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Assessing the race to secure Champions League qualification

The race to secure a top four finish and Champions League qualification looks set to be one of the defining narratives of the season’s run-in, with a whole host of sides in contention in a congested Premier League table.

Manchester City and Liverpool have moved clear of the chasing pack as the duo compete for the Premier League title, each needing an unthinkable collapse to miss out on the Champions League.

Chelsea have fallen closer to the congestion, however, with arguably the sides from third to eighth all in with a reasonable chance of a top four finish.

 

Ahead of Arsenal’s meeting with Wolves in a potentially crucial clash, we assess the race to secure Champions League qualification this season.

Chelsea

  • Current position: 3rd
  • Games played: 25
  • Points: 50
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: West Ham (H), Wolves (H), Man United (A), Arsenal (H)
  • Average position of all remaining fixtures: 12.46
  • Odds of a top four finish: 1/50

Chelsea began the season discussed as title contenders, having ended the 2020/21 season as European Champions before spending a club record Β£97.5m to sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan.

Having won eight of their opening 10 league fixtures of the season – only Liverpool and Manchester City blemishing an otherwise perfect record – those claims appeared to be substantiated.

However, Thomas Tuchel’s side have failed to match the consistency of City and Liverpool, whilst a run of just three wins from their last nine Premier League fixtures has seen Chelsea drop back towards the chasing pack.

Few will envisage Chelsea dropping out of the Champions League places, however, with the west Londoners boasting the strongest squad among the contenders and the best set of fixtures on paper.

There remains work for Chelsea to catch the Premier League’s dominant two sides at present, but the Blues are a cut above those desperately scrambling for the top four.

Manchester United

  • Current position: 4th
  • Games played: 26
  • Points: 46
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: Man City (A), Spurs (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H)
  • Average position of all remaining fixtures: 12
  • Odds of a top four finish: 13/8

Manchester United’s season has not gone as hoped with the Red Devils embroiled in a fight for Champions League football, the summer arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane having failed to turn the side into title contenders.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign came to an end in November with Ralf Rangnick appointed on an interim basis, the German having steadied the ship with just one loss from 12 league fixtures.

However, a succession of draws means the Red Devils face a difficult task in finishing the season in the top four, with only West Ham having more fixtures against sides currently inside the top eight.

That run includes away clashes at both Manchester City and Liverpool and the club will hope their decrease in squad size last month – allowing the likes of Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek to leave on loan – does not come back to haunt them during the run-in.

West Ham

  • Current position: 5th
  • Games played: 26
  • Points: 42
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: Wolves (H), Liverpool (A), Tottenham (A), Chelsea (A), Arsenal (H), Man City (H)
  • Average position of remaining fixtures: 9.75
  • Odds of a top four finish: 14/1

West Ham’s bubble appears to be bursting in terms of securing Champions League qualification, issues at both ends of the pitch having contributed to their wobble.

The Hammers have been uncharacteristically vulnerable defensively in the absence of Angelo Ogbonna, whilst the club’s over-reliance on Michail Antonio has proven costly with the forward having scored just twice in his past 17 league appearances.

Jarrod Bowen’s goalscoring form and the continued excellence of Declan Rice has kept the club in contention, but a challenging run-in and the juggling of Europa League and FA Cup commitments will be difficult for a squad that needed January reinforcements.

Despite sitting fifth at present, success in Europe could be West Ham’s best route into the Champions League next season as their Europa League campaign resumes next month.

Arsenal

  • Current position: 6th
  • Games played: 23
  • Points: 42
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: Liverpool (H), Man United (H), West Ham (A), Tottenham (A), Chelsea (A)
  • Average position of remaining fixtures: 10
  • Odds of a top four finish: 11/8

Arsenal have bounced back from the club’s worst ever start to a Premier League season, having lost each of their opening three games without scoring a goal to sit bottom of the division in August.

The Gunners kept faith with Mikel Arteta and it has proven a wise move, with the north Londoners just four points outside the top four and with three games in hand on the sides directly above.

Arteta’s side have shown an increasing confidence and resilience throughout the season, the defensive axis of Aaron Ramsdale, Gabriel and Ben White having provided a solidity lacking in recent campaigns.

Only Ederson and Alisson have kept more clean sheets than Ramsdale this season and Arsenal’s defensive strength could prove vital given the lack of a recognised goalscorer. Emile Smith Rowe leads the way with nine league goals, with Alexandre Lacazette – the club’s first-choice at centre-forward – having just three for the campaign.

Arsenal are also without distraction ahead of the run-in, with no European or cup commitments.

Wolves

  • Current position: 7th
  • Games played: 24
  • Points: 40
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: West Ham (A), Man City (H), Chelsea (A), Liverpool (A)
  • Average position of remaining fixtures: 11.14
  • Odds of a top four finish: 20/1

Wolves have quietly moved into contention for the Champions League this season with Bruno Lage having enjoyed an excellent debut season at the helm.

Lage’s arrival was designed to move Wolves to a more attacking brand of football, but the Portuguese coach has kept the defensive principles of Nuno Espirito Santo with only Manchester City having conceded less goals than Wolves this season.

However, just two teams – Norwich and Burnley in 20th and 19th respectively – have scored less than Wolves 23 goals and it remains to be seen whether the club’s remarkable efficiency this season can last the course of the run-in.

Wolves have started 2022 with five wins from six league fixtures, including vital victories over the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester. There is a growing confidence at Molineux that Wolves can upset the odds this season.

Tottenham

  • Current position: 8th
  • Games played: 23
  • Points: 39
  • Remaining fixtures with competing sides: Man United (A), West Ham (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H)
  • Average position of remaining fixtures: 11.86
  • Odds of a top four finish: 11/4

Tottenham’s win over Manchester City last weekend has breathed new life into their top four challenge, with Antonio Conte having admitted his side had just a 1% chance of Champions League football ahead of the trip to the Etihad.

Whilst those claims were exaggerated given Spurs have games in hand on their rivals, a run of three consecutive losses had been a damaging blow to their hopes.

There is renewed optimism following a shock win at the Premier League champions, however, with Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski all excellent in a clinical performance from the north Londoners.

Consistency remains an issue for Conte and his side, but in Kane and Son the club have two talents who can fire Spurs back into the Champions League next season.

Securing a top four finish could prove crucial to the club’s project under the ever-demanding Italian.

Read –Β Five of the most underrated Premier League players right now

Read Also –Β Five times Kylian Mbappe has lit up the Champions League

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