Analysis

The race for the top four - five games to go

The pressure is building and the stakes are rising in the battle for Champions League qualification. Here, we look at the teams vying for the top four, their restart fortunes so far and their remaining fixtures…

Victories for Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester United on match week 33 mean just three points currently separate that trio of teams, with Wolverhampton Wanderers a further three points back in sixth. With two meetings of top-half sides scheduled for this midweek slate of fixtures, and those in third to sixth all playing away, another intriguing round of matches awaits. 

After back-to-back victories over Aston Villa and Manchester City, before a surprise defeat away at West Ham, Frank Lampard's Chelsea returned to winning ways on Saturday night against Watford. It was a much-needed return to form given the Blues started the game outside the top four for the first time since October following United's thumping win over Bournemouth earlier in the day.

Leicester also won on Saturday, their first victory since the restart, but Wolves dropped points in defeat to Arsenal, leaving them five adrift of fourth place.

As the top six have squeezed together slightly in recent games, the other contenders have fallen away somewhat. Arsenal are now the closest challengers outside the top six, though the Gunners have an eight-point deficit to make up on fourth place, while Tottenham, Sheffield United (both one point behind) and Burnley (three points behind) are further behind Mikel Arteta's side, with just 15 points up for grabs in the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign.

There is also the added uncertaintly over City's contested ban from European competition for two seasons due to alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations. A decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on City's appeal is expected next week, which could mean finishing fifth in the league this season is enough. For now, the contenders must assume that only a top-four finish guarantees Champions League football next season.

Plenty still to play for, then, and the stakes couldn’t be higher!

Contender clashes

Encounters between teams in the top half of the table will likely play a significant part in deciding the final standings. Chelsea now have three such meetings in their final five games, including trips to Anfield and Bramall Lane, as well as a home match against Wolves.

The latter is scheduled for what could be a decisive final day of the season, on which Man United go to Leicester.

Manchester United have the fewest of these clashes (one), while Leicester have the most with four.

Remaining head-to-head fixtures between top-half sides:

Leicester – Arsenal (a), Sheffield United (h), Tottenham (a), Man United (h)

Chelsea – Sheffield United (a), Liverpool (a), Wolves (h)

Man United – Leicester (a)

Wolves – Sheffield United (a), Burnley (a), Chelsea (a)

Arsenal – Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Liverpool (h)

Tottenham – Arsenal (h), Leicester (h)

Sheffield United – Wolves (h), Chelsea (h), Leicester (a)

Burnley - Liverpool (a), Wolves (h)

Parallel priorities

In the FA Cup, all four semi-finalists are currently positioned in the top seven of the Premier League (Man City, Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal) and, of course, two of those will advance to the final on Saturday 1 August.

The semi-finals have been scheduled for the weekend of 18/19 July, with league fixtures originally scheduled for then pushed back a few days to the following midweek. Chelsea were due to travel to Liverpool on that date but will now take on United at Wembley, with our trip to Merseyside rearranged.

Three of the top-four contenders remain in European competition – Chelsea in the Champions League plus Man United and Wolves in the Europa League. Remaining fixtures in these competitions have been pencilled in to be played in August at the end of the domestic campaign. The winners of both competitions are guaranteed a Champions League place next season.

Season standings

While Chelsea have sat in fourth since mid-October, there have been plenty of varying trajectories among the other contenders over the course of the season, as the graph below illustrates. Select and deselect teams on the right-hand side to view their standings across the course of the season.


The final straight

The remaining fixtures for each of the eight teams are listed below, along with their current position in the table, points tally and goal difference. Check out the hurdles ahead for each of the contenders, analyse the permutations and vote in our poll for which teams you think will finish in the top four.


Currently 3rd – Leicester City – 58 points – GD +32


Currently 4th – Chelsea – 57 points – GD +16


Currently 5th – Man United – 55 points – GD +23


Currently 6th – Wolves – 52 points – GD +9


Currently 7th – Arsenal – 49 points – GD +8


Currently 8th – Tottenham – 48 points – GD +8


Currently 9th – Sheffield United – 48 points – GD +1


Currently 10th – Burnley – 46 points – GD -9

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