With less than three months left of the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League season, time is running out for clubs to climb up the table into one the top four spots in the standings and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United currently hold down the Champions League qualification spots heading into the midweek matches. While the quartet of clubs are currently in good position, there are realistically three other teams that can reach the top four by seasons end: Liverpool, Southampton, and Tottenham Hotspur.
Assuming that it is a foregone conclusion that both Chelsea and Manchester City finish in the top four of the standings (they are currently sitting first and second respectively at the moment), there are then basically five clubs vying for two spots.
When trying to predict which teams will qualify for the Champions League, one of the biggest factors is the remaining schedules of each club. When taking a look at the upcoming fixture list, one of these five clubs’ schedule sticks out like a sore thumb.
|QPR (A)||Newcastle (A)||Burnley (H)||Crystal Palace (H)||Swansea (H)|
|West Ham (H)||Tottenham (H)*||Swansea (A)||Chelsea (A)*||QPR (A)|
|Newcastle (A)||Liverpool (A)*||Man Utd (H)*||Burnley (H)||Man Utd (A)*|
|Liverpool (H)*||Aston Villa (H)||Arsenal (A)*||Everton (A)||Leicester City (H)|
|Burnley (A)||Man City (H)*||Newcastle (H)||Hull City (H)||Burnley (A)|
|Sunderland (H)||Chelsea (A)*||Hull City (A)||Stoke City (A)||Aston Villa (H)|
|Chelsea (H)*||Everton (A)||West Brom (A)||Tottenham (H)*||Newcastle (A)|
|Hull City (A)||West Brom (H)||QPR (H)||Sunderland (A)||Southampton (A)*|
|Swansea (H)||Crystal Palace (A)||Chelsea (A)*||Leicester City (A)||Man City (H)*|
|Man Utd (A)*||Arsenal (H)*||Crystal Palace (H)||Aston Villa (H)||Stoke City (A)|
|West Brom (H)||Hull City (A)||Stoke City (A)||Man City (A)*||Hull City (H)|
*= matches against current top seven clubs
There is little doubt that Manchester United has the toughest schedule out of the five clubs currently placed from third to seventh place in the table. Out of their 11 remaining matches, the 2012/13 Premier League champions have to face five clubs currently inside the top seven of the table, including away matches against Liverpool and Chelsea. No other team looking to finish in the top four has to play more than three top seven clubs.
Another aspect to consider is the current form of each club inside the top seven. Over the last six matches Liverpool is currently the hottest team in the entire league. The Merseyside club has won five of their last six Premier League matches (drawing one game).
Arsenal has also won five of their last six league games, but has one loss in the mix. The Gunners also arguably have the “easiest” remaining schedule of the five clubs vying for the top four. Because of their current form, having 51 points in the standings, and factoring in their fixture list (only one away match left against top seven clubs), I believe that Arsenal will finish inside the top four at the end of the season.
Of the five highlighted clubs, Southampton are currently the team that is struggling the most. The club from the south coast only has two victories over their last six matches in league play.
With Liverpool on the heels of Manchester United, the one thing that is helping United’s cause is their positive goal differential. While Liverpool is only two points behind Manchester United, the Red Devils currently have a +20 goal differential, compared to +10 for Liverpool. The big difference essentially gives Manchester United an extra point over Liverpool in the standings.
Nonetheless, with the combination of easier schedule and current form, I believe it will be Liverpool that snatches the fourth and final Champions League spot (something that I would have never thought I’d say six weeks ago).
Although I am predicting a top four of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool, there is still plenty left to play until the season expires on May 24th. While Manchester United has a brutal schedule ahead, they can make plenty of noise with positive results in those matches.
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