With ten rounds of fixtures in the Premier League remaining, focus is increasingly shifting towards final league positions.
Whilst Manchester City’s first title in four years is looking like a procession, there is a fascinating battle developing for which English club’s will join them in next season’s Champions League.
Last season saw the strong emergence of the league’s ‘top six’, with 17 points separating 7th-placed Everton from a spot in the top four.
The Toffees' cross-city rivals Liverpool along with both Manchester clubs and the London trio of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham had formed a powerful sextet at the summit of the division.
Same old, same old
This season has proven no different in that regard as seventh-placed Burnley are without a win in their last 12 matches and sitting a whopping 18 points from the final Champions League qualification slot.
It is also fair to say that Arsenal’s chances of re-entering Europe’s premier club competition are slim at best: the Gunners trail North London rivals Spurs – who currently occupy 4th spot – by a whopping 10 points.
Arsenal’s game in hand is against City and, if the League Cup final is anything to go by, they will not be making up any ground.
All of which leaves four teams vying for the final three positions behind City in the standings.
Hitting the level
As things stand, Manchester United occupy second spot on 59 points – two points ahead of third-placed Liverpool (57), with Spurs (55) and Chelsea (53) completing the race.
Jose Mourinho’s side’s victory over his former employers on Sunday feels significant as had his side lost, their position not only in second but in the top four would have been hanging by a thread.
Such a six-point swing may well have swung momentum at a crucial time, yet the Red Devils fighting back to earn three points could provide exactly the boost they require.
Manchester United have a tough run-in but one which they should be able to secure the requisite number of points required to make a top-four finish.
Last season, fourth-placed Liverpool accumulated 76 points and it is fair to assume that is an appropriate marker for this season.
Based on such a number, Jose Mourinho's team need 17 points from their remaining 10 matches.
They have home ties against Liverpool and Arsenal to come alongside a trip across Manchester to take on City, but of their other seven matches – the highest ranked team currently is 10th-placed Watford, who United are yet to host.
The chasing pack
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool require 19 points to match their total from last season with their two key fixtures both coming away from Anfield with trips to Old Trafford and to Stamford Bridge, to face Chelsea.
However, the Reds also have a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park to contest which may prove decisive in their hopes of repeating last season’s achievement.
Tottenham must aim for more than a rate of two points per game in their run-in, with their biggest remaining tests coming in the shape of a visit to Chelsea next month before hosting league-leading City.
However, Spurs will be targeting away victories at Bournemouth, Stoke and West Brom as they aim to secure a return to the Champions League.
Chelsea undoubtedly have the toughest task ahead of them. Not only do they require more points than the rest – a projected 23 from 10 matches – but this includes a trip to City alongside hosting both Tottenham and Liverpool.
It is looking increasingly likely that the Blues must win both those matches at the Bridge if they are to secure a top-four spot, yet if they do it will apply serious pressure to their two rivals.
As a caveat, fourth-place could miss out on the Champions League altogether if Arsenal capture the Europa League title combined with either Chelsea or Tottenham finishing in fifth place and winning the Champions League.
Who do you think will miss out on Champions League qualification next season? Let us know by commenting below.
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