The race for top four in the Premier League is getting intense and hot with every passing week. It is really shocking to see that each and every season this ‘top-four race’ is getting the better of ‘title-race’ in terms of popularity.
The reason is simple: Champions League football. But the traditional big four teams – namely Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – have been inconsistent in recent years and they have failed to surmount a serious title challenge to the current league leaders Manchester United.
Manchester City have come a long way in the league with helping hands from wealthy Middle East benefactors and are creating a crater with the traditional challengers. Tottenham are also in the mix while Everton keeps on punching above their weights under David Moyes.
With only 11 games left to go, as it stands, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal are genuine contenders for the top four spots while the Merseyside clubs Everton and Liverpool have outside chances as well.
Let us discuss the chances of all the teams vying for the prestigious Champions League spot.
Tottenham Hotspur – 3rd
What a season Gareth Bale is having for Spurs! The buccaneering darling of Premier League almost single handedly taking his side close to the promised land and if he keeps on firing on all cylinders till the end, there’s no reason why Spurs cannot reach the position they aspire to be in.
However, they have really tough fixtures from now on. They face Arsenal in the London derby, two legged knock-out rounds in the Europa League (a competition which Andre Villas-Boas takes seriously), away to Anfield to face Liverpool, away to Swansea – all in the month of March.
If that is not enough, then April presents an even sterner challenge for them. They will face Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City in succession and could face a few problems if they advance to the next round in Europe. Their squad will be stretched and results might go the other way.
Spurs have a natural tendency to crack down when intense pressure is applied. Away to Wigan (relegation threatened teams looking to fight for life) and away to the Britannia won’t be easy trips at all and they could drop precious points from now on.
Chelsea – 4th
This season has been mental for the Blues. Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez spoke about ambitions of a top two finish, but the after the defeat at the hands of City, the target has shifted to finishing in the top four only. And the job is easier said than done.
April and May, the final two months are waiting to dampen their altered ambitions even further. Spurs, Liverpool, Swansea, Man Utd, Everton and Aston Villa (who usually does well against Chelsea) will provide all the necessary acid-tests required to corrode their chances of a top four finish.
The problem is nobody can blame Rafa here. He was not given enough chances, was not backed by the club and he had to work in a hostile environment. In any case, he will lose the job but will draw sympathy from the media and neutrals. Chelsea could be the worst sufferer here.
Arsenal – 5th
There was a genuine concern with Arsenal that whether they could finish in the top four this season. That concern has not withered away despite the financial security provided by the club.
They are almost out of the Champions League (first leg defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich) which could prove to be a blessing in disguise. With no other distractions left to occupy the attention, they can focus on the Premier League much better than other rivals.
Much will depend on how other teams, especially Chelsea and Spurs fare from now on. Every single point dropped by them will give the Gunners a chance to bridge the gap and leapfrog in due time.
The age old cliché of “been there and done that” situation is just apt for them. Top two ambitions are too much but finishing in fourth spot is easily achievable.
Everton are nine points behind Spurs and the gap could only widen towards the end. Moyes reflected in January that his squad will be stretched to the limit. He should be very proud of his boys for what they have done so far but the lack of squad depth is hurting him and his side badly.
Liverpool probably have better chances than their derby rivals to mount a late, if not serious, challenge for the top four. They have the favourable fixtures on their side but can any neutral really trust on Brendan Rodgers’ men to do that?
It’s not just only about Spurs but there are four teams standing ahead of them in the queue. Not impossible but very difficult to get there.