: Bournemouth* (a), March 16: Newcastle** (h), April 1: Chelsea**** (a), April 7: Stoke (a), April 14: Man City (h), April 21: Brighton (a), April 28: Watford (h), May 5: West Brom (a), May 13: Leicester City (h)
Ave position of sides left to face: 13th
The team with the most momentum currently appear to have the most favourable run-in too, facing opponents with an average position of 13th between now and the end of the campaign. Spurs’ next tests against their top-six rivals come at Chelsea and at home to high-flying City on April 1 and 14, respectively.
Sky Bet odds: 14/1
March 1: Man City*** (h), March 4: Brighton* (a), March 11: Watford* (h), March 17: Leicester (a), April 1: Stoke* (h), April 7: Southampton (7), April 14: Newcastle (a), April 21: West Ham (h), April 28: Man Utd (a), May 5: Burnley (h), May 13: Huddersfield (a)
Ave position of sides left to face: 11th
With eight points to make up on fourth-placed Chelsea, Arsenal are 14/1 to qualify for next season’s Champions League. On the bright side, though, the north London club play just two of their top-six rivals between now and the end of the season in the form of Manchester City and Manchester United. Whether that will enable the Gunners to make up that deficit, however, is doubtful, with Arsene Wenger’s team needing 24 points from their final 11 games to reach the average number for finishing fourth since 1995-96.
Carra’s top-four verdict: Why next fixtures are so crucial
Jamie Carragher thinks the upcoming matches played between February 24 and 26 could hold the key to who finishes the season in the top four.
Liverpool host West Ham on the Saturday, while Chelsea travel to Manchester United on Super Sunday, before Spurs visit Palace on Monday Night Football, with Arsenal not in action.
“You are trying to think what the other teams would like really. Do you want United to win, as they still have that sort of gap between the rest?” said the Sky Sports pundit.
“But if Chelsea were to win there, that would be a big worry for United. Tottenham and Liverpool would probably be looking for a draw in that game and then hopefully that weekend you can win your game.
“Because there are still going be lots of games between the rivals. Liverpool still have to go to Chelsea and Old Trafford.
“I think the big thing, and it is something Liverpool did at the weekend, is when your rivals are playing each other – so when Arsenal and Spurs were playing each other – you have to make sure you win that weekend because you know someone is going to drop points.
“That is a massive thing, so Liverpool have got West Ham that weekend and Spurs go to Palace. You have to win and then you can sit back and whatever happens you are happy. So that is the name of the game for everyone.”