The battle for the Premier League’s top four and the Champions League qualification they bring, has become the true climax of the English season – with some managers preferring a solid league position to an FA Cup triumph.
The fight has rarely been more fierce than in this season’s tussle at the top, with six clubs all vying for a place at the top table of European football. Six doesn’t go into four, however, so two sides are certain to miss out on the riches of next season’s competition. This week, 90min readers have named their picks for the most likely sides to see their challenges fall by the wayside.
With over a third of the total votes, 90min readers believe that Manchester United will fail to once again qualify for the Champions League.
United supporters will, naturally, protest against such a result. Their team is one of the league’s in-form clubs, and had been on a 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions until Thursday’s EFL Cup defeat to Hull City.
However, Jose Mourinho’s men started the season in poor form and have been playing catch up ever since. They only stand four points off fourth-placed Liverpool, granted, but the Red Devils still have to entertain league leaders Chelsea, and face visits to Tottenham, Arsenal and bitter rivals Manchester City before the season’s end. It could yet be a bridge too far to secure Champions League qualification for United.
Not far behind United in the stakes are Pep Guardiola’s Man City. Sitting two points and one place outside of the current top four, City’s chances of Champions League qualification have been dealt a significant blow in recent months.
Guardiola had led his side to six successive league victories at the beginning of the season but, following a 2-0 defeat to Spurs ahead of the second international break of this term, have been consistently inconsistent in their nature.
Bruising defeats to Everton, Leicester City and United have not helped them make up the 14-point gap that opened up between themselves and Chelsea, and it could be touch and go to see if the Citizens finish in the top four.
Perhaps a slight surprise third choice, Liverpool were voted the third most likely to miss out on a top four place.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were seen as serious title contenders just a month ago, but the wheels have truly fallen off the Reds’ aspirations since the turn of the year. Just one win in all competitions in 2017 have put paid to any hopes of hanging onto Chelsea’s coat-tails, and now their chances of Champions League qualification are now in serious doubt.
North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, it would appear, cannot be seperated even by our own readers. Indeed, the duo picked up 7% of the votes each which, given their respective third and second placed positions in the table, isn’t a great surprise.
Biggest factor behind Liverpool’s struggles?
Spurs will have to hope that an implosion, akin to last term, isn’t in the offing, while Arsene Wenger will be eager to see his side not fall victim to their own collapse that has so often dogged their title pushes in seasons past.
In truly predictable fashion, Chelsea are the least likely to lose their Champions League qualification spot.
And with good reason. Antonio Conte’s men sit eight points clear of nearest challengers Arsenal, and have dropped just three points – the 2-0 loss to Tottenham earlier in January – out of the last 51 available. It would take a breakdown of epic proportions for them to not secure a place in UEFA’s flagship club tournament in 2017/18.
By Tom Power