Premier League top four race: Three key factors to filter four from six

The 2016/17 Premier League season has reached its final third, but far from being decided is the make-up of the top four places. Six teams are in contention, and while Chelsea are almost guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League, there is a real tussle between five teams for three places behind the Blues.

As it stands, only four points separate Manchester City in second from Manchester United in sixth.

With small margins—like certain teams having more fixtures than some others and factoring in the miles added to travelling schedules due to European exertions—separating the five clubs behind Chelsea, the top-four race has taken a delicious turn that promises to go down to the wire this season.

Conte press conference

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are clear favourites for the title.

The top six clubs will face each other nine times from now until the season’s end, and results in those six-pointers hold the key to who finishes inside the top four and who misses out. With all those cracking matches on the horizon, www.Wowtickets.football is a good place to buy football tickets they also offer last minute booking in the big cities (London, Liverpool, Manchester etc.).

Liverpool vs Arsenal, 4th March
European fixtures before/after: Arsenal host Bayern Munich on 7th March, three days after this game. Week off for Liverpool.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool

Jürgen Klopp’s Reds haven’t lost to a top-six side this season, while Arsenal haven’t beaten a top-six side away from home. A tough test awaits Arsène Wenger’s side; defeat at Anfield could spell trouble for the Gunners’ top four hopes.

Manchester City vs Liverpool, 19th March
European fixtures before/after: Manchester City host Monaco on 15th March, four days prior to this game. Week off for Liverpool.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City

This game marks the end of Liverpool’s top-six fixtures for the season. The Reds have a relatively easy end to the season, but they have dropped 18 points against the league’s bottom 14 clubs so far. City’s top four hopes rest on this game’s result.

Arsenal vs Manchester City, 1st April
European fixtures before/after: None.
International break: From 20th March to 28th March. Fernandinho, Sergio Agüero, Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolás Otamendi, Claudio Bravo (all City), Gabriel Paulista and Alexis Sánchez (both Arsenal) are set to be involved in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal

City’s away doubleheader in London starts with this game. The Sky Blues could be flying by this stage or struggling; the latter would mean a win is imperative to rekindle Champions League hopes before facing Chelsea five days later. Arsenal haven’t lost to City at home since June 2013. With Gabriel Jesus facing a long time on the sidelines through injury, City will hope there aren’t any more casualties following the international break that precedes this tie.

Chelsea vs Manchester City, 5th April
European fixtures before/after: None.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea

Chelsea could be within touching distance of the title by the time this game comes about, and should that be the case, confidence would be running high in Antonio Conte’s men. City will be bruised after their Arsenal game the previous weekend, hence getting a win would be difficult.

Manchester City vs Manchester United, to be rearranged
European fixtures before/after: None.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City

According to the 42-day rule of rescheduling a postponed game, City should face United on or before 9th April, but that looks increasingly unlikely. European games for both sides could push the fixture to the latter parts of April. The result of this game will likely decide who among the two Manchester clubs makes the top four.

Manchester United vs Chelsea, 15th April
European fixtures before/after: Should they qualify, Manchester United have two legs of their Europa League quarter-final sandwiching this game, on 13th April and 20th April. Week off for Chelsea.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United

United’s involvement in the Europa League by this stage would determine the dynamics of this game. Having been soundly beaten last time out, José Mourinho’s side would be looking for payback, but it all depends on whether they have to play twice inside three days or not. Chelsea could have one hand on the title with a win.

Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal, 29th April
European fixtures before/after: Should they qualify, Tottenham and Arsenal have Europa League and Champions League semi-final first legs respectively in the mid-week after this game.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham

It is unlikely both north London clubs will be alive in Europe by the time this game comes about, but this will be Spurs’ first big game in a while. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have put aside smaller teams with ease, and it is only against the big guns have they had mixed results. That having been said, Spurs could end St Totteringham’s day for Arsenal fans with a win at home. They have beaten Chelsea and City at White Hart Lane this season.

Arsenal vs Manchester United, 6th May
European fixtures before/after: Should they qualify, Arsenal and Manchester United have respective mid-week European semi-finals sandwiching this game.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal

Wenger hasn’t ever beaten a Mourinho team in the Premier League, but a win at home against United could put the Red Devils out of the top four picture, provided teams continue collecting points at the same rate as now. Mourinho, though, has a knack for frustrating the Gunners, but this game is one of the Red Devils’ three tough fixtures in the run-in.

Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United, 13th May
European fixtures before/after: Should they qualify, Tottenham and Manchester United have Europa League semi-final second legs in the mid-week before this game.
Reverse fixture 2016/17: Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham

Results in their tough run-in could determine whether United could finish inside the top four this season, and Spurs will be their last big test on the season’s penultimate weekend. Similar to the aforementioned Arsenal game, this is a six-pointer that could change the dynamics of the top four race heading into the final day of the season.

Liverpool have embarked on a five-day warm weather training getaway to La Manga, while their top-four competitors have a packed schedule bloated by European games. It seems the Reds’ wretched January was a blessing in disguise, but recent performances make Champions League qualification far from certain for them. With other clubs having bigger and better squads and Liverpool’s propensity to slack off against weaker sides a concern, any prediction for the top-four race will be premature at this moment.