How PL teams stand in the hunt for UCL spots
Up until now, the standard of this season’s hunt for Champions League qualification in the Premier League has been the most competitive one yet.
In the previous 24 seasons, fourth place finishes have come at an average of 1.79 points per game. This season, fourth place’s average is 1.97, which means we’re set for a significant increase of what is required from years gone by.
Let’s assess the situation of each of the qualification contenders.
With league leaders Chelsea very close to mathematically guaranteeing a top 4 spot (they only need 7 points from 7 games), second-placed Tottenham aren’t too far away from securing that themselves well before the end of the season.
From this position, 5 wins (4 if they beat Manchester United) from their last 7 matches will secure qualification. It would be the first time they’ve achieved back-to-back Champions League appearances which would show just what a consistent force they’ve become since Mauricio Pochettino took over nearly 3 years ago.
Not only do they look set for Champions League football again, they also look set for their best Premier League finish. They currently have 2 points less than they achieved the whole of last season when Arsenal pipped them to the runner-up spot.
With a firing attack that’s coupled with the best defensive record in the division (they have the least goals conceded and the most clean sheets), a successful hunt for qualification seems inevitable.
Currently sitting in third place, they seem well poised to re-enter Champions League football after Jurgen Klopp’s first full season as manager.
Their run-in looks like the gentlest on paper as they are the only top 6 team without any remaining matches against fellow top 6 opposition. It’s hardly a position for them to rest on their laurels though, because out of those elite sides, they have the worst record against the other 14 teams (with 43 points from 22 matches).
There’s a good case to say that they should be the most exciting team for the neutral to follow in the run-in. They have the best attacking record which they couple with having the worst defensive record of the top 6. Either way, any given Liverpool match should produce a fair amount of goals.
In recent years, Liverpool have missed the consistent Champions League presence that they used to enjoy. They had 5 tournament appearances in a row after their famous 2005 win in Istanbul, but have only had one tournament appearance in the 7 seasons after that.
The Reds will hope that qualification this year sparks an era of consistently rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite.
While Pep Guardiola’s arrival sparked much fanfare and expectation, Manchester City might find themselves underwhelmed that the 2-time Champions League winning manager is in a situation where qualification for the tournament doesn’t seem guaranteed.
It’s certainly been a massive adjustment from his spells in La Liga and the Bundelsiga. Currently, he looks set to finish outside the top 2 of a league for the first time in his career and has already lost more matches this season than he has in any other full league campaign.
One of the main criticisms for why the Citizens aren’t title contenders is that their defence hasn’t been strong enough. They have improved in this area recently though. Since their heaviest defeat of the season against Everton in January (a 4-0 loss), they’ve conceded 9 goals in 10 games, which is an improvement from the 16 goals they conceded in the 10 games before that.
While they seem on course to hold onto top 4 status for the sixth time in a row, a lot could hinge on their derby against fifth-placed Manchester United on April 27th, which should be one of the most eye-catching ‘6-pointers’ in the season’s run-in.
In his first season as Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho has stuttered in his challenge of returning the Red Devils back to the summit and now finds himself currently outside of the Champions League spots.
While they may be unbeaten in 21 league matches, the 10 draws in that time has meant that in that period, they’ve only gained ground on one of the current top four sides (Manchester City have gone from 6 points ahead of their neighbours to 4 points ahead).
Of all the contenders, they have the most remaining matches against top fellow top 6 teams (Sunday’s home game against Chelsea plus three more away from home). The fact that they have a more congested schedule than any of the teams above them only exacerbates the challenge of their run-in.
While they do still have the possibility of Champions League qualification via their Europa League campaign, fifth place won’t want to be repeated. If they don’t make the top four this season, it’ll be the first time that’s happened in back-to-back seasons in the Premier League era.
While they have often flirted with failing to qualify in the last decade, Arsenal’s current league position and form suggests that this is season could well be the one where their run of 18 consecutive Champions League qualifications comes to an end.
In their last 8 Premier League matches, Arsenal have lost 5 times. Only bottom of the table Sunderland have lost more in that period.
Their recent statistics away from home also paints a damning picture. They go into Monday’s trip to Middlesbrough on the back of 4 consecutive away defeats in the league, which is the first time they’ve done that in Arsene Wenger’s 21-year reign.
They currently find themselves 6th on the table after 30 matches, which is the lowest they’ve been at this stage of the season under the Frenchman.
With 8 games left including matchups against fellow top 4 challengers Manchester United and high-flying neighbours Tottenham, a top 4 finish from this position would require Wenger’s most impressive end of season turnaround yet.